LinkedIn Invitations: Personalizing is Optional? Restrictions Exist?

The LinkedIn Merlin Wizard - New Functionality or New Restrictions?

Image by 4_EveR_YounG via Flickr

LinkedIn is a very interesting social networking site.  On the one hand, the goal of LinkedIn is to connect people who already know each other to create a network based on “trusted relationships.”  On the other hand, if you strive to develop too many relationships or perform too many other activities on the website, you are restricted.  Some of these restrictions make sense and are an attempt to limit potential spamming.  Other restrictions are clearly geared towards curbing the appetite of the super connected on LinkedIn.  Today I want to take a look at the newest restriction that I have found on LinkedIn, that of the content of your LinkedIn Invitations Text.

The LinkedIn Invitation, as you all know by now, is how you “connect” with others and add each other to your LinkedIn Networks.  When you select “Add so-and-so to your network,” you are asked to enter the details as to how you know that person.  And then, by the way, is an optional area to enter a personal note.  In fact, LinkedIn has already populated your optional personal note with the dreaded “Join my network on LinkedIn.”  You cannot underestimate how many people list receiving these impersonal invitations as tops on their list of LinkedIn pet peeves.  And, if you think about it, LinkedIn created this social phenomenon by populating this impersonal wording to connect people with “trusted relationships!”  If it sounds a little contradictory in nature, you are right; you will find many more contradictions throughout the LinkedIn platform (don’t even get me started as to whether LinkedIn Events is an Application or not!)

You may be wondering why I chose the LinkedIn Merlin Wizard for the image of this blog post.  It’s because he is the person you see when LinkedIn is in the process of adding new features.  And it was his appearance in mid-August that started this new restriction.  Whenever I see that guy appear on my screen, my heart is always divided between the side that is excited about the new functionality that LinkedIn is about to add or fearful of the new restrictions that LinkedIn is about to impose.  Sound a little like a Halloween Trick or Treat?  You are absolutely right!  And this time it was a Trick!

Now, whenever LinkedIn returns back to service after the Merlin Wizard appears, it is not always apparent what in LinkedIn has changed.  The new LinkedIn Advanced People Search screen, for instance, despite being a major upgrade in usability, just appeared without any mention in July.  And, when a new functionality appears, it often does not work well for the first few days.  In the case of this new Advanced People Search, the number of actual connections of people over 500 was displayed for the first few days!

So there was a little hoopla in the LinkedIn user community last month shortly after the appearance of the latest Merlin Wizard.  This time the broken functionality was the LinkedIn Invitation: it couldn’t be personalized at all!  I had a number of LinkedIn Connections contact me asking if I knew what the scoop was, and I answered back that it was probably a temporary issue that would be resolved.  In the heat of the moment bloggers posted articles like  “LinkedIn No Longer Allowing Invite Messages?” or “LinkedIn Limits Personalized Invitations” .  But after a few days, just like the Advanced People Search no longer displaying the actual number of connections over 500, the invitation text issue was resolved.

Seeing that there was no new functionality added here, my hunch was that there was a new restriction placed on the LinkedIn Invitation somehow.  And I was finally able to find out where it was: the actual text of the LinkedIn Invitation itself!  That’s right: LinkedIn is actually restricting what text you can enter when you want to invite someone into your LinkedIn Network!

As with many of the other restrictions on LinkedIn, your hand doesn’t get slapped until you perform the wrong action. 

It’s like a parent only yelling at their baby after they break some unexplained rule.

So what rule did I break, you ask?  To be honest with you, like many others, I also dislike the “optional” wording that LinkedIn embeds into the invitation text, so I have a template that I use when I invite someone.  Even if it is someone I know, I want to give them some background on what I have been up to, as well as some LinkedIn advice and introduction to my LinkedIn Groups.  After doing this like I have done in the past, you can imagine how surprised I was to see the following error message: You cannot include a URL in your invitation text!

OK, hold on.  Whenever LinkedIn places a new restriction without previous warning, I try to put myself in their shoes and imagine why they would want to impose this new limitation.  A lot of people do see invitations from people that they do not know as “LinkedIn Spam,” but I am sure that the invitation text itself is irrelevant.  What is important is that they do not know the person who sent the invitation.  For these people, the “IDK” or “I Don’t Know” response is there.  But why limit URLs in the text?

The only other thing I could think of is that if someone were using LinkedIn Invitations with no intent of connecting but merely to truly spam others with URLs leading to some unrelated service or scam.  But if there is someone truly spamming people, why not just kick them out of LinkedIn instead of restricting 46+ million LinkedIn members from including a URL in their invitation text?  If you can limit people who receive 5 IDKs, surely you can track these spammers, no?

It’s funny because LinkedIn sparked the new habit that many professionals now have of placing their LinkedIn Public Profile URL as part of their email signature.  Visual CV URLs are now popping up, as well as Twitter Profile URLs.  And bloggers, like myself, obviously want to put our blog URLs in our email signature.  If you are working, you undoubtedly have your company URL as part of your email signature.  Indeed, compared to a few years ago, it is now natural that a majority of professionals put a URL in the email signature.  So why restrict all of us?  It is just unnatural and does not make any sense.

I started the Windmill Networking blog under another name and solely based on demystifying the LinkedIn restrictions that exist yet always surprised people.  I find myself reaching back to my roots on this one.  It is another restriction, similar to the restriction of connections that you can make on LinkedIn, that just doesn’t make sense in this day and age.  In fact, I would go one step further on this LinkedIn restriction: not being able to enter a URL in your LinkedIn invitation text, like you would in an email, is actually limiting your Freedom of Speech.

It is LinkedIn’s platform, so they have the right to place any restriction that they see fit.  I just don’t see any plausible sense in this restriction.  Why can’t LinkedIn make a valid explanation of why they imposed this restriction to appease us all?  This lack of explanation only fuels the fire.

Agree?  Disagree?  Would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

About the Author:

Neal Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief

The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer
#smss2014

Comments

  1. scottwoodard says

    Hi Neal,

    Great post that touches on one of my LI pet peeves. The on-going restrictions that LI places on reaching out to people you don't know will, I believe, be its undoing. I get the issue of “people you trust” but many of us want to connect with folks we don't yet know and get to know them.

    My sense is that the spammers will always find a way to circumvent LI's rules; and those rules cause legitimate networkers to game their system.

    Just my two cents worth…

    ~ Scot

  2. says

    Well done Neal! You have captured the issue and been fair in your evaluation. The bottom line: LinkedIn CAN do what they want, yet we vote with our usage. I have more then one social media network so I can use FaceBook or others instead of LinkedIn when the restrictions out number the benefits.

  3. says

    Scott, Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I couldn't agree with you more, and the restrictions have always been my Pet Peeve as well. I do think that anyone savvy enough to spam under the radar on a social networking site will navigate around any restriction placed on them. 46+ million eyeballs is too much for any marketer to pass up!

    - Neal

  4. says

    Thanks for the comment JR. I have tried to be as fair as possible and really understand what makes LinkedIn tick, but on this one I honestly cannot figure it out. Yes, there are other social networks, and I find more and more people moving on to Facebook and Twitter. Let us hope that LinkedIn starts rethinking some of their restrictions…

    - Neal

  5. says

    Neal, it's actually worse than you think. LinkedIn also tries to impute links from things you type. For me, it rejected an invitation for having links when there were none. As I remember, I used company names only (for example, FaceBook – but not http://facebook.com). Ugh. From a user perspective, this is really dumb, LinkedIn. There are so many other ways to limit spam – why hurt the people who are using the system the way it should be used?

    And when are these guys going to grow up and test their software before they release it? Removing the option of including a comment is totally inexcusable. Doing this without telling users they have a problem they're working on is also inexcusable. LinkedIn is big enough to do regression testing, like real software developers do.

    Walter Feigenson
    http://feigenson.us/blog

  6. smseonext says

    LinkedIn is a very powerful & interesting social networking site.There are other social networking sites like Facebook & Twitter, and I find more and more peoples showing their interest in these sites.Let us hope that LinkedIn starts rethinking some of their restrictions…Thanks a lot for sharing this post with us.

  7. sriram_balasubramanian says

    Nice job Neal! I faced this problem too while connecting with users I don't personally know, and I had to use the anti-spam version ([at], [dot]) of my contact details! Since we're on this topic, have you ever tried clicking on the “I don't know <person>” option on the invitation page? When LI doesn't allow you to connect with people you don't know, why have an option at all ?!!!

  8. phillauterjung says

    Neal,
    It really is rather baffling how a company that claims to be an integral part of SOCIAL media seems to so frequently ignore the social aspect – the very people that helped them build their business. I think they still do a number of things well, but they really don't seem to be very tuned in to their users. You've a very good, and fair, job of outlining one of those instances. We can only hope that someone with LI is paying attention.

    Keep up the good work.

    Phil

  9. says

    Thank you for the compliment, Phil. I am glad that someone else agrees with the perspective that I have brought to the table. What you mention echos that of many other users on the site. I do think that LinkedIn will someday realize what they are doing is counter-productive.

  10. says

    Thank you Sriram! It really is a strange restriction in this day and age. As for the IDK, or I Don't Know response, I have yet to click on it and recommend others don't as well. Your point, though, is bang on!

  11. says

    Walter, wow, it is worse than I thought! Thanks for sharing this information with us. I do agree that the testing of software before it is released does seem to be on the weak side…

  12. says

    LinkedIn is the 'nanny state' of social networks. I only connect with those I have met but sometimes may not know well & if I think they might not instantly recognize me, I include a message re where we met. LI now is constantly giving me a warning that I have too many “I don't knows” but won't say how many that is. I am so paranoid they may cut me off, I feel as if I need to add a disclaimer to everyone I invite. Sheesh. I hope many users turn the heat up on complaints & critiques about their methods so that they get a clue. They seem to be out of touch. Another example: Orange County is considered part of Los Angeles on LI & thousands of users have petitioned it to be its own region, because it is a totally separate area. Their requests fall on deaf ears. Many other smaller towns have their own region. Why is LI so stubborn? Who runs it?

  13. markawilliams says

    I am not sure this update was really required but maybe Linkedin had their reasons, my view is that the time to send URL's is once you are connected – not within an invite. My main issue was the way it was handled. I had customers emailing and calling me saying that they could no longer personalize an invite – I contacted Customer services who said it was a glitch and would be resolved soon so I sent this message out – then a customer came back to me saying that CS had replied to their question by stating that the function had been removed and may never come back! It seems that even LI's own staff didnt know what was going on – not only are they poor communicators to their users but also to their own staff! I tweeted about this and promptly got my account suspended for 4 days as a punishment for saying anything negative about Linkedin! (lesson learnt there!)

  14. says

    Hi Melinda,

    Thanks for stopping by, and, as an Orange County resident who has mentioned the We are OC LinkedIn Group several times in my blog, you are truly preaching to the choir here! I think LinkedIn really needs to start thinking about how they treat their users and do some better PR. It really is the best service out there…they just need to be a little bit more responsive to their user needs and show us some TLC, if you know what I mean.
    - Neal

  15. says

    Hi Melinda,

    Thanks for stopping by, and, as an Orange County resident who has mentioned the We are OC LinkedIn Group several times in my blog, you are truly preaching to the choir here! I think LinkedIn really needs to start thinking about how they treat their users and do some better PR. It really is the best service out there…they just need to be a little bit more responsive to their user needs and show us some TLC, if you know what I mean.
    - Neal

  16. says

    Hi Melinda,

    Thanks for stopping by, and, as an Orange County resident who has mentioned the We are OC LinkedIn Group several times in my blog, you are truly preaching to the choir here! I think LinkedIn really needs to start thinking about how they treat their users and do some better PR. It really is the best service out there…they just need to be a little bit more responsive to their user needs and show us some TLC, if you know what I mean.
    - Neal

  17. says

    Hi Mark,
    Wow! They restricted your account for 4 days because you tweeted the truth? That is just bad. The whole episode (lack of software validation before release, misinformed support staff) really makes you wonder what is going on inside LinkedIn. The people that work there are certainly some of the brightest of Silicon Valley, but couldn't they show a little more respect for their users? Let's hope things get better…
    - Neal

  18. says

    Hi Mark,
    Wow! They restricted your account for 4 days because you tweeted the truth? That is just bad. The whole episode (lack of software validation before release, misinformed support staff) really makes you wonder what is going on inside LinkedIn. The people that work there are certainly some of the brightest of Silicon Valley, but couldn't they show a little more respect for their users? Let's hope things get better…
    - Neal

  19. says

    Hi Mark,
    Wow! They restricted your account for 4 days because you tweeted the truth? That is just bad. The whole episode (lack of software validation before release, misinformed support staff) really makes you wonder what is going on inside LinkedIn. The people that work there are certainly some of the brightest of Silicon Valley, but couldn't they show a little more respect for their users? Let's hope things get better…
    - Neal

  20. markawilliams says

    I am not sure this update was really required but maybe Linkedin had their reasons, my view is that the time to send URL's is once you are connected – not within an invite. My main issue was the way it was handled. I had customers emailing and calling me saying that they could no longer personalize an invite – I contacted Customer services who said it was a glitch and would be resolved soon so I sent this message out – then a customer came back to me saying that CS had replied to their question by stating that the function had been removed and may never come back! It seems that even LI's own staff didnt know what was going on – not only are they poor communicators to their users but also to their own staff! I tweeted about this and promptly got my account suspended for 4 days as a punishment for saying anything negative about Linkedin! (lesson learnt there!)

  21. says

    Hi Melinda,

    Thanks for stopping by, and, as an Orange County resident who has mentioned the We are OC LinkedIn Group several times in my blog, you are truly preaching to the choir here! I think LinkedIn really needs to start thinking about how they treat their users and do some better PR. It really is the best service out there…they just need to be a little bit more responsive to their user needs and show us some TLC, if you know what I mean.
    - Neal

  22. says

    Hi Mark,
    Wow! They restricted your account for 4 days because you tweeted the truth? That is just bad. The whole episode (lack of software validation before release, misinformed support staff) really makes you wonder what is going on inside LinkedIn. The people that work there are certainly some of the brightest of Silicon Valley, but couldn't they show a little more respect for their users? Let's hope things get better…
    - Neal

  23. Ranger says

    Yes I agree with you.

    As far I remember they say in the help menu that when I will be Mature I can not invite others without their e-mails. But in the process of connecting I saw linkedin says lot of people said they do not know me and I have the restriction to e-mail only connection. But it is very surprising to see that lot of invitation coming from the networks of the persons linked to my network. How do they do that?

    • says

      You cannot invite others unless you know their email address only if you have sent out invitations in which five people or more have responded to your invitation with an “I Don’t Know” this user, or more recently “Report Spam.” You can often have this restriction taken off if you contact LinkedIn Customer Service. Good luck to you!

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