Revised May 27, 2014
What does a LinkedIn LION mean?
LION, in the LinkedIn world, stands for Linked In Open Networker. I believe the term was first coined by the gentleman that began the Lions’ Lair at The Meta Network (now defunct), Christian Mayaud (who is a top networker himself).
LIONs are basically open to networking with people that they have never met before, and they are important in the fact that they bridge networks of closed people. If we all follow the standard rule of LinkedIn and say “I Don’t Know” for every invite that we receive from someone who we have never personally met, it would be hard for closed networks to grow into each other and evolve into the great networking community that LinkedIn is today. So LIONs, in general, accept invites from anyone or at least will not give you the dreaded “I Don’t Know” as a response to your invitation. With this in mind, it is relatively risk-free to invite a LION that you found in an Advanced Search into your network.
That being said, there is no authority that governs LinkedIn (other than LinkedIn itself, obviously), and thus if a LION (someone who puts LION in their profile on their headline, for instance) responds to an invite with an “IDK”, they are not penalized. You are. I have received an IDK from a “LION” who put the term next to their name on their headline. I even wrote them with a Wikipedia definition of what LION means (note: Wikipedia has since deleted said page) and asked them to invite me into their network to cancel out their “mistake”, but it was to no avail.
In conclusion, while it is relatively safe to invite a LION into your network, there is no guarantee that you will not receive an IDK. That is why it is important to review every LION’s profile and contact details to confirm whether or not they really do welcome your invite or not.
“Does LinkedIn discourage LIONs” is a question I received from a reader after writing this post. LinkedIn apparently _originally_ did not like LIONs, and that is why they only display up to 500 connections per person as well as limit the number of invitations that you can send out. I believe that they wanted to keep a community of professionals which would be full of high quality, trustworthy networks without people getting spammed. I think that some people who just wanted to connect with everyone in the early days or perhaps some spammers may have ruined this for others, but I don’t know. LinkedIn wants people to know each other when they connect, and that is why they give you an option to send a seemingly innocent “I Don’t Know” as a way to turn down a connection.
Recently, LinkedIn has allowed LION groups to exist on LinkedIn, so they are taking a more neutral stance. In fact, the ability to search for LION groups in the groups section, which just began a week or so ago, has made it easier to join LION groups. However, they still place limitations on those who have a lot of connections and send out lots of invites.
So, in the end, I would say that traditionally LinkedIn has discouraged but now they are more neutral towards LIONs. I will also add that 1) I am a big fan of Linked In and believe we all need to follow the rules of etiquette as outlined in the End User Agreement which we agree to when we sign up, and 2) although I have been a user since 2004, only in 2008 have I become a LION, so there are many more in the community who understand this topic in more depth. I welcome everyone’s comments to this post so that we can all get a better understanding of the history behind this.
One last thing to note: Since I originally ended this post back in 2008, the LION movement, and LinkedIn, has changed quite a bit to the point where many Internet Marketers simply see becoming a LION as an easy way to acquire email addresses to either sell or to opt you in to mailing lists which you never subscribed before. Because of this, and other ways of engaging openly in social media with others that have evolved over the last few years, I am no longer representing myself as a LinkedIn LION (click for more details). That being said, in the spirit of open networking, should you 1) personalize your LinkedIn invitation to me and 2) explain your purpose for connecting, I will most likely accept your invite. This is actually a best practice for inviting anyone on LinkedIn with whom you might not know well.
Are YOU a LinkedIn LION? What has your experience been with the open networking movement? Please chime in!
You might be further interested to know that LION is such a popular keyword on LinkedIn profiles, that it correlates to being the 3rd most popular among those with a lot of LinkedIn connections as shown in the below infographic:
Infographic Source: Dan Zarrella
What does this mean for you and your online networking strategy? If you’re looking for the definitive book on LinkedIn which gives even more details and all the secrets about the open networking movement, how to become a LION, advice on how to network with other open networkers, as well as a complete reference to all of the functionality that Linked In has to offer, be sure to check out my comprehensive book on the social networking site: “Windmill Networking: Maximizing LinkedIn.”