Sending LinkedIn Invites to Strangers: Is There Protocol?

Written By &Marketing

On July 9, 2021

The pandemic has forever changed how people network, with digital networking becoming mainstream. And nowhere has this been more prevalent than on LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s usage soared through the pandemic, with a 31% increase in engagement and 19% increased revenue over the past year. Gone are the days where LinkedIn was only for ‘finding a job’ and you only connected with people you know in real life.

We’ve all faced a situation like this on LinkedIn: You encounter someone on LinkedIn and you want to connect with them. Maybe they posted something you identified with or you share a similar position in your industry. Maybe they’re a potential prospect and you want to build a digital relationship. In any case, you want to connect with this person that you haven’t actually met.

However, you don’t want to just ‘reach out’ given the amount of SPAM or overly “salesly” message requests we’re bombarded with on a regular basis. It’s understandable for people to be wary of a request from an unknown person.

How do you create a LinkedIn invite for a virtual stranger?

Since there’s no hard-and-fast rule of etiquette surrounding these types of requests, we went straight to the source by asking our own contacts through a LinkedIn poll, and the results were quite revealing!

Overall, we found that about one-third of people will either accept every invite, or not accept an invite from someone they don’t know.

Under what conditions do you accept LinkedIn invites from people you don’t know?

  • 20% NEVER accept unsolicited requests
  • 68% accept some
  • 12% ACCEPT all invites

This leaves about ⅔ of people in the “gray zone,” that space where there is no black or white answer and it really depends on several factors. Some people prefer a tight network of close contacts and to avoid strangers online, while others prefer to explore new contacts and discover the unknown potential networks in their industry.

After reviewing the 150+ comments, we created some guidelines when approaching your next potential LinkedIn contact:

1) Always customize the invite (and don’t use AI!)

Many respondents said that they wouldn’t accept invites from those who didn’t customize their invites with a message to make the benefit of connecting clear. So, take a few moments to customize your message to make the benefits of connection with you clear. Is it a common industry or geography? Common LinkedIn connections? A common former employer or university?

And besides being explicitly against LinkedIn’s terms of use, many users feel they know when automation is being used to automatically send invites.

I’m highly filtered for whom I let in, if I haven’t interacted/met them. I first look to see if they wrote me an actual message addressed to me personally, that’s relevant. If not – and I don’t actually know them – decline. If you can’t take the time to address why you’re asking to connect with me, it’s pretty straightforward that I don’t know you anyway.

Jeff Fryer

I only connect with people who send me a personalized note (it’s pretty easy to tell the generic AI invites). I’m not looking for followers – I actually know (or had at least a few conversations with) every one of my LinkedIn connections. They are my network, my collaborators, my team.

Merrill Loechner, Storyteller

If we know people in common, or send me a personal, not automated, message I accept them.

Helen Passfield , Business owner

2) Make the benefit of connecting clear to the receiver

“It’s not about you!”

Nobody wants a spammy sales pitch as part of the invite, so avoid the “unsolicited sales pitch” at all costs. Look from the perspective of the receiver and build a benefit into your message. If accepting the contact means you can both broaden your knowledge in your field or offer a new perspective on a situation or process, you are likely to have more success in getting new contacts. Any worthwhile relationship takes two to make the connection worthwhile. While you want to ensure you will benefit from adding the contact, let them know how they can benefit from a connection. If it appears a mutually beneficial relationship can develop from an unknown contact, many agree it’s worth saying yes.

A critical element for me is threefold. Will it create a business or learning opportunity, provide welcome insight and different perspectives, or widen my network to better business outcomes and untapped opportunities. Relevance, as mentioned above, is the key driver.

Dana Lupton

I go back and forth on this. For the most part…I accept. I think it makes sense to connect with others as much as possible and to provide value to them via that connection. If I can make a referral or connection where and when that makes sense…then it is a win for everyone. But recognizing bandwidth has its limitations is practical.” 

Drew Griffin

3) Make sure the connection is relevant – common interests or connections

Another major benefit of making a request on a social network versus an in-person connection is the opportunity to do some research. Many respondents concluded that if the contact is a stranger and yet seems like a good match, some initial research can help with the decision to accept or decline. Many specifically said that they would accept invites if the person has common LinkedIn connections

I think it depends on the strength of those connections. If the mutual connections are strong, then I wouldn’t hesitate to accept and reach out to set up a one-on-one. If those connections are weak, I may pause. My ultimate goal with LinkedIn is to develop professional relationships that I can lean on if need be. That reminds me that it might be time to prune my connections a bit.

Eric Knoblauch, Financial Analyst

If they put a personalized message explaining what they are looking for or how we may work together, I’m likely to respond favorably. Because LinkedIn is primarily a business tool for me, I try to make connections with people that are going to help my business. Granted, networking is all about who you know, so even people involved in different industries may get me a connection to a potential customer, but I have to figure out that balance. Our customer base is primarily in North America, so typically I will not accept requests from connections outside of that area.

Maryn Elliott

Sales Representative at Elliott Company

I accept the request if we are in the same industry or have mutual connections.

Olivia Martinez

I will accept if the individual is connected to several current contacts.

Tracey Woomer

If you’re still unclear on where you stand in networking, especially in the Post-COVID business environment, consider researching the importance of relationship marketing post pandemic.

4) Make sure your own profile is updated!

Many respondents will do their own research when reviewing an invite and deciding whether or not to accept it. So, make sure your profile is updated and reflects genuinely on your position and goals. Many believe that creating a virtual team of contacts from whom they can learn can be a valuable opportunity to make an impact or even just provide a better understanding of issues at play.

I look for relevance, a genuine aspect of their approach, common connections that validate them and some way we can each win from connection. Sometimes it’s business opportunity, sometimes partnership, sometimes learning and lately…it could be about aligned missions (ie, fighting for the event industry’s optimization of engagement and value). Without relevance at all, I will decline an invite.

Beck Wentz

I check out their profile before accepting. What I look for are number of connections (500+), people we have in common, and what they do. The only exception is my students. I always accept them!

Orly Zeewy

5) Interact with those you invite if they ask questions!

Some of our respondents specifically reach out to those who have sent them in invite who they don’t know. If this happens, always follow up!

If the invitation does not include a note, and I think that the connection may be useful for both, I answer asking for the purpose of the invitation. Only 10% of the cases o receive an answer. No answer in 7 days, I decline and block the person. If I receive an answer, I analyze if I make another question or I politely decline.

Pablo Lewin

Sometimes I ask them why out of millions of people they wanted to connect with me, when we can easily follow people we find interesting. I do not connect with everyone, but I do always research who they are and how I could add value to their lives.

Harriet Stein


Final Thoughts 

Remember: LinkedIn can be a powerful tool, but until you fully realize how to leverage it, you may need to spend some time learning how to best grow and develop a network.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you may still get your invitation declined. The times to say no to an unknown contact are broadly personal. Some prefer to keep their contacts limited to their own industry, while others are hesitant to accept offers from anyone unknown in anticipation of sales pitches and unsolicited headhunters.

To summarize, it’s always a good approach to send a brief introduction with a LinkedIn request to someone you haven’t met to clearly show them the benefit of connecting with you. Identify mutual benefits of connecting, the relevance of your connection, and any mutual alignments. And always have your LinkedIn profile updated!

Is your business interested in learning more about leveraging LinkedIn to drive business? Download our ebook, “Powerful tips to increase and engage your LinkedIn company page followers” or contact us directly for an evaluation on how you can best utilize social media in your business.

About Rajat Kapur

Rajat “Raj” Kapur is the founder and Managing Director of &Marketing. He strives to provide growing businesses of all sizes unparalleled marketing strategy and execution services. Raj brings two decades of professional experience in marketing, sales, and strategy development experience spanning B2B and B2C Fortune 50, mid-sized, and startups.

Ann Ehinger is a Marketing Manager at &Marketing. She serves as the link between clients and creative to drive projects that deliver results. With over a decade of experience working in the non-profit, technology, and agency space, Ann is adept at managing a project from idea to completion while navigating all the ups and downs that pop up in between.

 About &Marketing

In today’s fast paced world, many growing businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

&Marketing provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals and a nimble execution team to help our clients achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to augment our client’s existing teams or outsource the entire marketing function in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.