The first thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong answer here. It depends on your personal circumstances and your strategy for using LinkedIn. Anyone who has flagged themselves as a ‘LION’ – LinkedIn Open Networker, is saying that they will connect with anyone. However, you may like to think a little before deciding to become a LION. If you want to increase your reach on LinkedIn, then you may like to take a tactical decision to connect with them if they look to be well connected to the people you want to meet. Whereas some people keep their LinkedIn network, just for people they have met, and trust and would recommend to others. The choice is yours!
When someone sends you a connection request, who you don’t know, there is always a reason for this. It may be just that LinkedIn suggested you as someone that they may know. Whatever their reason, it is always worth finding out their motive for wanting to connect. They could be a potential client or become a trusted supplier. Without having the conversation you will never know. Therefore, before you accept the request, send them a message to find out why. I have a standard piece of text which I cut and paste when I get requests from people I don’t know. It goes something like this:
I am very flattered to have received your LinkedIn request – although, and my apologises if we have meet online or in person, but I don’t recall meeting you. As I like to know how I can help my LinkedIn network, it would be good to know what has prompted you to connect – your invite was a little on the brief side.
If your reply is ignored, then I’d decline their request. After all, if they are not prepared to start a dialogue or a relationship with you, then you are probably just the LinkedIn equivalent of a notch in the bed post. If your reply is answered, then it is up to you whether you start the conversation and see where the relationship may end up.
It may help you to remember that a LinkedIn connection to request is just the same as shaking a strangers hand at a networking event. It’s up to you whether you choose to take the relationship any further.