Warning: rant ahead. But as a professional who depends upon networking, I feel that it’s warranted.

We need to rethink how we’re using LinkedIn. No, seriously. Unless you’re looking for a job, it’s just not very useful anymore. I know this post might make me sound like an old, cranky curmudgeon, but hear me out on this. When was the last time you used LinkedIn to actually make the most of your connections? It used to be that if you wanted to connect with someone, you could see your mutual connections and ask one of them for an introduction. Example: “I’d really like to connect with some fellow physician writers. Let’s see if there are any in Heather’s LinkedIn network; I’m sure she wouldn’t mind making an introduction.” See how nice that is? I can ask Heather to introduce me to someone in her network that she actually knows. Then, maybe one day down the road, I can return the favor for her. Easy peasy. But nowadays, few people actually use it this way. People have gone rogue with their networking attempts. It’s like it’s become a popularity contest. Who cares if you have over 1000 connections? It’s a professional networking site. If you have over 1000 professional connections, I’m starting to doubt 1) your professionalism and 2) your authenticity. Of course, there’s no magic number, so don’t try to pin me down. But you see where I’m going with this.

Take-away: Aim for quality, not quantity.

Next, there’s nothing personal about the connections. Occasionally, folks will send a quick note as to why they’d like to connect. THANK YOU. Totally makes sense. Thank you for reminding me where we met or explaining that you’d like to learn more about my area of expertise. But in most cases, I receive requests from total strangers with no introduction. What’s the point? Why send me an invitation to connect if there’s no reason? Do you really think that one day I’ll hit up some rando on LinkedIn to take advantage of his DJing services (real example)? I get so many random connection requests, it baffles me. People I’ve never met before and likely never will, considering our geographic locations and very different career paths. People I have practically nothing in common with, based on their profiles. And, of course, people who I can only presume have an ulterior motive (I’m looking at you, sales people). What’s the point? If I don’t know you from Adam, why in the world would I choose you to be my financial advisor? Or be my limo driver? Or my parenting coach (all real examples)?

Take-away: If you want to connect with someone on LinkedIn, first ask yourself why. Then, if it still makes sense to you, send a note along with your invitation to explain. Your connections will thank you.

It seems to me that we’ve lost sight of the point of LinkedIn. I realize that it’s probably too late to go back to when connections actually meant something. So what’s next? If LinkedIn is MySpace, what’s the next Facebook? Whatever it is, I just hope we can use it for its intended purpose.

How do you use LinkedIn?