Quantity vs. Quality, or why everyone really shouldn't be your friend

Following his musings on Quality or Quantity?, Palo Alto VC Jeffrey Nolan ran an experiment on LinkedIn, in which he created a fake account and invited some people who, by definition, could not possibly know this “person”. Never mind that this is probably a violation of their User Agreement (LinkedIn’s offline for upgrades today), it’s still good information that supports a point I’ve been really trying to make in several circles recently: If “friend” or “contact” is the only designation you have for people, then everyone who asks is not your friend.

For his experiment, Nolan sent out over 1,500 invitations from this fake account. As of Day 1, this fake person already had 16 connections! Only 4 people replied back that they did not know this person well enough to accept the connection. There were a couple of more people who asked for more information first. Now, certainly some large number of people have opted to just use LinkedIn’s new “Ignore” feature, but still, 16 people accepting a connection not only from someone they don’t know, but someone who they don’t validate through other channels (a little web research would have easily demonstrated this person to be fictitious), is pretty horrendous.

This problem, of course, is not exclusive to LinkedIn. And the problem is not so much of people being total fakes, like this, but of simply misrepresenting themselves, or having a poor reputation, and you connect with them anyway just on the basis of what you see in their profile page. I have at least three people who have requested to be my friend on Ryze who, after observing their behavior, I would have been horribly embarassed to ever have been associated with.

This should NOT scare anyone away from social networking sites—the dozens of success stories we’ve collected far outweigh risks like this. It DOES mean, though, that you really need to be selective about who your “friends” are, even online. People will use you for referrals, whether they involve you or not, and the quality of the people that you connect to WILL reflect on you. Choose your friends carefully, not indiscriminately.