Not too long ago, LinkedIn was a haven from spam. Messages came only from people you knew or who had taken the time to learn something about you. LinkedIn groups were loaded with conversations between members seeking input from experts and peers. Connection requests, for the most part, came from people who had a genuine reason to want to be connected.

The times are changing — and the news is not good.

Now LinkedIn inboxes are full of thoughtless, templated and irrelevant messages; connection requests flow in from completely unrelated – and possibly not even real – people; and most LinkedIn groups are so full of blog posts they are beginning to look like Twitter. (Thank you Brian Carroll for that analogy.)

In all fairness, this change for worse is not totally the fault of sales or marketing people. There’s plenty of abuse coming from the usual suspects who have nothing better to do with their time; and network newcomers do make honest mistakes. But the lion’s share of the crap we see in LinkedIn inboxes and groups has been put there by overzealous sales people and marketers who are probably following “best practices” made up by consultants who don’t understand LinkedIn at all.

And guess what – it’s driving people away. Every week I hear from former LinkedIn users who have simply had it. They feel that LinkedIn has lost its value as a business network because there is too much noise. This is bad for all of us. It’s bad for the sales people and marketers who have something valuable to offer and for the potential buyers who are in search of an answer.

If we want to save LinkedIn as an online business network that truly provides value, so-called best practices need to change. Here are some places to start:

7 rules to make LinkedIn better once again

  1. You must actually look at a profile before you send an InMail or message. Even if you are connected. Do not blast out messages based merely on titles or keywords. That’s spam.
  2. You may not use any type of marketing automation program to post a discussion in a LinkedIn group. You must actually visit the group, see what’s going on inside it and then post a discussion.
  3. There is a reason LinkedIn calls these “Discussions” and not “Links to Your Blog Article”. If you’re going to post something, ask a question or provide some useful information. You may link to an article to provide additional information – but not the only information.
  4. Once you post a discussion you must actually go back to the group and respond to any legitimate comments that are made.
  5. Do not send generic connection requests.
  6. If quantity is more important than quality, run an ad or a sponsored update.
  7. Do not scrape email addresses and use them – without permission – to spam members via email.

LinkedIn is not a game of numbers, people. It’s a business network that works best with one-to-one communication. If you don’t believe me, read Why You Should Spend More LinkedIn Time Researching to see how one sales pro has achieved a 75% appointment-setting success rate by taking the time to actually learn about his prospects.

How you can make LinkedIn work

This week take a few minutes to think about what you want to accomplish with the use of LinkedIn. If it’s prospecting or lead generation, ask yourself if quality or quantity is more important. How can you balance or rebalance your efforts so that you spend more time focused on legitimate prospects? Is it really in your best interest to blast messages to half-heartedly “qualified” people, forcing them to disqualify themselves (at risk of finding you annoying) instead of taking the time to do it yourself?