When does a social networker become a pest?

Linkedin-blockingCan an obsession with connection turn you into a spammer?

This is a question that has troubled me since Linkedin sent me this e-mail

Hi Henry,

Due to the extremely high number and percentage of rejected invitations associated with your account, as well as the number of restrictions caused by these numbers, the current restriction will stay in effect for another 30 days.

At this time, you have 108 rejected invitations. If this number has not increased after the expiration of another 30 days, the restriction will be lifted from your account.

Please note that if another invitation restriction is triggered to your account it will be permanent.

Sincerely,     LinkedIn Trust & Safety

I posted on the Pension Play Pen a poll asking whether TAPPER IS A SPAMMER? with two answers “yes or no”. 47 people voted “no” and 3 “yes”.

The vote was predictable but it was among the 32 comments that I received some important insights ( the poll’s closed but you can still see the full  thread here.

Leo asked

When you send out invitations to connect to people you don’t know, do you put in some text as well by way of introduction or just a blank invitation?

Tony suggested

Maybe you can get people to introduce you instead. I’m sure your  contacts could come up with some interesting character references!

Ian asked a thoughtful question

like others, I receive invites from people I don’t know without any sort of introductory message. Some I’ve accepted; some I’ve rejected. And, of those I’ve accepted, some have been good connections; some have been spammers. Maybe the
vote should be around whether it’s appropriate to invite people you don’t know without any sort of introductory message.

Pauline remarked

I think that if people do not wish to receive invites from people outside of their circle of known people then they should adjust their settings accordingly and only accept invites from people who know their email address.

While Debi spoke with the authority of a linked in veteran

I have rejected obvious spammers (about half a dozen in as many years). I simply ‘ignore’ people in the industry whom I don’t know and don’t feel the need to connect to – no need to punish someone simply trying to network

There was a degree of consensus across the thread, there is an innate contradiction between LinkedIn’s encouragement to connect to people and its need to protect people from unwanted advances.

Clearly there is functionality within LinkedIn’s settings that could protect people who don’t want unsolicited invitations from receiving them but few have the time or inclination to reach so deep into the black box.

Similarly there are people within Linkedin who are trying to encourage the development of the database through the developments of groups (like the playpen) , endorsements and of course connection networks.

But this resource is very hard to get to. Unsurprisingly as there are over 170m people on Linkedin (13m of whom are in three degrees of separation from me).

Linkedin currently publish an article on what they call “I to we” which you can read in full here. Here are some extracts which point to a philosophical belief in the value of unlimited connectivity.

The maximum number of relationships we can realistically manage—the number that can fit on the memory card, as it were—is described as Dunbar’s Number, .. but maybe it shouldn’t be.

In the early nineties, Dunbar studied the social connections within groups of monkeys and apes. He theorized that the maximum size of their overall social group was limited by the small size of their neocortex.

It requires brainpower to socialize with other animals, so it follows that the smaller the primate’s brain, the less efficient it is at socializing, and the fewer other primates it can befriend.

….based on our neocortex size, Dunbar calculated that humans should be able to maintain relationships with no more than roughly 150 people at a time.

….but Dunbar’s research is not exactly about the total number of people that any one person can know. The research focused on how many nonhuman primates (and humans, but only by extrapolation) can survive together in a tribe.

Of course, group limits and the number of people you can know are closely related concepts, especially if you consider everyone in your life to be part of your social group. Yet most of us define our total social group more broadly than Dunbar did in his research. Survival in the modern world doesn’t depend on having direct, face-to-face contact with everyone in our social network/group, as it did for the tribes he studied.

Regardless of how you parse Dunbar’s research, what is definitely the case is that there is a limit to the number of relationships you can maintain, if for no other reason than the fact that we have only twenty-four hours in each day. But, contrary to popular understanding of Dunbar’s Number, there is not one blunt limit. There are different limits for each type of relationship.

But there’s a twist. While the number of close allies and weak ties you can keep up is limited, those aren’t your only connections. You can actually maintain a much broader social network that exceeds the size of the memory card. It’s by smartly leveraging this extended network that you fully experience the power of I-to-the-We.

Your Extended Social Network: Second- and Third-Degree Connections

Your allies, weak ties, and the other people you know right now are your first-degree connections. A la Dunbar, there are limits to the number of first-degree connections you can have at any one time. But your friends know people you don’t know.

Your Network Is Bigger and More Powerful Than You Think

But is the world actually that small? Psychologist Stanley Milgram and his student Jeffrey Travers found that it is.

Milgram’s and Watts’s research shows planet Earth as one massive social network, with every human being connected to every other via no more than about six intermediary people. It’s neat to ponder being connected to billions of people through your friends, and the practical implications for the start-up of you are significant as well.

…if there were a master chart of the entire human social network, you could locate the shortest possible path from you to the doctor. Now, increasingly, there is. Out of an estimated one billion professionals in the world, well over 170 million of them are on LinkedIn. Now, you can search this network to find the connections and friends of connections who can introduce you to that all-star doctor with the fewest number of handoffs. You don’t need to randomly forward an email and hope it arrives at your destination after six twists and turns.

Here’s where the caveat to the Six Degrees of Separation theory comes in. Academically, the theory is correct, but when it comes to meeting people who can help you professionally, three degrees of separation is what matters.

Three degrees is the magic number because when you’re introduced to a second- or third-degree connection, at least one person in an introduction chain personally knows the origin or target person.

Now you know why one of LinkedIn’s early marketing taglines was: Your Network Is Bigger Than You Think. It is

I remain confused, I know I cannot treat all my first connections as my friends and suspect that many people find their first connection to me as slightly fraudulent.

But people who connect with me , massively boost their capacity to find others and link to them. In this sense I am setting myself up as a hub of connectivity. the Pension Play Pen is a means to transfer my connectivity into a more manageable group which “runs itself”.

I suspect I am at a tipping point in connectivity. This is the point when linked in itself says “enough is enough”.

Whether this an arbitrary or scientifically defined tipping point is a matter for linked in.  I cannot control whether someone choses to “unknow” me. The more “knowing” I try to do, the greater the risk that I will be permanently banned from the majority of LinkedIn’s online connection functionality.

I’ll be sending this article to Linkedin prior to my “reinstatement” on 26th December and hope it will be accompanied by some more comments from people who read this blog! Comment away!

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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5 Responses to When does a social networker become a pest?

  1. Dawid says:

    I think the problem arises from the fact that you and LinkedIn are approaching this from two very different perspectives. Your (logical) argument is that LinkedIn is, on the face of it, all about connectivity, and that it therefore makes no sense for them to stop you connecting with anyone who wishes to connect with you.

    You go further, and adduce coherent evidence (your poll) that people, by and large, do not regard you as a spammer. The problem is that LinkedIn isn’t, in fact, first and foremost about connectivity. It is about revenue generation. This ultimate agenda means people like you are a headache for LinkedIn.

    You are a super-connector, certainly; but, by reaching out directly to people you do not know, you are by-passing a major LinkedIn source of revenue: InMail. LinkedIn charges handsomely to use InMail, whose sole purpose is to connect you to people you do not yet know. Every time you successfully connect with a stranger, you bypass InMail and you cost LinkedIn money.

    If everyone did what you do on the scale that you do, LinkedIn would take a huge revenue hit. So, they punish your “anti-social” behaviour although in reality it is “anti-revenue” behaviour. But, because they won’t actually come out and say that, you and they go around and around in circles as you (in effect) try to get around InMail, and they slap your wrist on a regular basis.

    Eventually, if you do not toe the InMail line, they will kick you out of the party. Of course, as we all know, there’s a limit to how many people you can kick around before The Spring arrives…

    • henry tapper says:


      Great post.

      Linkedin’s brand will suffer if you are right.

      I’d be very interested to hear from others who understand the economics of linkedin’s business model.

      In my view, organisations like linkedin are very dependent on goodwill which is easy to lose and hard to gain.

      I hope you are wrong but fear you are right.

  2. The Hack. says:

    1) Henry, this goes back to my point about your random conections not being targeted (when you slated pensions press http://henrytapper.com/2012/09/01/the-new-journalists) the number of individuals in your reach/network only you will know but out of however many hundreds of conections you managed 47 responses

    2) “The problem is that LinkedIn isn’t, in fact, first and foremost about connectivity. It is about revenue generation.” Wow, what does that make Mallowstreet

    • henry tapper says:

      I’m not sure that even if all my contacts were as engaged as you, I would have got a different response- but that’s a matter of speculation!

      Linkedin and mallowstreet are quite entitled to make money from their activities. Mallowstreet are setting up a super-user group to take into account the views of those who contribute. Linkedin appear to be going in the other direction and disconnecting with the people who do most to promote it.

      I have an eclectic bunch of connections (random is the wrong word) they are people I am interested by and want to know more about- that isn’t quite random!

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