The Art of Tidying of Your Online Professional Network Connections | Beth's Blog

The Art of Tidying of Your Online Professional Network Connections

Professional Networking

I’ve just finished teaching an online course for The Knight Digital Media Center @ USC Annenberg for community foundation leaders on practical networked leadership skills.  It covered how leaders can use their social channels as their authentic selves to engage with their communities and in leadership conversations with peers,  social learning, and intentionally building and developing professional networks online.

One of the classes was focused on “Smart Professional Online Networking” and includes an exercise where participants analyze, de-layer, and build the “core” of their professional network.   A strong core is your inner circle, a smaller but diverse group of people who give you energy.    But having a core isn’t enough, with online social networks there is the power of weak ties.

To get more insights, we look at the advice from Master Networker Heidi Roizen, profiled in the popular 2000 Harvard Business School case study about professional networking.  In the case, Roizen highlights three key elements of successful networking: access to the right people, your performance in and after the interaction, and your consistency over time.   These principles are still true today, but a lot of changed with the adoption of online professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn.

Roizen says that today is all about relationships and online social networks can speed relationships — that is the more you are present with your authentic brand, the more you can connected with the right people or quickly.   She warns not to confuse social media connections with actual intimacy.  “Social media creates a false sense of intimacy. Social media has allowed us to have broader relationships, but at the end of the day, human relationships haven’t changed — we haven’t increased a human being’s capacity to have close associations with a lot more people.” Everyone has to set their own limits or a connection policy (and disconnection policy).  For example, my colleague, Alexandra Samuel, suggests using the “favor rule.”   Would you ask or do a favor for this connection?

However,  Roizen is not saying that should only think about professional networks in terms of having a core or inner circle only.    Online technology has increased our capacity to maintain weak ties with people, and  has value. There’s a lot of research and writing about weak links being potentially more powerful than strong ones.   She says that social media and online technology can let you catch up quickly with colleagues from your past or potential connections and let you evaluate whether or not to reconnect.

When I teach, I always make space for an activity called a “Learning Culmination,” where I opened it up for reflections, questions, and a conversation about how to continue their practice as engaged social leaders. One question that came up  goes something like this:   “When I first started LinkedIn,   I grew my network without having a strategy – thus accepting too many connections from people that I don’t know or not sure why it is valuable for us to be connection.   Is it okay to clean out your connections?  Is it rude to “unconnect” from someone on LinkedIn?  And, what is a good way to do this cleaning?”

First off, it is easy to remove a connection from your LinkedIn network, but yet some have a concern about letting go – that somehow it is rude or the other person might get offended.     When you remove a connection from LinkedIn (“unfriend”), the other person will not receive a beeping notification that screams that you’ve disconnected them from your professional online network on LinkedIn and most likely they won’t notice.

Your professional online network and connections requires ongoing tuning and that includes occasionally clearing out some of your connection clutter. I just read Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organization” which, of course,  is talking about decluttering your closet and home, but the principles work for your professional life – clearing your calendar, to do list, and your online social network connections.

Think about what happens to your closet if you don’t organize it.  It does not stay neat and tidy with just a few items of clothing that you like to wear.   When you make no conscious effort to keep it organized, the closet becomes a cluttered mess.    Every so often, it might get so out of control that you try to purge your closet.   But you need a disciplined system beyond asking “Will I ever wear this someday in the future?  That question may make it hard to let go.   Kondo suggests asking a question like, “Does this item of clothing give me joy or energy?”  If not, get rid of it.

So, you might want to “Kondo”  your connections in your online professional network!  Think about your connections and the value as well as Alexandra’s “favor rule.”    Do this an annual Spring cleaning.  To keep your network de-cluttered, identify an intentional connection policy about who you will accept as a connections.

How do you de-clutter your professional online network?  Do you have an intentional connection policy?


7 Responses

  1. Laura Norvig says:

    If I ask myself “would I do a favor” for someone, that would probably leave too many people in my network! Because I’m super generous with certain types of online favors, such as looking up information for someone, or sharing a post they need shared …

    But if I ask myself, “would I ask for a favor” from someone, then I might cull my network too much, because I’m pretty reluctant to ask unless I have a compelling reason and connection.

    Guess you just have to know yourself and adjust accordingly.

    Kondo sounds great for home decluttering – just might check it out.

  2. Sue says:

    Hey Beth,

    This sounds great, both the post — and the book — as well as the course. Will you be teaching that course again? either in person or online? I’d love to participate. Thanks much — Sue

  3. Beth says:

    Hi Sue, I am doing workshops with that material and hope to do more of them.

    Hi Laura, I have the same problem .. but when I went through my messy network, I realized that I had some folks that I didn’t really know and that was easy. Another way to think of it is to apply the “would I ask for a favor” to your core and the “would I do a favor” to your weak ties.

  4. Beth says:

    Laura: PS The Kondo book was wonderful.

  5. Saya Hillman says:

    Amen amen amen!!! If I was highlighting this article, I would’ve highlighted the whole thing. Thanks for talking about this Beth.

    I did the same thing when I first started out (being self-employed, I thought every connection was a good connection). Now I unfriend, unconnect, unfollow on a regular basis, either people who I have no clue who they are or people who are no longer connections that make sense (personally and professionally).

    The other side of the coin here is not cluttering in the first place so that you don’t have to declutter (though I totally agree that Spring Cleaning should happen even if you’re on top of making thoughtful connections).

    Now I know better and am perfectly fine ignoring or saying no to connection requests. If someone attempts to connect without a personal message a la “I met you at the event last Thursday at Hotel Indigo and enjoyed chatting! Would love to connect here.”, I have no qualms about ignoring. For Facebook specifically, if they send a message/friend request and I still don’t feel that a connection would be prudent, I have a Canned Response that I send, thanking them for reaching out, explaining that I keep personal and professional separate, and inviting them to connect via my FB page, via Twitter, via my elists, and/or at my events. This happens to me a lot, as I do a lot of public events (speaking engagements, workshops, etc). Either I never hear back or I get “Totally understand!” responses.

    Beth, how do you handle people you don’t know wanting to connect online if you don’t want to connect with them? (I realize how horrible that sounds!)

  6. Jay Cross says:

    It’s simple. If you don’t know them, don’t connect. Turn down their requests..or risk polluting your network with strangers.

  7. Beth says:


    I handle it much in the same way you do. I get a lot of requests as I’m sure you do. On Facebook, I direct to my brand page or allow people to “follow” my updates and do work related posts as public posts. On LinkedIn, I get a lot requests from strangers and do what Jay suggests. I do get posts from people I know of, but haven’t met in person — these are a case-by-case basis accepted or ignored. I don’t respond to people who send me a request with a note. I also believe as we discussed before, that if I was supposed to be connected to this person, the universe will make that happen if I disconnected or didn’t accept.