investigatingLet’s compare and contrast the three major social networks: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Facebook: Est. in 2004, 995 million users as of June 2012. Although it has many business pages, Facebook is most widely used for personal accounts. Features include timelines, “Like” and “Add a friend” tools

Twitter: Est. in 2006, more than 500 million users in 2012. Twitter is for businesses and personal use. Features include news feeds, follow(ers), tweets and retweets.

LinkedIn: Est. in 2002, more than 175 million users. Focused on professional and business accounts with special emphasis on recruitment and talent. Features include news feed, connections, endorsements and following 150 “influencers”

The facts clearly show how over the years, social networking sites have mirrored one another. LinkedIn has always stood out from the bunch with its “professional” exclusivity; unlike most other social networking sites intended for pleasure and, over time, have added a business aspect, LinkedIn was designed for professional use, not personal.

Yet its recent endorsements and influencers features resemble the “like,” and “follow” features of Facebook and Twitter. I wonder if adding many more additions will inevitably turn the site into one of the many other “just for fun” social media tools? Will people endorse others casually just as people like a photo or Facebook status? I’m also concerned with LinkedIn connections. On Facebook and Twitter, many people have thousands of friends and followers they barely even know. I’ve witnessed plenty of users accept friends and followers just to increase their numbers.

Below are four ways to determine whether or not you should accept a LinkedIn connection invitation to prevent falling into the “just because” adding trap:

1. Ask honest questions

Before you decide to accept an invite or send one, ask yourself, “Can I recommend this person?” or “Can he or she recommend me?” Recruiters, HR managers and key people within a company look at a person’s connections to see who they’re linked to. You don’t want to run this risk of having to explain, “I only know him or her on LinkedIn.” Also, LinkedIn is designed for connections to benefit one another. If you cannot honestly recommend someone or attest to his or her skills, how are you or the person benefiting from the online connection?

2. Assess quality vs. quantity

We often associate more with better. More money, more friends, more options. But this isn’t necessarily true. Having 2,000 acquaintances you couldn’t pick out if you walked by them as opposed to 200 trusted, respected and close friends and colleagues is more, but not better for you. Yet, if you’re using LinkedIn as a platform to market an idea or product for a company to a large group of people, adding mass amounts of connections quickly may be ideal for you. Assess if quantity or quality will benefit you in the long run.

3. Consider your goals

Ask yourself why you are using LinkedIn. Is it to build a network to promote something? Do you want an online resume and recommendations? Then determine whether or not adding that connection aligns with your goals.

4. Examine the profile

An individual’s profile can tell you a lot about him or her. Is there a photo? Is the profile complete? Are they active on their accounts? Are they in your industry or field? Examining profiles can help you weed out those who simply desire to connect just because.

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