How to Write a Good Invitation to Connect

Social media makes reaching out to contacts and new people simpler. Because activity means business for them and the brands who use the platforms alongside us, the main networks strive to eliminate friction.

Channeling culture

Serendipity abounds on Twitter, checking up on college mates, family, and friends is the daily Facebook value proposition, being in the moment is a click away with Instagram and SnapChat, exchanging the subtext in meetings is a snap with WhatsApp, and working on our career improvement is a few well-placed links away on LinkedIn.

Each social network has its limitations, features, and culture — and so do we.

We can make do with limitations, figure out how to leverage the tools, but success comes down to culture. And culture is about understanding how to make good choices in relating to people and getting better about timing things.

Finally, we need to acknowledge and learn to recognize the role of luck in our lives.

To sell is human

In To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, author Dan Pink says:

About a year ago, in a moment of procrastination masquerading as an act of reflection, I decided to examine how I spend my time. I opened my laptop, clicked on the carefully synced, color-coded calendar, and attempted to reconstruct what I'd actually done over the previous two weeks. I cataloged the meetings attended, trips made, meals eaten, and conference calls endured.

I tried to list everything I'd read and watched as well as the face-to-face conversations I'd had with family, friends, and colleagues. Then I inspected two weeks of digital entrails — 772 sent emails, four blog posts, eighty-six tweets, about a dozen text messages.

When I stepped back to assess this welter of information — a pointillist portrait of what I do and therefore, in some sense, who I am — the picture that stared back was a surprise: I am a salesman.


it turns out I spend a significant portion of my days trying to coax others to part with resources. Sure, sometimes I'm trying to tempt people to purchase books I've written. But most of what I do doesn't directly make a cash register ring.

Like Dan, we spend most of our days seeking and offering resources — can we get someone to share an article we wrote? Can we help solve someone's problem? Do we persuade a sibling to join us for a yoga class? Should we outsource social media?

After analyzing the types of requests we exchange, Dan distilled six elevator pitches. We can learn from the engaging format Pixar uses and get better at the email subject line to either deliver usefulness or elicit curiosity to increase our open rates, for example.

Pitches are micro-stories that contain enough information for the listener to decide whether they will give us permission to continue the conversation, or if they should. Reframing how we think about the pitch helps us craft a valuable call to action or close.

Combined with considerations about culture and timing, a pitch is about saying and demonstrating the things that will continually escalate our opportunity to the next level to say and demonstrate more — earning believers, evangelists, investors, stakeholders, customers, and partners along the way.

To sell is human, but we often need to get over the shame of selling. We do it by starting with why.

Because it helps 

Businesses forget how to think like a human all too often, and we go along out of habit. Take for example, how we ask for things. There is a definite art to asking, and we are better off when we learn how to do it effectively by practicing in situations that make us comfortable first. For example, asking for feedback from people we trust.

Feedback can help us improve. Businesses that actively seek feedback increase their opportunity to earn better reviews. In turn, reviews are an indication that someone is engaged, and many a critic is a passionate customer who wants to be heard.

Which is why retaliating for negative reviews is not the way to go — it misses the opportunity, and may create an even bigger problem with possible long-term loss of good will, which can be hard to measure. Ratings and reviews have an impact on sales and they are fertile ground to understand why a product or service worked.

Recommendations have always been a critical tool for businesses to distinguish themselves in the words of the person(s) who have experienced their service. They are a self-fulfilling proposition, too. Make a better product, and make the customer better at something, and the reviews will become even more valuable.

Explaining why something happened, for example, goes a long way to help people be okay with it. Says Richard Thaler in Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics:

In many situations, the perceived fairness of an action depends not only on who it helps or harms, but also on how it is framed.

In a series of tests Thaler found that

Removing a discount is not nearly as objectionable as adding a surcharge.

One principle that emerged from our research is that perceptions of fairness are related to the endowment effect. Both buyers and sellers feel entitled to the terms of trade to which they have become accustomed, and treat a deterioration of those terms as a loss.


one implication is that raising prices because costs have increased is almost always judged to be fair.

We are fair when we write a good business recommendation to be useful for the intended audience and valuable for the individual who receives it. 

Thaler, Daniel Kanheman and many other researchers have demonstrated that we are “naive about our level of sophistication.” “In particular, we suffer from what George Lowenstein has called 'hot-cold empathy gaps,” says Thaler:

When we are in a cool, reflective mood — say, contemplating what to eat at dinner on Wednesday after just having finished a satisfying brunch on Sunday — we think we will have no trouble sticking to our plan to eat healthy, low-calorie dinners during the week.

But when Wednesday night comes along and friends suggest going out to a new pizza place featuring craft beers, we end up eating and drinking more than we would have predicted on Sunday, or even on Wednesday before arriving at the restaurant with its tempting aromas wafting from the wood-burning oven, not to mention an intriguing list of special brews to sample. For such cases we may need a planner to have established a rule — no midweek beer and pizza outings — and then to think of a way of enforcing that rule.

Online interactions are filled with opportunities to become aware of our “hot-cold empathy gaps,” starting with reminding ourselves — or choosing a planner or rule — of why we are there.

Social networks indulge us with menus full of nice features to sample. To make better use of online currency — our time and attention and that of others — we should learn to connect better.

A better invitation to connect on LinkedIn leverages Dan Pink's subject-line pitch advice. Dan Says:

[…] every email we send is a pitch. It's a plea for someone's attention and an invitation to engage. Whether somebody accepts that invitation, or even opens the email at all, depends most on who sent it. You're more likely to look at a message from your boss or your girlfriend that fro a company you've never heard of promising a product you'll never need.

But the next most important element in an email engagement is the subject line — the headline that previews and promises what the message contains.

This is based on research Carnegie Mellon conducted using the “think-aloud method,” asking participants to explain their reactions to emails to the group. People were likely to “read emails that directly affected their work” when the subject line indicated something useful was in the message, or elicited curiosity.

Instead of clicking on the friction-less 'connect' button on LinkedIn, due to the tool's limitations, we can customize the body copy of our invitation to either be useful — and use a pithy sentence to explain specifically — or elicit curiosity — for example, from my inbox today “why is a shoe company a startup?” [via @tdavidson]

Dan has an exercise for the subject line pitch:

Pro tip: Review the subject lines of the last twenty email messages you've sent. (or body copy for LinkedIn invites to connect) Note how many of them appeal to either utility or curiosity. If that number is less than ten, rewrite each one that fails the test.

A good rule of thumb in business to resist the temptation of making it about 'me' — will it make the recipient better at something?

Professionals who are active on LinkedIn are happy to connect — they just need to know why, specifically. For example, we can:

change the default thinking: 'we have many connections in common'

with 'I see you are connected with my colleague Clare with whom I share an interest in understanding how to become a better leader'

bonus points for adding 'you attended [insert school/program] I would love to learn if it was useful'

LinkedIn provides the option to reply before connecting. When the body of an invitation creates a way to start down a potential relationship path, it opens an opportunity for a real connection and a favorable impression.

Because we are not there to collect, but to connect.


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