Should you connect with competitors on LinkedIn?

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is whether it’s wise to connect with competitors on LinkedIn. The answer, as is so often the case, depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • What type of business are you in?
  • What is the competitive environment like in your industry?
  • How well do you protect your customer data elsewhere? (Interestingly enough, I’ve found that some of those who say they’re reluctant to connect with competitors on LinkedIn nevertheless promote customer/client lists elsewhere.)

Even after I hear responses to these questions, it’s rare that I recommend against connecting with competitors. Why? Quite simply, experience has taught me that while doing so comes with a little risk, there’s an even greater risk in not taking advantage of these connections. Not only does it help you increase the size of your network, but it may lead to new insights that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

Now, if the concern is that your competitors might be able to see your connections, you can fix that–at least somewhat. Here’s how:

1. Log in to LinkedIn and go to Profile/Edit Profile

2. Scroll down to the bottom of your profile until you see this:

customize connections

3. Click on “Customize visibility” next to Connections

4. Click on “Only you” instead of “Your connections”

It’s important to note that LinkedIn users will always be able to see which connections they share with you, but you don’t have to reveal everything to everyone.

Deciding whether to connect with competitors is always a judgement call, so do what’s right for you. Be sure, however, to understand the risks on both sides–and know that you have an opportunity to protect yourself without having to always say no to connection requests.

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