As social networking becomes more and more popular, and as lawyers become more willing to engage in online interactions, this question crops up more frequently.
There are some professionals out there who believe that 'friending' or linking to as many people as possible is the way to go. But (like any other tool), it depends on what your purpose is and what your goals are - what result do you want? I want my LinkedIn network to be as useful as possible not just for me, but for others in my network. That means I need to know enough about my connections and to have enough of a working relationship with them that I can feel comfortable making introductions and referrals.
When I receive a link request from someone I don't feel I know well enough to introduce or refer - or to call upon if a need for their services arises - I generally send an email or make a telephone call to find out more about that person and their business - and perhaps to meet them in person, if possible -before accepting the invitation.
Questions to ask when determining when to link to or 'friend' someone include:
Why did I decide to engage in this particular social media outlet?
Is this person someone that I know, or would like to know?
Is this person someone that would be a good connection for my clients or colleagues?
Is this person someone with whom I would like to be associated?
Is this person a potential referral source or strategic partner?
Would I be comfortable introducing this person to other professionals or others in my network?
Do I know enough about this person, their work and/or their reputation to enable me to introduce them to others in my network?
If you think the connection might bear fruit but you still aren't sure who the person is, feel free to postpone your decision and reach out to the person making the request to open up an email dialogue, make a date to talk by phone or in person to learn more about each other and what you might be able to do for one another. Review that person's on-line profile and their list of connections to see which connections you have in common. Reach out to your common connections to learn more about them.
If you decide not to accept an invitation to link or 'friend' someone, be careful about what you do next. On LinkedIn, for example, clicking on the 'I don't know this person' option may get that person into trouble or lose them their LinkedIn privileges.