Trying to make contact with Marina Shifrin, the subject of my Reader column this week, I discovered she'd dropped off Facebook but remained on LinkedIn. Sending messages through LinkedIn to someone you're not connected to isn't the simplest thing in the world, but I hit various keys and crossed my fingers and something interesting happened.
No, I didn't get hold of Shifrin. But in the next 24 hours my e-mail brought me well over a hundred notices that other LinkedIn members had "accepted my invitation" to link up.
Many of these were people I had never heard of; none of them had I knowingly invited. A handful sent me puzzled messages wondering why I'd asked—one was from a PR executive in Las Vegas who recalled that a year and a half ago she'd pitched me a story about some company's 30th anniversary. "Never heard back," she snippily advised.
What had I done? I asked LinkedIn to hypothesize. "It's possible you may have sent out a number of invitations using the address book import feature on our site and inadvertently uploaded your personal address book," a "customer experience advocate" wrote back. "This feature has the potential of sending out invitations to your entire address book if the correct box isn't checked."
I guess that could have happened, although I don't know what this advocate is talking about and wasn't even aware I had a personal address book. But time teaches us that although a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, complete ignorance is no protection.
At any rate, here's my situation. According to information I've teased out of LinkedIn, I sent out 675 invitations. To date, 174 people have said yes to them. Many are journalists of high distinction who honor me by linking. A few have no apparent connection to journalism, no apparent connection to Chicago, and at no moment I can recall did their paths through life ever cross mine.
A LinkedIn feature I came across while trying to get to the bottom of this mystery is a graph, freshened weekly, called "How often people viewed you." It tracks curiosity about my LinkedIn profile. Going back to late July, the graph hugs the zero axis, occasionally soaring to one or two. But between September 28 and October 5 it jumped from zero to 144. The reason is obvious—people getting my invites, wondering, "Who the hell is he?," and checking me out.
And here's the awkward truth: as of this writing, 401 people I inadvertently invited have either ignored or rejected my invitation!
Should this embarrass me? Should I obsess over it? Should I even care? Should I write all 401 and tell them I was just kidding? I won't pretend it doesn't matter at all.