LinkedIn has rules for contacting people within your network and the network at large.
The people who have accepted an invitation to join your network are called your "direct connections." They're described as being one degree away from you on the greater LinkedIn network. You're free to contact those people directly by clicking the "send e-mail" button on their profile pages.
All of your direct connections' connections are two degrees away from you on the LinkedIn network. And their connections are three degrees away. Technically, all LinkedIn members that are connected to you up to three degrees away are part of "your network." But you can use e-mail to contact only your direct connections. To contact second and third degree members requires special LinkedIn tools called introductions, InMail or OpenMail.
LinkedIn provides five introductions with a free account. You can buy more introductions by upgrading to a premium account. Here's how introductions work:
- Find a direct connection who is connected to the person you want to contact.
- Send your direct connection an introduction message asking that he forward it to his connection.
- Your direct connection has the option of not forwarding the introduction.
- If he chooses to forward it, the recipient has the option of not accepting the introduction.
- If the introduction is accepted, it's not the same as joining a network. You'll still have to send that member an invitation asking him to join your network. That may require that he give you his e-mail address for confirmation.
InMail and OpenLink are both available only to premium account holders who pay monthly or annual subscription fees for the service. InMail is LinkedIn's internal messaging system. It allows you to directly contact anyone on the LinkedIn network without an introduction.
OpenLink is a service that allows you to receive OpenLink messages from anyone on the LinkedIn network. The sender of the OpenLink message doesn't have to pay anything. The advantage for you is that you can keep your e-mail address and other contact information private while opening yourself up to a wider range of contacts and connections.
Now let's explore how LinkedIn is different from other social networking sites.