This rant only applies in professional contexts.
Disclosure: This post is adapted from a complaint I sent to the LinkedIn Help Centre.
I get a lot of unsolicited email from this site. I don’t mind; I am not paying for this potentially valuable service. It is their right to do so, and it is my right to ignore or read such email as I see fit. I don’t even mind that most of these emails are basically interest-generation mad-libs. “Dear [name], we are hosting a conference on [job skill in your profile] and think that you would be a valuable contributor” etc, etc. Sometimes these emails are horribly mismatched to my competencies: inviting a combat veteran armour officer to apply for a job as the Operations Manager for Hippies Without Borders* will probably result in some very interesting HR meetings. Computers will do exactly what you program to do. I am willing to be forgiving of some ironic unforeseen consequences.
What I will not calmly let pass is the degeneration of professional standards of civility. My first name is listed on my profile for the purposes of differentiating me from other Mr. [Canuck Pirate]s It is not an invitation to communicate with me casually. “Dear [first name], ” is not an appropriate way to introduce you or your product to me.
I get that this is social media. But the rules of conventional media do not get immediately discarded just because a keyboard is involved. Why do news anchors wear semi-formal attire? To contextually communicate that they are serious people who can be taken seriously. It’s a recognized comedic trope to have the news delivered by inappropriately casual people (think “The Great White North” with Doug and Bob McKenzie). If I were to show up at a job interview at an investment firm in a hoodie and jeans, how many would think “here is a man I can trust with millions of shareholder dollars”? If I, at the same interview, answered the first question with “Well, sure Gina. I am totally stoked to play around with rich dudes’ cash!”, how long do you think that interview would last? Context matters in communication. If I am to believe that LinkedIn is a serious platform for serious companies who can offer me real professional opportunities, these details matter. Otherwise, it is just Business Facebook.
If you are sending me unsolicited invitations to professional events, we are not friends. We are potential colleagues. I might end up being your subordinate. You may end up being mine. We should begin with a foundation of respect. And from a practical perspective, it is not that hard! You are already using a form letter. Instead of programming it to say “Dear [first name]”, you could program “Dear Mr/Ms [last name]”. If you are concerned that using a gender binary may be offensive to your prospective audience, you could use the entirely neutral “Good day,[line break, remainder of message]” thus avoiding the entire issue.
Regardless of the solution, civility in opening communications sets the tone. It is a simple gesture that speaks to whether or not this dialogue is work-related or social. If you want me to dismiss you as being unconscionably tone-deaf and just more chaff for the dustbin, then carry on. Otherwise, don’t call me [first name].
*I refer to all NGOs as “Hippies Without Borders”. Some do fine work, others not so much. I use this mild pejorative simply to illustrate what a mismatch I would be for any charitable organization. This is not true of all combat veterans, just this one in particular.