Digital World: LinkedIn: What is it good for?
Anybody out there a member of LinkedIn? Anybody out there not a member? Well, actually, yes. There are plenty of people who think on-line social business networking of the type offered by LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) is a waste of time and energy (http://tinyurl.com/3cwcam).
IMHO, they're wrong: It's a very useful service, but not necessarily for the reasons its boosters usually cite.
LinkedIn, as you may know, is to business networking what Myspace is to social networking. Actually, it's difficult to really compare the two, since Myspace is much larger (the largest) as far as registered users go. In fact, LinkedIn is among the lesser of the social networking communities, with only 17 million users, according to the ever-accurate Wikipedia people (http://tinyurl.com/k2jhx); there are plenty of sites with far more users. What distinguishes LinkedIn, however, is that it is the only "trusted" site for business contacts, considering the jam its closest rival Plaxo got into not too long ago (http://tinyurl.com/grp5w).
Thus, while you might find teenagers dominating Myspace and "party people" college types hanging around Facebook (not that either haven't been courting other groups), the LinkedIn crowd is more of a practical, down-to-earth, get-it-done-now type of user - i.e. they are investing their time and energy in building up a network of users to somehow benefit materially at some point in the future. One reason adults like LinkedIn is its policies regarding whom one can link to (adopted now by many other sites); you either have to be invited personally by a user and/or introduced to him/her by someone in your network.
LinkedIn user-profile pages often read like a resume, with users listing their work experience and education, along with noteworthy accomplishments, Web sites and other relevant information. You choose how much data you want to share (you can close yourself off to invitations as well); there is also a listing for recommendations of your work by others, or recommendations by you for others (more on that below). And, there are various tools, such as people and job search, questions and answers to people in or out of your social network, and social networking groups you belong to (ditto). And, of course, the all important contact list.
One interesting phenomenon I have noticed with this service is what I call "LinkedIn fever." One person in an organization joins the site and starts contacting his or her co-workers in the office, inviting them to join. Chances are the invitee has heard of LinkedIn; that it's a "good" site to join and can "help you get a job or something." Very quickly they learn that the measure of success in LinkedIn is the number of contacts on their list, so they start inviting other people in the organization - the easiest people to invite (since they already have the invitee's e-mail address, usually the only free way to "cold call" potential contacts).
The "fever" sweeps through the organization and within a week or so, everyone is connected. That's it for most people; they occasionally visit their profile (LinkedIn is very good about sending out subtle reminders, telling you when other people in your network have updated stuff), but rarely look beyond that list of contacts. The more competitive among them may dun friends and acquaintances outside the organization to build more contacts. But for them, too, it stops there.
So, just what is LinkedIn really good for? Will it help you get a better job? According to most users I have met, the answer is no - even though they may have used the job-search function on their profile page (many of the jobs listed, by the way, claim to be "exclusive to LinkedIn"). But even that, I believe, is not the raison d'etre of LinkedIn - although it can be used that way if you have very high-in-demand skills. (But then again, potential employers are probably knocking your door down anyway if you do.) Plus, if you live in Israel, you'll find that while there are some jobs available, the pool is very limited if you're not a mid- to high-level programmer for Web 2.0, or a former CEO.
So, I ask again - what is LinkedIn good for? Here's my answer: LinkedIn is an excellent tool to enable you to focus your career goals, advertise them to others inside and outside your industry, and get you noticed on the Web. If you use it properly, it can help create a "buzz" about you, which probably will lead you to opportunities you would not have otherwise been exposed to.
Here's how I see LinkedIn working for you: Building a social network of people you know is a fine thing. However, since these people are probably already in your address book, the idea would be to leverage people you know professionally to "virtually" meet others whom you don't know, but who have a profession or industry in common with you. The point of building a connection portfolio is to build a reputation among people who might know someone, somewhere, who can help you find information, potential customers - or even a new job. Used properly, the LinkedIn tools can help you build your reputation and enhance your professional standing.
Lest you think I am "on" something, let me elaborate. Honing your LinkedIn profile page is your first mission. It's like a resume, but much better because people with whom you hook up will actually look at your profile. (LinkedIn provides information on how many people from which industry checked out your profile.) So what do you want to say about yourself? Remember: Your LinkedIn profile page gets picked up by Google, meaning that non-LinkedIn users may come across it as well. If for nothing else, LinkedIn is useful as a tool to help you focus, to get you to consider how you want others to see you professionally.
And once you organize your image, other aspects of LinkedIn's usefulness fall into place. Presenting and answering questions is a great way to build up a portfolio of contacts and getting to "know" a wide range of people - as well as building up a portfolio of recommendations, another LinkedIn "power tool." You could also start a LinkedIn group (http://tinyurl.com/32hkvu), another way to build contacts. Your name gets into other's contact books as well, building your name and reputation. With this approach, many of the "100+ Smart Ways to Use LinkedIn" (http://tinyurl.com/2ltjg5) become relevant.
With the right attitude - i.e. looking at it as a way to get your name out in front of people who count professionally for you (otherwise known as networking) - LinkedIn can be of great service. After all, it is a networking site, and the tools it supplies do just that. And like any other tool, LinkedIn is what you - and only you - make of it. Maybe a LinkedIn job search won't find you your dream job on the first try, but if the person who has the keys to finding that job is on the site too, you're already halfway to your goal.
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