Using LinkedIn – My experience

Perhaps, like some 3.3 million or so folks you are already on LinkedIn.com. Perhaps, like the rest of the world youâ??re thinking about it. Perhaps this post can help you decide if itâ??s a good idea or not.

LinkedIn is a business-networking site. The idea is that a person is invited in by a trusted friend, and connects to that same friend. In time, that person invites other people, and the network grows. Ultimately, each person has an immense array of people they are connected to through varying degrees to go to for everything from expertise to a job. When networking works, it is truly awesome. When it doesnâ??t, well, itâ??s about as useful as a broken cash machine on Friday night.

Getting startedâ?¦

I began using LinkedIn back in January when a real slacker invited me. I turned around and invited a few friends, one of whom actually joined. There I sat with my measly two connections, and total network of a 100 or so people and it all seemed pretty darn lame. Especially since Bren, my first contact, lives on the west coast, and is in an entirely different field.

Fast forward to May, or so, and Iâ??m digging around on Rick Klauâ??s blog. Iâ??m reading his â??about meâ?? page, and thereâ??s his linked in profile. Frankly, it seemed impressive, and with renewed interest I decided to have another go. Soon I had a dozen, and then more connections. I went to Gnomedex, and accumulated a few more. Now the total has reached 37, which is currently giving me a total 4th-degree network of over 1 million people. Wow! A million people! I know that with a million cable channels thereâ??d still be nothing on, but with a million people, well, the world is my oyster, right?

Using the networkâ?¦

Once you have a network put together, you can search. You can search in a variety of ways, and the system is really pretty useful â?? itâ??s no trouble to narrow things down quickly. Once you find a person who you would like to contact, you request contact by sending them a message through LinkedIn, which gets passed from your contact (the first â??linkâ??, so to speak) and on until it reaches the recipient. Because with a 4th degree connection, the furthest you can reach, weâ??re talking about friends of friends of friends or friends; there are more than a few links to do the passing.

In my time on LinkedIn I have made a total of 17 requests. Hereâ??s how they break out:

  • One was declined because my contact (a gent I met at Gnomedex) said he didnâ??t know the recipient (it was either third or 4th degree) and therefore didnâ??t want to forward the request. I still wonder if this person understands the overall purpose of the system.
  • One was declined because the request â??was not strong enough to forwardâ??. Next time I will try threats, I guess 😉 I happened to be looking for some advice on a fairly common business topic, which the expert had listed as an area of some expertise on their profile.
  • Seven were withdrawn. 3 of those were withdrawn because the request had an error or other issue, 4 were because it was just taking too long and I needed the request for something else. You can have only 5 requests open at one time.
  • Two are still â??en routeâ??, one has gone yellow â?? LinkedInâ??s signal that things are proceeding slowly.
  • The remaining six were useful contacts, which is to say contact was made.

Non-fatal flawsâ?¦

Iâ??m not sure how these results compare to others, and Iâ??m sure there are more experienced users out there. For my part, the results are pretty good considering the flaws in the system:

  • Folks get into connection frenzy mode, and connect to people they just shouldnâ??t. The problem is that numbers are what make the entire thing useful, but getting numbers quickly means connecting to people you just donâ??t know very well. Unfortunately, everyoneâ??s quest to have a large network means that often you think youâ??re connected to someone when in actuality there are links youâ??re depending on that are simply too weak.
  • Folks use their â??homeâ?? or â??junkâ?? email address, and donâ??t check it frequently. The only way youâ??re going to know if youâ??ve got a request coming your way is via email, or if you happen to log onto the site. Unfortunately, some folks see the job-hunting aspects of the site, and shy away from using their primary/work email account. This lands requests in never-never land.
    Folks put numerous areas of expertise on their profiles, which make searches for keywords or â??industry expertsâ?? (itâ??s the same search to LinkedIn) yield some pretty lame results.
  • Folks join without understanding what networking really means. Itâ??s not a safety deposit box where you fill it and forget it. You have to use it, nurture it, and keep it fresh in order for it to be there when you need it. Likewise, if you donâ??t deal with requests when they come to you, how can you expect them to move when you make them?

None of these things are LinkedInâ??s fault â?? to their credit they state pretty clearly the steps that should be taken to get the best use out of the system. Of course, whenever we depend on a population of humans to do the predictable or intelligent thing, thereâ??s going to be some uncertainty.
Here are some things that would improve LinkedIn:

  • Make it easy to see what requests have been made through which connection in the past, and, relatively speaking, how quickly those requests went through. When you can get to someone through several different connections, it’s desirable to both “spread the load” and also to avoid the slower connectors. Right now there’s no way to do this.
  • Some kind of progress indicator on the requests screen would be nice, instead of having to go into a request to see how itâ??s going.
  • There needs to be some kind of way to rank a connection in terms of trust or closeness. If that’s too inflammatory, how about describing length & type of relationship – i.e. met x months ago, and met at a tradeshow, versus met x months ago & work with daily.
  • How about the ability to download the requests and their outcomes to the “notes” section of Outlook for the pertinent people? When calling someone, it would be nice to have that at the fingertips, if for no other reason than to thank people when appropriate.
  • It would be very nice to be able to store searches, either as RSS feeds (good solution) or with email alerts (1990’s solution). There are lots of uses for LinkedIn beyond job-hunting, and all of them involve searching.

Overall LinkedIn is a very useful tool. Itâ??s got some growing pains, and it will take time for both the provider and users to work out the wrinkles.
While many folks will hesitate to use it at work because of the job hunting slant, I believe that employers should be encouraging their people to join. Iâ??ll leave the why to another post 😉

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