Avoid These LinkedIn Skills Management Mistakes

As I’ve been updating my Linkedin profile, I’ve been thinking about how to best use the skills section. In the new skills people can endorse you for having skills. Here’s some mistakes I’d made, and my thoughts on how best to manage the skills area going forward.

  1. Listing every skill I had, instead of those that really define the value I bring.At first I listed every skill I had – why not? It’s all about SEO and search terms, right? The problem is that the result looked like a dog’s breakfast. It was distracting and didn’t paint a clear picture of the value I offer. I cut out the skills that weren’t core to who I am, and left those that were most relevant.
  2. Listing the skills based on experience instead of value.I’ve always had great computer skills, and listing those was easy and comfortable. They don’t, however, represent the higher value I can bring. So I’ve removed them and added the higher value skills I offer – like analysis, management, etc.
  3. Leaving in the skills others entered for me.One of the annoying features of Linkedin’s skills area is that a visitor can endorse you for a new skill that you haven’t decided to list. This can result in erroneous and off-brand skills being listed. While having someone else give an endorsement is always nice, the result when many do it can bring back the disorganization and dilute the message. Of course, if everyone is endorsing me for a skill I haven’t listed, I should reconsider.

LinkedIn continues to change and evolve, and each time it changes how the site is used and what techniques make it most effective.

Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.

You need to look at more profiles.

Today I got an email purely because a local training guru noticed I’d looked at her profile. I often look at random profiles just to look at profiles. I might pick up some interesting language, or a photo idea, or some other tidbit. I’m sure I came across her looking for local 2nd-level-connection marketing folks. Anyway she sent an email and now I’ve got more of a connection to someone interesting. Cool!

Then it hit me – the first thing I do when I log into Linkedin, and I suspect I’m not alone, is to look at who’s been looking at my profile. Call me vain, but I’m curious. Anyway, when I look at a profile I show up in someone else’s ‘Who’s Viewed My Profile’ list, and that is a form of advertising. Now, most people I see in my WVMP list are coy, and I see a list of items like ‘Someone in the Executive Leadership function in the Public Relations and Communications industry from Greater Chicago Area’ – sort of interesting, but ultimately not very useful. I’ve always had my Profile Views setting (it’s under Privacy Settings) set to show my name and headline, and boy am I glad.

You need to look at more profiles, and let people know who you are.

I imagine that if I was job hunting, I’d be looking at the profile of every HR person I could reach!

Linkedin Killer? I don’t think so.

Jason Alba posted that he thought examines whether the new WSJ Connect product might be a Linkedin Killer. I don’t think so.

As companies increasingly ban social networking sites in general, and as Linkedin becomes fully Facebookified, making it even more bannable, I believe social networking will become less and less work oriented. The market will see consolidation, and it will consolidate around general-purpose social networking.

People are going to want something that has some of the social aspects of Facebook, but also a small amount of business flavor – like a spot to put one’s resume, or a few tidbits about their accomplisments. Maybe an ability to identify connections as primarily social or business.

Jason points out that Linkedin has been slow to adopt new things. I believe that chasing new features has been their undoing. Linkedin was nice because you could maintain it easily and without spending a lot of time on it. As each new feature is added, more work and time can be soaked up by it, and companies see it as a distraction and ban it. Once these systems are banned, getting them unbanned is hard. How do you prove a business justification?

90% of the visible value from Linkedin seems to exist in finding freelance work or a new job – neither are viewed by empoloyers as a high priority for employees. It can be tremendously valuable for other things but it’s hard to prove well enough to get it unbanned.

So, if people are doing most of their social networking at home, on their own time, they’re not going to be focusing on business alone.

Given all this, along with the general saturation of social media sites in general, I think WSJ Connect is doomed.

My experience – open vs closed networking

One of the recurring themes on almost any networking discussion group is whether open or closed networking is really more effective. There are lots of debates already stored out there, so I won’t go through them here. Instead, I’ll explain why I’m reversing on a decision I made last fall.

Last fall I decided to dump most of my 4050 contacts on Linkedin, and focus on those people with whom I had a genuine connection. I did it because some of the features of Linkedin, namely the network updates area, were becoming somewhat useless as they were inundated by updates from folks who I ddin’t know very well. In addition, I no longer had the pressing need for a large network from a research perspective, and it seemed like a good time to experiment.

Well, the experiment is over. I’d spent lots of time on open networking, and now I’ve tried closed.

Open wins.

For several reasons:

  1. Linkedin is not just about documenting your network. It’s also a personal advertising system. More connections = more exposure.
  2. Network updates only from my closest connections = boring. What can I say? These people are mature, responsible folks who have solid careers and are busy. They’re not changing jobs every 15 minutes, or hurling sheep at each other – this isn’t Facebook.
  3. I need people I don’t know more often or at least as often as the people I do know. With a closed network it’s much harder to find them.
  4. I found Linkedin less useful. No matter what I went looking for, I was less likely to find it. I was exposed to fewer questions, so I didn’t answer as many. I felt more cutoff from the world.

I know that the open vs closed debate will probably rage forever, and this blogpost won’t shift the balance, but for those who are teetering my vote is teeter more toward open.

The Death Of Social Media Marketing

Social media is a popular subject in marketing, and has been for a while now. As we see usage of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and similar sites rise, people can’t help but see opportunities for advertising and marketing in general.

In many ways it would seem to be ideal. We’re trying to build relationships, after all, and these sytems embrace relationships – actually they depend on them. They are measurable in many ways, viral, or potentially so, and are cheap.

The problem is that their success is their downfall. As they become more popular their use is increasing limited in business environments.

As the economy crumbled and people feared for their jobs social networking has become more popular to build an insurance policy against a layoff. Folks who have ignored networking for years are suddenly getting interested. Of course in tough times companies work harder to eliminate waste, and activities like social networking are often viewed as waste. It’s silly, as networking can be very powerful, but we’re dealing with perception here, not reality. Apparently when a company networks it’s powerful, when an employee networks it’s waste.

The ironic part is that the same companies that are banning these sites are probably starting social media campaigns. They hope to woo customer personnel to join their networks, read their tweets, and generally be good pals, all to the benefit of the bottom line while at the same time they’re denying their own employees the ability to do the very thing they ask of others.

How long do you think this will last?

Social Media Has 18 Months…

I predict that within 18 months the use of social media on company networks will be banned by most of American business, and the participation by business people during working hours (and thus the 80-90% of the marketing value of social media) will collapse.

When this happens, it will change. It will become far less focused on companies, and lot more focused on individuals. As people lose the ability to administer their networks on company time or with company resources, they will also lose the urge to use their networks to company benefit. If you’re busily trying to keep your Linkedin page up to date at 10pm, are you going to worry first about how you’re representing your company, or yourself? When you’re sitting at your desk you’re far more likely to keep the company’s interests in mind.

Similarly, when your participation in these sites comes purely at your own expense, are you going to follow your vendor’s or customer’s pages, or stick to family & friends?

I hope I’m wrong.

An interesting Linkedin question

An ex-colleague of mine asked an interesting question today:

What are your observations regarding AEM member companies’ 1) attitude toward social media 2) adoption rate of social media 3) ‘wiifm’ based interest in social media?

This was interesting to me because when I listen to Total Picture Radio, or read many blogs, it’s easy to get the idea that only a few gnomes living under rocks have yet to get onto Linkedin. Everyone else has been indoctrinated that social media is a Must Do, therefore the adoption rate is exponential, and of course ‘What’s in it for me?” is a punch-line.

The people on TPR and on most blogs are enlightened, web-savvy folks who’ve been using social media since its birth. It’s second nature, and we’ve all been using this stuff for so long it’s easy to brand the folks who haven’t as backward.

The problem is that the ratio of us to ‘normal’ people is still 1:50,000 or so if you consider the whole population. Normal people look at us as, well, hobbyists. Over enthusiastic technophiles. Maybe even cult members – which is easy to understand when you listen to the most vocal zealots for social media. Normal folks don’t quite get social media yet. They hear about a lot of not-quite-tangible benefits, but hard evidence that being on social media is a must is not easy to come by. I even know a Gen Y’er who didn’t really know what Linkedin was, even though Facebook was old territory.

It is easy to see how social media carries risks. We are drowning in stories of teenagers posting stupid things and getting in trouble so bizarre our legal system doesn’t quite know how to handle it. It’s easy to see this stuff as scary. With no clear upside, it’s easy to see the people who are deep into it as a bit reckless.

So, while the questions asked above might seem a little silly, I don’t think they are. Most of the working world still doesn’t see social media as a Must Do, and that’s a fact that all of us enlightened web savvy folks need to keep in mind. For every dot-com startup or tech company there are hundreds of small manufacturing and service companies. Internet use is widely restricted, and many social media sites are blocked.

In answering the questions I will first state that AEM (my employer) has nothing to do with my replies, although they have a social media effort underway. I will also restate (as I do in the ‘About’ page) that these are my views, not my employer’s.

The attitude about Linkedin seems to have shifted from ‘What’s Linkedin?’ to ‘Yeah, I heard about that. You aren’t actually on that, are you?’ to ‘Yeah, I probably need to get on that one of these days.’ Maybe it’s more accepted lately. In the current economy, everyone will flock to anything that might give them an edge in the job market.

I see the adoption rate as generally inversely proportional to age and level within the company. Older folks higher on the ladder arguably have less need for social media, and they certainly have more to lose. They do have a lot to gain, but most of them didn’t get where they are by being stupid, and social media isn’t yet something all smart people do.

Overall though, the adoption rate is higher now than it was before. I see people joining Linkedin now who never would have a year ago, and many seem to be paying attention and doing it with their eyes open. I see less dead accounts than I used to, but part of that is less usage of Linkedin on my part (I don’t do as much research as I used to) and that I shrank my network a while back.

The ‘What’s in it for me?’ attitude is there, but it’s there in smaller quantities than you might expect. Unless you are a spammer it takes a lot of work to be a visible pain on the internet, and it takes a lot of effort to get a network large enough to really cause annoyance. Most WIIFM people aren’t so industrious, and even so once they make it clear they’re in it only for themselves, they’ll see their network shrink faster than it grew. The good news is that for anyone who wants to make an extra buck or two coaching people, these folks will be easy customers who probably won’t require much after-sale support.

In my experience, the benefits from blogging and social media have been totally unexpected and unpredictable. Along with persistent effort, social media and networking take a lot of faith. The lazier folks just don’t stick with it.

This also makes social media in general a hard sell for some people. They want to know what they’re going to get out of it – that’s only logical, right? The idea of putting personal info on the web seems crazy, and therefore the payoff must be immediate and huge. When they hear that it isn’t, they balk. It’s not hard to see it from their point of view, but it can be hard to get them past that.

Did I answer the questions?

Firewall Jail

The other day I tried to click on a tinyurl.com link while at work. I was surprised to see a site-blocked message from our SonicWALL firewall. Why block tinyurl? All it does is let you take a very lengthy URL (which are increasingly common for a lot of reasons) and convert it into a very short one. This is very useful for putting URL’s in email because some email readers break URL’s in half if they are longer than one line. This of course renders the URL useless, unless you take the time to paste it back together.

I did a short search, and it turns out that tinyurl is one of the sites that firewall companies have decided we don’t need to see. Actually, they classify it as a proxy bypass tool, but the net result is that they’ve decided tinyURL is guilty until proven innocent. Like the extra ounce of shampoo in the TSA security line, because it could be dangerous, it is dangerous.

This is fascinating to me because it creates a huge gap.

You see, tinyURL is blocked by default. You can unblock it, but the interesting part is that must be done by IT. IT, who has just about everything else to do but answer requests like this, and has a built-in defense against spending any time on it: It’s a default setting on the firewall, and we trust their judgement.

The employee probably isn’t motivated to get it unblocked, because going to some IT departments with a request like this is a great way to ask for trouble, even if you’ve got some ironclad business reason for needing it unblocked. Never mind that the tinyurl you can’t read may be pointing to a relevant article on a blog; It ain’t the Wall Street Journal or a company memo.

That leaves tinyurl.com. Or Facebook. Or Linkedin or a ton of other quasi-business sites to find a way to get firewall companies to not block them by default. They end up blocked in the first place at least partly because the firewall users block them, or some of them do.

From SonicWALL’s site:

SonicWALL CFS categorizes millions of URLs, IP addresses and domains in a continuously updated, dynamically rated database. CFS rates over four million URLs, with hundreds more added daily. Because the ratings are determined both by artificial intelligence and human observation, the database is highly accurate, and the instance of false positives is minimized.

I think it’s safe to say that part of the process is measuring how much time people spend on sites, so, ironically, the usage a site promotes might just be what gets it blocked.

Consider Linkedin and Facebook. Facebook is blocked, but Linkedin isn’t. I think that’s because Facebook came from the non-business end of the social networking space, but Linkedin came from the business end. Facebook can be a sinkhole for time. Between the applications, the photos, the groups and discussions one could really spend all day there and some probably do. Linkedin was the stoic busienss site. There wasn’t much to do except invite people, process requests, or tweak a rather limited profile. Linkedin has since tried very hard to become a lot more like Facebook. My prediction is that very soon Linkedin will cross the threshold, and will become a site that chews up so much time that companies block it.

The firewall blocks a site because a segment of it’s customers decide to, and by automation. The customer company probably has no way to check the list of blocked URLs in any reasonable way – it’s got to be in the millions – so probably has very little understanding of what they’re missing, so to speak. The user has the ability to lobby with their local IT group to get a site whitelisted if they choose, but that still leaves the site blocked elsewhere the firewall is used.

Here’s the gap: Suppose a site that started out blocked turns out to have a lot of value – does it’s rating ever decline? Automatically? Hard to say. SonicWALL doesn’t mention that, and I’m guessing that there’s only one way it ever happens, and that’s by people asking them to re-rate sites.

YOU can ask for SonicWALL to re-rate a site here.

Try to look like a genius on Linkedin…and fail

Want to try to look like a genius on Linkedin’s Answers?

Pick a question, any question, and draft an answer drawing from the following sure-fire ways of providing what looks like useful input without answering the question.

For example, suppose the question is “Is it time for lunch yet?”

  1. Suggest that the question would be better asked in a different way. Provide a link to this tangential subject. “I think what you mean to ask is “is this the right time for ME to consume lunch?” Please see the attached link on Zone Dieting and the Hindu Clock Diet.”
  2. State that it is critical for business today, mention coordination, and include the magic phrase “it can be challenging!” “This is critical thing for business today, and I now that in my experience I’ve often run into this problem. Coordinating with others is key – it can be challenging!”
  3. Always, always mention that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For some reason people think this is a profound statement. “I’ve dealt with this in a variety of ways: Clocks, growling stomach, pestering coworkers, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.”
  4. Ask what the goal is, then simplify and answer: “What is the goal of eating lunch? If you’re hungry, I would eat.”
  5. Ask backgrounder questions, then make some assumptions about the answers, choose an easy set of assumptions and answer that: “In what context are you asking? Does your employer have a set lunch time, or is it up to you to set your own time? If it’s up to you, then I would go when you’re hungry.”
  6. Write an elaborate response on how to search for existing answers. The key is to make it long enough that one gets the impression would have been easier for the author to do the search than to write about it: “I think this has been answered before. It might have been in Management, or maybe it was Organizational Development. Anyway, you should be able to find it by doing some searching: Go to “Q&A”, then “Advanced Search”, in the search box I would try phrases like “chronology of lunch, lunch, time, eat” etc. You might need to change the category, or use the category ALL. If you get too many responses, just use aditional search terms to narrow the search. You should be able to pull up the answer.

Fortunately, along with a fair bit of noise, Linkedin’s Q&A usually provides some great input.

A shrinking world

Today I did something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I shrunk my network on Linkedin.

I got started in Linkedin back in 2005 when I accepted an invitation from Brendon Connelly, and after about 4 months of inactivity I learned better how to use it and as of this morning I had 4,050+ connections. When I was doing competitive research Linkedin was a pretty useful tool (I even used to do presentations on the subject), and it’s value as a research database exceeded it’s value as a networking tool.

But being an open networker has it’s price. Linkedin offers a lot of notification tools to keep you in tune with what your network is doing. When your network is thousands of strangers, those tools are pretty much meaningless. It was easy to see what was going on with lots of people I didn’t know, but it was very hard to see what was happening with the folks who I did know, and this became annoying. After working with Linkedin for 4 years with a huge network, I decided to see what it is like with a small network.

I have nothing against open networking, and making this decision was a very tough choice. Today I took a few moments and disconnected from all the folks who I didn’t know, didn’t trust, or just didn’t feel connected to.

Some open networkers may read this and think I’ve thrown away a huge asset. I didn’t. Between Toplinked.com, the Meta Network, and a few other techniques it’s not hard to get scads of folks sending you invitations every day. If it turns out I’ve made a bad decision, I will simply open the floodgates once again. Until then, I’ll see how life is with a much smaller, more manageable network.