Sunday, November 11, 2007

Are the Most LinkedIn Really LinkedOut?

LinkedInI have been working on several ventures recently. While these ventures have strong technology components, they are focused on other markets. As such, I've been dealing most frequently with people outside of the technology world and through this I've confirmed something that I saw hints of previously: the people who are truly the most "linked in" are more often than not the most "linked out."

Let me explain. I've been a member of LinkedIn for quite some time. It's a useful service but I would not consider myself an avid LinkedIn user (the type who wants to "join your network" after a five minute conference call). I do, however, make it a point to connect with trusted business associates. Some of the people I've been working with recently are very well-connected (and well-known) in their industries. But typically they're not on LinkedIn or have very few connections on LinkedIn. It seems that, in non-technology industries in particular, if you're truly connected, you're not using LinkedIn. This probably isn't entirely surprising, but it does highlight the fact that amidst all the hype about online social networking for professionals, at the highest levels of business the physical Rolodex hasn’t lost importance.

Different people may have different reasons for not using services like LinkedIn. Here are a few:

You're too prominent. If you're well-known, being on LinkedIn may not be a very attractive proposition for you or your inbox. The value of the service's utility is probably marginalized by the annoyance of being too accessible to others. For instance, I was disappointed when I couldn’t find Ivanka Trump on LinkedIn, but then I realized that she would almost always receive requests from wannabes as opposed to stand-up businessmen like Drama 2.0.

Your network is too valuable to be exposed publicly. In many ways, you are only as good as your network and it's not what you know but who you know. Providing a public list of your business associates is probably not appealing to a lot of professionals. While LinkedIn's privacy controls enable users to make their connections private, there's not much utility in building a network on LinkedIn for the sake of being able to log in and see who you know.

The people in the highest positions are far too busy to use social networks. While LinkedIn can be a good tool for individuals who need to locate or connect with other professionals (i.e. prospective employers, prospective business partners, etc.), LinkedIn is probably an unnecessary service for many.

Not enough utility is provided. LinkedIn can be useful for locating and connecting with other professionals and is somewhat useful for maintaining relationships with associates you already have relationships with. In addition, the company does offer a suite of premium services. But in my experience, it does seem that a significant number of users use it for little more than "collecting" associates like MySpace users collect friends.

There's no doubt that LinkedIn is very popular and is well on its way to building a successful company but I think there's still opportunity for existing professional social networks to improve and for upstarts to compete. A couple of suggestions:

  • Maintaining relationships is just as important as making connections. Services that make it easier for professionals to manage their relationships might be more compelling than services that seem focused on listing relationships.
  • There may be a place for niche professional social networks that are focused on specific industries. Depending on the industry, these networks might be made invite-only to help ensure privacy and quality.

If nothing else, my recent experiences have reminded me that in a day in age when online social networks get all the attention, the best social networks still are still very much exclusive to the real world. Hopefully as more and more professionals join services like LinkedIn they won't forget that and they would be wise to also remember that building and maintaining relationships requires more than adding associates to an online list.

This post was contributed by Drama 2.0. I still have no idea who he or she is.

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