Why Bother With Social Networking Sites Like LinkedIn?

Q: I think I understand the value of networking as well as the next businessman, but for the life of me, I don't really see what sites like LinkedIn, Ryze and Ecademy can do for me. What's the point of these sites other than just as some sort of digital popularity contest?

A: My good friend and colleague Liz Ryan, head of the women's power networking group WorldWIT, Women in Technology, has a great answer to this sort of question, an answer that I'm quoting here with permission:

I ask people to join LinkedIn, and often they say "I don't want the spam." So I say "You won't get any spam." And they say "But I'm not job-hunting." And I say "You don't have to be job-hunting." Then we go back and forth for awhile. It's a bit of a challenge to get my own friends to see the forest for the trees, sometimes. When Monster.com was new, the big idea was to post jobs online. As an HR person, I can tell you, Monster is a pretty awful place to post jobs. You get KILLED with unwanted resumes from job seekers all over the world. I truly believe that Monster.com is the reason that HR people no longer respond to online job seekers - and sometimes offline job seekers - with any kind of response.

Anyway, over time HR people and recruiters figured out that the real value to Monster is the ability to search the candidate database (for a fee). Maybe some of the same thing is happening with LinkedIn. What seems like the obvious benefit to membership may not be the key feature for a lot of users. See what you think about this LinkedIn primer that I share with my friends. If I'm doing something I shouldn't be doing on LinkedIn, I'd love to know that too!

1) Your profile itself is a great value to joining LinkedIn. I get great, useful contacts from my profile appearing on LI, and of course it's free.

2) Even if you're not job-hunting or doing business developing or searching for contacts yourself, it's a great thing to be able to be a conduit for your friends. They really appreciate that service that you can provide for them. Just the reconnect- with-an-old colleague bit is a godsend: where else can you do that online?

3) LinkedIn is the google for individuals who aren't high on Google rankings. That means anyone who's in a corporation but not senior enough to appear on the About Us/Management Bios page (although of course, those execs are often on LinkedIn too); anyone who is a partner in a consulting firm but perhaps not often in the news or otherwise mentioned online; and zillions of other people whom you'd have trouble finding if it weren't for LinkedIn.

4) Let's say you have a business meeting with the VP of Marketing at a major corporation next week. If it weren't for his profile on LinkedIn (say, if you were having this meeting three years ago), how would you learn where he went to school, where he worked before his current job, and other details about him? With the help of his LinkedIn profile, you're a zillion times better prepared for the meeting.

5) Now let's say that VP of Marketing is behind the curve and doesn't have a LinkedIn profile. No big; you find another connection of yours who works at the VP's current company, and ping her for some background. See? LinkedIn to the rescue again.

6) Want to know who's working in a particular industry space in a given city? LinkedIn search. Intelligence gathering, even if you never contact any of the people you find.

My point is that there's lots more to LinkedIn than just reaching out to people for job leads and for business development leads - not that either of those are bad things. And I agree with other posters that you have to use the tool, rather than just join up and sit there like a lump. But I'd love to hear stories of some more creative uses for LinkedIn, from other users...

Thanks for sharing your compelling story with everyone, Liz. When I think about your point with Monster.com causing recruiters to never list jobs online anymore, I not only know that it's true from personal experience, but also find it to be an interesting example of the law of unintended consequences, in the same way that a site like LinkedIn helps with market research or background checks.

At the end of the day, in business you're ultimately constrained only by the skills you can bring to the table and the network of friends and acquaintances you can call on for help, advice and assistance. And if you don't help them when you can, of course, it doesn't take long to be ostracized from a group, however informal or far- flung. But if you are part of a circle of professionals, you will always grow your career faster, smarter, and more profitably.

Dave Taylor is an internationally recognized expert on business and technical topics and is the author of 18 different books and thousands of magazine articles. His Q&A Web site is http://www.askdavetaylor.com/

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