All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go… because I’m presumptuous

“The networking site burrows its way into users? inboxes with updates spinning the gossamer dream of successful and frictionless advancement up the career ladder.”

“Just add one crucial contact who?s only a few degrees removed from you (users are the perpetual Kevin Bacons in this party game), or update your skill set in a more market-friendly fashion, and one of the site?s 187 million or so users will pluck you from a stalled career and offer professional redemption.”

“In reality, though, the job seeker tends to experience the insular world of LinkedIn connectivity as an irksome ritual of digital badgering. Instead of facing the prospect of interfacing professionally with a nine-figure user base with a renewed spring in their step, harried victims of economic redundancy are more likely to greet their latest LinkedIn updates with a muttered variation of, ?Oh shit, I?d better send out some more résumés.? At which point, they?ll typically mark the noisome email nudge as ?read? and relegate it to the trash folder.”

“Which is why it?s always been a little tough to figure out what LinkedIn is for. The site?s initial appeal was as a sort of self-updating Rolodex?a way to keep track of ex-co-workers and friends-of-friends you met at networking happy hours.”

“This frenetic networking-by-vague-association has bred a mordant skepticism among some users of the site. Scott Monty, head of social media for the Ford Motor Company, includes a disclaimer in the first line of his LinkedIn bio that, in any other context, would be a hilarious redundancy: ?Note: I make connections only with people whom I have met.? It?s an Escher staircase masquerading as a career ladder.”

“On one level, of course, this world of aspirational business affiliation is nothing new. LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work?but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don?t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know. From this crushing realization, the paradoxes multiply on up through the social food chain: those who are at the top of the field are at this event only to entice paying attendees, soak up the speaking fees, and slip out the back door after politely declining the modest swag bag. They?re not standing around on garish hotel ballroom carpet with a plastic cup of cheap chardonnay in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other.”

“LinkedIn does have some advantages over the sad old world of the perennially striving, sweating minor characters in Glengarry Glen Ross. After all, it doesn?t require a registration fee or travel to a conference center. Sometimes there are recruiters trolling the profiles on the site. It?s a kinder, gentler experience for the underemployed. It distills the emotionally fraught process of collapsing years of professional experience onto a single 8½ x 11 sheet of paper into the seemingly more manageable format of the online questionnaire.”

Now that you have seen a few choice quotes, you may as well read the full article – it is from a 2013 issue of The Baffler. The author, Ann Friedman, does have an interesting connection between LinkedIn Pulse articles (there are SO MANY of them now!) and Dale Carnegie’s How To empire. But even that connection is based on a tenuous assumption… I’ll address that after addressing the article’s core.

And that core is this: That Ann doesn’t know what LinkedIn is for. That Ann thinks LinkedIn is a job-searching, job-offering platform. That Ann thinks LinkedIn doesn’t get people jobs as much as it promises (it never did, by the way). That LinkedIn is networking-by-vague-association.

LinkedIn is a professional networking platform. This, any kid in college with vague interest in social networks would tell you. And professional networking means precisely that – you network for professional reasons. As against, say, your interest in caviar. Or golf. Or philately. Or the music of Tiesto.

So, you choose to connect with people over HIPAA. Over social media marketing. Over IoT. Over legal precedence. And so on. Oh… if you are a professional DJ, you can connect with other professional DJs over the music (and the business of) of Tiesto too. If you are a golf accessories brand, you can connect with others over the business of golf too.

baflr23_friedman_king_630Ok, what does ‘connect’ mean? In Ann’s world, the only need to connect is offering or seeking a job: “Just add one crucial contact who?s only a few degrees removed from you (users are the perpetual Kevin Bacons in this party game), or update your skill set in a more market-friendly fashion, and one of the site?s 187 million or so users will pluck you from a stalled career and offer professional redemption.”

Now, in the real, actual world, connecting on LinkedIn could be as simple as exchanging business cards. It means, like in the real world, you exchange business cards and spend the next minute briefly indulging in small-talk – “Oh you are in XYZ? Where were you before? Oh that ABC? Do you know X? Oh you studied in Y? Which year?”. And then, you move on, with the assumption that you know slightly more than nothing about this person. Not too much, but slightly more than zilch. What is it worth? Your next job will come from this exchange? Hardly. This is perfunctory knowledge and every bit of knowledge helps when you use it in times of need. That’s precisely what you can do with LinkedIn connections too – you see who requests your connection… where have they worked, what they stand for, who they are connected to… actually, this is more than what you may expect from a real-life card exchange.

Imagine you do this card exchange (or LinkedIn connect) with hundreds of people. Can you remember all of them? Not at all. That’s why your connections on LinkedIn are sorted and searchable… when you need it.

And let me turn the attention on the other side – away from ‘you’. You are one among a 9-figure user base. That means you are just among millions. When there are millions in a platform, why should ‘you’ be top-of-mind for anyone? That is, unless you did something path-breaking and made yourself known? But again, it is millions. So you may need to do something path-breaking every single day to be known, remembered, interesting to at least a fraction of the millions on the platform.

But, that’s not what Ann thinks is worth doing on LinkedIn. The article’s assumption is that you upload a resume and people will see and understand you for what you are worth… land up at your digital gate and urge you to join them in their endeavor to change the world… because, you had mentioned that you are very good at changing the world, in your resume, you see. Wow… so linear and so simple.

LinkedIn is networking-by-vague-association because these ARE vague associations. In fact they become vague acquaintances once you connect. And networking works both ways – merely a connection is not networking. If you treat your LinkedIn profile as a live resume, a resume that lives and breathes what you stand for, what you are interested in professionally, every single day, it tells your audiences and connections (a fraction of them who bother to see it, anyway) something about you every post you make. So, that post of your on the latest viral video says that you *may* be interested in knowing why some videos go viral. That post of yours where you talked about new bots using artificial intelligence *may* indicate that you may be interested in machine learning. These are signs you drop, about yourself, in things that interest you, in things you have a point of view on… professionally.

But this is work. You need to share, comment, connect and talk. Like you’d need to do in real life too. Trouble with real life is that real world problems like time, traffic, weather, distance etc. come into the play and may not allow you to always do this easily. On LinkedIn much of the real world problems vanish and you can build a perception about yourself, one update a time. Oh and one more thing – in the real world, you would not get many chances to interrupt a conversation amongst industry stalwarts and leaders. Chances are you may not be in such a gathering at all. On LinkedIn, you can interrupt and comment. You gain from that act purely based on the strength of the comment/perspective you bring – it is entirely up to you. LinkedIn is merely a platform that enables something like this – you still need to grab that opportunity and work at it.

Can you do without all these, on LinkedIn? Of course, you can! You can go about building a real world networking system entirely on your own. Nobody’s stopping you. Just that, if I did not have a LinkedIn profile of you to search for, I don’t know much about you (before you assume that you are important enough to be known) and I come to meet you where you spend the first 5 minutes explaining why I need to spend time with you, professionally. So, it’s not a resume online, you see. It’s simply a card exchange, but with lot more contextual information exchanged (if you bothered enough to go through the person’s profile before connecting, that is – still work and takes time, if you care to do that) than mere card exchange.

Another angle – is Ann perhaps blaming the millions of duffers on LinkedIn who are not equipped to participate, comment, opine on LinkedIn? That they somehow are not capable enough of forming their own opinion or articulating it to join conversations on LinkedIn or starting one? Sure… possible. Why blame LinkedIn then? LinkedIn merely throws open the possibility of pervasive networking, one comment, or one update a time. It is up to people to use their own brains and come up with things to say. LinkedIn cannot say that for you – you still need to pick and choose who you talk to and with what. To assume otherwise is a bit… ummm, a LOT naive.

Also, I don’t understand the obsession with being obsessed over LinkedIn as a jobs platform. LinkedIn offers professional networking… period. That makes it rather useful for sales and marketing too. To connect with prospects, that is. But it is merely a start… that’s the value of a LinkedIn connect. You still need to approach the prospect professionally, do your pitching, selling, talking etc. There’s hard work still left to do. But you can save time searching for a phone number. Or a mutually known acquaintance to do an introduction. That’s a mighty good value-add by a free product, incidentally.

Now, about that Dale Carnegie How To empire as a precursor to LinkedIn Pulse articles that millions of people are writing frenetically.

Yes, this is a great connection, well made. But it also assumes that Dale Carnegie’s empire is vacuous and pointless. I’d assume… if it is a successful empire that millions are still buying his book, they would have perhaps seen some vague value in it? If not, he wouldn’t be having an empire. It’s a bit presumptuous to think that just because I think Dale Carnegie’s How To books are pointless, I assume they would be the same for millions of others too. That’s a mighty leap from what I think… to that’s what the world thinks too.

But yes, LinkedIn could do a better job with their algorithm of suggesting which Pulse articles I should read, based on my profile and prior history of reading other Pulse articles. But again, that’s also a problem with signal vs. noise, and to expect my interests spoon-fed to me by a platform is a bit too utopian. I’m kinda glad that a machine hasn’t known the true me… what makes me, me and then suggest stuff to read based on that depth of knowledge. It is thankfully only indicative.

I’m also extremely aware that just because I think some of these articles didn’t add value to me, it may not add value to a lot of people on LinkedIn. I keep reminding myself that the world is not ‘me’. The world is much bigger… there are so many things to learn, every day… there exists so many perspectives on every topic that is not a fact… or multiple ways look at the same fact, from different points of view. All these come out well enough in the comments, questions and views on LinkedIn (in a professional set-up, as much as they do on other spheres in other platforms like Twitter or Facebook).

Also, it is a bit silly to expect a platform to gate its purpose so categorically. LinkedIn is a professional networking platform. If some users post content in it that goes outside that purview (‘Pray for my daughter’s operation’, ‘How does this lingerie look? etc. – have seen these happening more often recently, on LinkedIn), that reflects poorly on those people posting them, not on LinkedIn. That means, those people, knowing fully well what happens in an office, go around asking people to pray for their daughter’s operation (with even people they do not know personally in that office) or go around asking people their opinion about the new lingerie they are wearing.

Should LinkedIn bar them? Not really. If you start screening content for professional vs. unprofessional, the lines would start to grey very soon. Candice Galek, founder and CEO of BikiniLuxe is a great example. She sells bikinis – that’s her profession. And she talks about them… sometimes with pics. I have seen tons of people commenting on her pics that these are inappropriate on LinkedIn! If she was an insurance saleswoman and posts the same pics, I’d side with that comment. But her business is selling and making a market for bikinis. So this can be argued both ways – that she is merely using pics to titillate LinkedIn audiences vs. that’s her damn business – what else will she talk about?

So there. LinkedIn is a not a job search or job offering platform. It offers professional networking. The choice is yours to use it the way you want and gain from it. You can sit tight after posting your resume on LinkedIn waiting for the job pipeline to open up. Does it happen that way in the real world – you email your resume to 200 people and wait for offers to pour?

Of course not. You email. You follow-up. You meet people. You connect with them. You talk to them. You try to impress them with your knowledge. Why wouldn’t all this apply for LinkedIn? In fact, all this becomes a bit more easily digitally, than in the offline world. Instead, you have Ann expecting LinkedIn to magically help you just because you took 5 minutes to register and post your resume on LinkedIn. You don’t say.

Pic courtesy, JD King (from the original article on The Baffler).

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  • raj dutta

    Discovered this via your Linkedin page – kinda proves the point. Seriously though, networking has got such a bad schmoozing vibe to it. But as a latecomer to the Linkedin scene, it’s proving HUGELY helpful to me to just keep myself on top of the industry trends…and that’s an investment I’m willing to make just for the sheer pleasure of it. Outcome independent. Good post, Karthik. @DuttaRajrishi