LinkedIn is a useful adjunct to the social media of Facebook, MySpace and many other incarnations. The professional network is a terrific idea but it has several problems – one is misuse or misunderstanding LinkedIn’s function, the other is the ridiculousness of Endorsements. Given that LinkedIn is as popular in the OHS profession as in any other, the problems, as I see them, are worth discussing.
Linking to Strangers
According to Wikipedia:
“One purpose of the site is to allow registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people with whom they have some level of relationship, called Connections.”
From the user’s perspective this is the principal purpose of LinkedIn . One is able to maintain informal contact with current and previous work colleagues. When one’s work status changes, the linked network is advised. As many contact details as one wants to include are placed on an individual’s profile.
There is a sense to linking peers and colleagues but this purpose, in my opinion, is seriously degraded by total strangers requesting to be linked to you. In many ways, people are using LinkedIn in a similar way to those people who collect Pokemon – the number of connections is the sole aim. These collectors are easily spotted in any face-to-face conversation on the topic of LinkedIn, someone will eventually speak proudly of having over 500 connections, even though they are unlikely to know half of them. This phenomenon reflects similar occurrences on Facebook but LinkedIn was intended to be different from Facebook, more professional.
The use (abuse?) of LinkedIn in this manner, and the exploitation of LinkedIn by recruiters, has rendered this social media option as another Facebook instead of an alternative, or supplement, to Facebook. So is it still useful?
LinkedIn works well if one keeps the connection principle in mind. Link with people you have worked with, or know you or with whom you have done business. This reinforces an existing relationship.
One of the problems with stranger connection requests is that the request includes no detail of why the connection is wanted. The default request states:
“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
This is accompanied by a tick box option of where you might have known this person from. When I receive these types of request, I firstly ignore them and then advise LinkedIn that I have ignored the request because I don’t know them. If these people want to link with me I want more information about them and about why they want to link.
If they like my blog articles, there is an email hyperlink at the bottom of every article for them to make contact with me. If they find the article interesting, or wrong, there is the capacity to make a comment. My LinkedIn profile includes an email address for people to introduce themselves, if they wish. Any of these options will provide a context for the connection request and a stronger base from which to, potentially, build a professional relationship. However few take this option.
The downside of my ignoring the request is, according the Wikipedia,
“… if the invitee selects “I don’t know” or “Spam”, this counts against the inviter. If the inviter gets too many of such responses, the account may be restricted or closed.“
I suspect few inviters are aware of this but it seems a potentially effective way of reducing the Pokemon collectors. However it will only work if people understand, what I consider to be, the principal purpose of LinkedIn “to maintain a list of contact details of people with whom they have some level of relationship”.
Just as unsolicited connection requests are dubious, a recent addition to LinkedIn – Endorsements – are even more facile and sycophantic. Australia was one of the first areas to trial Endorsements – the option of endorsing a LinkedIn member’s expertise or competence in various professional areas and skills.
LinkedIn has always included testimonials where colleagues or customers have written about the quality of their relationship with the LinkedIn member. This could be exploited but seems to work fairly well as the testimonials are relevant, have been thought about, and pertinent. But Endorsements are a tick-the-box shortcut.
If Endorsements come from colleagues or customers, there is a sort of validity about them but most endorsements seem to come from people who one has never worked with or provided services for. These Endorsements are hollow and serve no purpose other than, perhaps,”sucking up” to a LinkedIn member.
For instance, I have been endorsed for “Training Delivery” by 12 people. I am not a qualified trainer and have provided no training for many years, even then I would categorise the training as a semi-formal discussion session. Endorsements for some of the occupational health skills are most likely to reflect my safety-related writing, conference appearances and so on but there remain endorsements from people I have never met or spoken with about occupational health.
Lucy Kellaway spoke about Endorsements in a recent podcast for the Financial Times. In the podcast she describes Endorsements as
“…moronic, irritating and serves no purpose at all – apart from proving beyond a doubt that the tens of millions of endorsers on LinkedIn possess two skills in particular: brown-nosing and time-wasting.”
Re-listening to her podcast encouraged me to have a look at my LinkedIn profile settings and to adjust the profile. I have removed the endorsements option from my profile as, although some of them were flattering, I realised that flattering was all the endorsements were. I decided I did not need to collect this type of Pokemon.
I also reread some of the recommendations on my profile from former customers and work colleagues and I realised how many I still meet, have coffee with, or argue with on points of safety practice and how many of these people I consider friends. Surely one of the points of social media is to strengthen existing relationships rather than create a fake and fanciful persona. But then I am old enough to remember the joy of visiting old friends in person and laughing with them about old and new times. LOL is no equivalent for a tear-soaked belly laugh with good friends.
Ultimately LinkedIn is simply another internet-based tool and a tool that is not really needed unless one wants to establish, maintain or increase one’s internet presence. If I was not a writer and blogger, I would seriously question any need to have an internet presence of the type offered by LinkedIn. As it is, over coming weeks I will be reassessing LinkedIn’s role in my professional life.
The best advice I can give is that, if one is going to use any tool, learn how to use it properly first, be it a hammer or social media.
And to those recruiters out there, give me a call or send me an email or, even better, invite me for a coffee and a muffin and a chat. In this way you will be able to assess my suitability for your clients and I am sure your clients will be happier with a person who can do the job rather than one with over 500 followers and hundreds of dubious endorsements from total strangers.