Friday, January 15, 2010

The Misrepresenation of the Power of Social Media

A friend of mine joined a "LinkedIn Group" recently that has over 1500 local members. Upon joining she received a message from the group's owner with tips on how a member could get the most from their participation in the online forum.

Most of the tips were useful. Having a digital link to someone or "joining" an online community means nothing if you are not actively engaged and participate (just like meeting someone once at a networking event means little if you do not cultivate an ongoing relationship).

The part of the message that I call into question was tip #5"

5. If you'd like to increase your personal network be sure to link to [name withheld] directly,I have more than 12 million connections, and will gladly share them with you.

This is ridiculous. 12 million connections???? I am sure he is close with each and every one of them. His Christmas card postage bill must be enormous!

Being part of LinkedIn brings with it the unprecedented ability to research people and discover paths toward making connections, but being more than one person removed limits the power of the network. Anyone who looks at their inflated LinkedIn Network Number and thinks it has real value is either misguided or trying to inflate their own "coolness factor".

This would be similar to living in the Los Angeles area and saying you have direct contact with millions of people in your network because you have a copy of the phone book. Come on people, contacting those people via random meaningless links in a social media environment is akin to a cold call!

LinkedIn tells me that I have nearly 7 million people in my network, but you will NEVER hear me tell anyone that equals my network. That would be a misrepresentation of the power of social networking.

I do not link to people in LinkedIn with whom I have not had a meaningful interaction. Most often this means a personal conversation that goes beyond meeting at a networking event and trading business card. I prefer to sit down and have a cup of coffee, lunch, or a beer (or the "digital equivalent") with someone before I link to them on LinkedIn (or Facebook). I verify we like each other and have a legitimate relationship rather than just having a bunch of links.

We are still in the early stages of how we can use these online tools to help advance our careers and assist other people (never forget that the universe of people online are not there to serve your personal needs... it is a two way street!).

I am sure I will get the usual "hate mail" from people with a different view on the subject who have 10,000+ contacts on LinkedIn and have made a million dollars a year while working from home. Ok, whatever. But I believe that online networking is no different from face-to-face networking. It is about establishing and cultivating meaningful relationships over the long run. This is about more than being "linked".

Have A Great Day.



Kim said...

Right On, Thom! I wish there was some sort of verification mechanism to show that you really do know someone that you've linked to online rather than a hyped up popularity or ability to gather names. Maybe they could have an indicator on how many conversations you've had. It makes those of us who do know (and care) about a lot of people look bad.

Marc Miller said...

I totally agree. As the number of my links has grown, I am actually concerned that I need to remove some because I am no longer "connected" with them on a personal level.

Juli Monroe said...

Thom, you are right on. I wrote a blog post recently on this very topic. I used the example of an ex-client who had "over a 1000 people" on LinkedIn. She constantly complained that she had no clients. Why? Because she was a contact collector. Not a relationship builder.

Face to face and social networking are both about building relationships. And it's hard to build with thousands (or millions!) of people.

Michael Neuendorff said...

This post reminds me a lot of my #1 pet peeve with Twitter and that is people who use automated programs to follow people at random with no idea who they are.

They do this in the hopes that you'll automatically follow them back, which will then give them a platform with which to sell their network something.

I think it's a complete abuse of the medium. I understand that Twitter does have a ratio of how many people you can follow versus how many people are following you. I'm glad they have some checks and balances, but not enough.

LinkedIn should have similar safeguards to prevent people from linking beyond a certain number. It's not a fan base like Facebook, it's a professional network.

Anyway, good post as it provoked me to want to comment.

Ian R McAllister said...

Good post Thom.

Am I going to fully agree with you? No, because having been networking for a while I accept that different people network in different ways. Some know their style works in person over a coffee, while others are happy just to collect your email address - they don't even need your name!

In between there is something which suits each of us, that gives us both the human level of connection and the business that we require. If it wasn't for both, why would we network in the first place?

There is an interesting article over on Social Networking for Newbies, which questions if as a networker your are a <a href=">Are you a LION, Turtle, Hound Dog or Alley Cat?</a>

Would I ever brag about the size of my network? No, not by choice, I never see the point in bragging. hence I really do agree with you on this person bragging about there's. I guess for him, its a numbers game over relationships.

Good Luck!