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.