LinkedIn is an amazing resource. Importantly, it is not meant to be social, like Friendster or Facebook. It is actually a professional tool, with potential for the exchange of extremely valuable information. Job opportunities aside, a professional network’s value can be judged by the volume and reliability of information within the network. I like to know that if I asked my LinkedIn network a question, I would get a solid professional answer.
Although there are countless professional online forums, LinkedIn is the only place that approaches the scope of a major social networking site. That is fantastic, from a more-the-merrier networking perspective, but it also worries me. As much as I like the idea of a robust and open-ended professional network, the lack of formality becomes risky. As LinkedIn grows, and people start finding profiles for college friends and long lost co-workers, users are starting to connect for social reasons.
They could break it. I asked someone, a little over a year ago, if he was interested in LinkedIn. His response was that, basically, it would be a drain on his time, maintaining a database of people who would make requests without offering anything valuable in return. He saw it is a job-finding site, when he was already plenty employable.
LinkedIn has changed since then. There are more ways to use the site for all of the things, besides job-hunting, that a network is good for. It’s not formally filtered, though. An organization for dentists would not get membership solicitations from a journalist who knew one of the dentists in high school. This an happen on LinkedIn.
Luckily, I have not felt like I should reject the invitation of any friends, but it’s been close. I have “creative” talent in my network, but I have felt obligated to check online portfolios before adding friends whose work is unfamiliar to me. Knowing that someone was smart and did well in college does not mean that I would recommend them for a job ten years down the road. LinkedIn “connections” are not the same as “recommendations”, but it’s a fine line between publicizing a “professional” connection and vouching for his or her professionalism.
Last week, in the MBA lounge at school, I overheard: “Oh, I can tell you that he’s a great guy, and smart. But, I can’t actually put my name behind his work. I just don’t know him professionally.” As long as LinkedIn users lean toward this responsible perspective, LinkedIn will continue to grow as a valuable offshoot of the social networking revolution.