Loving or loathing LinkedIn

linkedinI’m in two minds about LinkedIn both personally and professionally. In some ways it is the most irritating of social media networks, but also it can be highly useful.

I tend to feel LinkedIn (the topic of my second January post reflecting on Social Media) doesn’t really know what it is any more and is trying to be a bit of lots of other social media channels, but not necessarily very successfully.

The recent additions of prompted endorsements in my view has undermined the value of this aspect of the site. Yes, written recommendations can still be helpful, but I’m not sure anyone really places much store in them do they? Aren’t they just mates’ puffery?

Other automated ‘updates’ such as job anniversaries I find equally annoying. And most of the group discussions are pretty pointless – or maybe it is just the groups that I’ve joined (and often wish I hadn’t). I reckon most groups are largely dormant or are dominated by a few voices.

I also dislike how many people use LinkedIn in a ‘look at me’ manner which is mainly about self-publicity or promotion of their work, company or activities. Some people I see in group discussions make me laugh with their bragging, especially when they lack any self-recognition that their pomposity in writing about how successful they are is the antithesis of good public relations.

Other people seem to use groups as a lazy short-cut to original research. I don’t mind a good discussion around a topic that is of wider interest, or seeking recommendations for suppliers or such information. But too often I find people are looking for others to do their job for them. And, undoubtedly these types of posts recur frequently. Isn’t there an easy way of people finding previous threads rather than asking the same simplistic questions over and over?

And, I hear so many examples of recruitment companies relying on LinkedIn to find candidates without any knowledge of the competence or qualities of those they trawl up. Mind you, it is amusing to think of the recruiters and boasters finding each other in an ever repeating circuit.

However, LinkedIn does genuinely make accessible dozens of job vacancies and enables you to find – and check out – people for speaking and other employment opportunities. This is where I think LinkedIn does work well i.e. as a professional contact database – which is where it started. Locating and connecting with people you know (and don’t but perhaps could and should) is simple and effective. Yes, too many people still abuse the networking, but they can be ignored quite easily.

For individuals, it is a straightforward way to have an up to date online profile, with both a CV/resume and other useful information. It can be a helpful professional place to share useful information and enable effective online networking particularly with existing contacts. I do find it works in terms of getting faster responses than emails from busy people. For students and young PR practitioners, it can be a good way of establishing contacts especially using its ‘6-degrees of separation’ nature.

It is also easy for organisations to set up pages where basic information is often easier to find than on their own websites. A post at Forbes argues companies should encourage all employees to use LinkedIn rather than blocking access. The argument is that employee activity in LinkedIn increases visibility for a company. Actually, the point being made is that employees should be using LinkedIn as ‘brand ambassadors’ and generators of LinkedIn search juice.

Seeing employees as primarily ‘good news’ distributors is cynical and smacks of that terrible concept: internal marketing (which is not the same as employee engagement or internal communications). And, I can’t be alone in envisaging dozens of ‘cut and paste’ corporate posts by individual employees as a great way to annoy lots of people rather than engage them.

A similar questionable attitude is expressed by Dan Schwabel in another Forbes post. He is arguing that you should accept all requests to connect on the basis that this helps increase your Klout score and general profile. Again a quantity over quality focus.

Perhaps what I’m finding irritating about LinkedIn is common among other women as I note from Michal Clements post that women are not using LinkedIn as much or as regularly as men. She argues that this means women may be missing out on the career development and relationship building potential of engaging with LinkedIn. Recruiters using LinkedIn will be missing out on female talent if women are not using the channel as much as male counterparts.

Is it just me? Is LinkedIn operating mainly in a male way that doesn’t engage women? Is it really a useful professional network – and a valued recruitment channel? Does it offer real public relations benefits to organisations or is it another clogged up channel of puff and nonsense?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

11 thoughts on “Loving or loathing LinkedIn”

  1. I had an offline conversations with Don Radoli recently, where we simply could not believe how many so-called “public relations professionals” in LinkedIn Groups seemed to do nothing but media relations all day, and had nothing more constructive to add to ANY public relations discussion than how to “write an effective press release.” Honestly, on LinkedIn “public relations” appears so small and limited (in impact and influence), at least if you monitor the average “PR” Group Discussion.

    It’s always served primarily as my online professional rolodex, but it’s also the last (not the first) social network I tend to connect with people (or accept invitations). Some gravitas, you know. And also there’s probably some braggery on my part, because I’ve been on LinkedIn since 2003–I was invited in the beta stage.

  2. That was early – I joined LinkedIn in January 2007 which was after I started this blog (Sept 2006) but before I joined Facebook (June 2007) and Twitter (December 2007).

    I’d go further than you and Don regarding PR practitioners on LinkedIn who not only focus on tactical media relations, but their views are entirely based on their own experience. Mind you, I find a lot of PR students are like that with regard to social media – I’m always being told that social media is new and hasn’t been studied so there isn’t a body of literature for their dissertation topics. Most have never heard of Cluetrain Manifesto which is 15 years old in 2014, and have no idea about some of the precursors to current SM channels or how old they are. 🙂

  3. I share your ambivalence: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

    But it’s interesting to see how the personal morphs into the professional. Some of us (perhaps they’re predominantly male as you suggest) seem happy to lead very public lives; others of us try to keep some separation.

    I just had some downtime over the Christmas period, and the social network that emerged as the winner for me was Instagram because people’s photos are almost exclusively drawn from the social part of their lives.

    It was good to take a break from all the bragging and the posturing.

    1. Thanks Richard. I do agree with you that it is nice to connect with people away from their ‘professional’ persona through social media. In fact, that’s how most people engage away from all the PR, marketing, brand stuff that muscles in on the terrain. It reminds me of how nice it is to be at a party or social occasion and not talk shop – or have random marketing messages popping up in your conversations.

      Even on PR launches, I recall most enjoying the discussions with journalists (and colleagues) about their hobbies, books, films, sport, family etc. I think it is in the Cluetrain Manifesto where this aspect of human relationship is discussed in relation to PR.

      I’m going to look at the social in social media in my next post since that’s how most people use it (even Twitter).

  4. Not likely the last time that Forbes will do a cursory job on a substantive topic and get some of it wrong, e.g. http://onforb.es/XsCsDt. As for the rest, I found myself agreeing with your point of view on the general quality of LinkedIn content and conversation. Here’s hoping the community will be managed/guided by users to work to its strengths. The virtual peer networking capacity of LinkedIn has not yet been matched elsewhere.

    1. Natalie – thanks for the comment. I do agree with you about the Forbes’ pieces and this echoes my feelings about LinkedIn groups really. The Forbes’ contributors are producing ‘content’ which is of often questionable quality. Their presumed expertise is much like those who are boasting and giving their opinions via LinkedIn.

      You are right that the virtual peer networking potential in LinkedIn is its core strength and it would be great if this could be recognised by raising the quality through the community or the management there.

  5. I do find my PERSONAL updates section to be an effective profile tactic regarding shared information (usually posts). And now LinkedIn is monitoring and letting you know how many people are “viewing” the update. (Although this does not necessarily translate to a link over and read of the actual article.)

    For example, approximately 48 hours after posting about this LinkedIn-themed post of yours, Heather, I’m advised that 81 people have Viewed my update. I hope at least half of them came over for a read, too. (Maybe that’s how Natalie found this blog and post!)

    I like this form of measurement. What I don’t like nearly as much is LinkedIn deciding to award and profile “Top Contributors” in LI Groups. Just because you are gabby (or opinionated) or “share” a lot, doesn’t mean that what you have to say is Tops…..

  6. I love this post. I find the constant connections irritating but sometimes it can be good to find new people to speak too. I think it may need to reinvent itself a bit as its far too recruitment focussed.

  7. No, it’s not just you. But thanks for rounding up all those annoyances in one post.

    Here’s the thing. LinkedIn is a mess of ideas, as it seeks a way to generate significant revenues. By appealing to the ‘shouty’ culture of ‘look at me’ social media it is smartly acing the classic strategy of ubiquity first, revenue later.

    For my money it could do so much more to enable ‘candidates’ to find suitable matches with recruiters than it does. All the bogstandard lists of competencies you’re forced to conform with make Linkedin nothing more than a big bear pit, where he who shouts loudest prevails. I think the trick that is missed by a country mile is the nuancing of what a person on there *stands for* (their values & personality types etc) and therefore what lies behind all their ‘stellar’ achievements.

    I hate it. I also rarely miss a day without checking it out. And most weeks I’ll shout “hey, look at me too” at least once.

  8. Very rightly said Heather!LinkenIn must stuck to what it does the best i.e a huge network of professionals and employers. But lately it has been trying to be every thing and incorporating features which are not exactly needed.

    I know this fear of loosing ground to other upcoming social media networks is very real but they must not act out of fear, they should realize their strengths and improve on them further, rather than incorporating successful features of other websites.

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