Make the most of Linkedin (but know its limitations)
I was interviewed recently for a piece on using Linkedin for networking. The article was looking specifically at how pharmaceutical executives could benefit from the kind of networking opportunities that Linkedin can provide. You can read the full article in the latest edition of Pharmaceutical Executive Digest Europe, but the interview got me thinking about the ways in which people can use Linkedin as a networking tool, and also how you can gain some (but not all) of the benefits that you would get from a community of practice.
Many people think that Linkedin is full of recruiters, and it probably is, but really Linkedin is a classic social network. But the very thing that recruiters use Linkedin for can also be of benefit to the members themselves.
Linkedin is a classic social network. It is a ‘me’ space, focused very much on the individual members, with their profile, interests, groups and connections. This means it is easy to find and then connect with people who have similar profiles to you, searching by keywords, employers, organisations of education. The problem is what to do when you find them. Because Linkedin is such a personal space it can be difficult to approach people and difficult for them to realise the benefit of connecting with you when and if you do. In a social network you tend to emphasise yourself and your profile, and people may not realise the benefit of connecting via this.
This is where online communities can really come to the fore. Whilst social networks are about ‘me’, online communities are about ‘us’. Profiles and personal connections take second place to a shared idea, interest, focus or topic of discussion. People are represented and known for their ideas rather than their profile, and it can be easier to find people who share common interests with you, or are working in similar areas, and then easier to connect with them. You connect through your ideas and shared interest rather than your profile. To some extent this is closer to face-to-face networking. Whilst some people will connect based on a shared company, university or club, real connections come from shared interests.
Whilst Linkedin is primarily a social network, a ‘me’ space based on profiles, the groups facility (if used well) allows this more ‘us’ networking that you get from an online community. I run a Linkedin group for Online Communty Managers, and it is a great way of finding and then connecting with others who share a common interest or experience. In this case that they all work in the same area and share similar experiences in their role and is about us collectively promoting community management.
These groups are the nearest thing that Linkedin offers to the topic- or ideas-centric online communities that offer greatest value from a networking perspective. From your profile alone it can be difficult to find people who are going to be of value to you. You know their employer, their education and perhaps some of their interests. It is in these groups that they can tell you what they are interested in, what they are working on, where their expertise lies and where you could connect. Just by joining the group, you put a badge on your profile that lets others know the interests or expertise you have. But you are better to become actively involved.
With a network liked Linkedin, it is true that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. The groups (and indeed the Answers feature) are the best way to do this. Add to discussion in groups, post links to articles you find of interest, comment on other people’s articles, post your thoughts in response to questions in your area. If you take part in this way, you will become known for the quality of your ideas and your contributions and make it easier for people to find you as well as for you to find others. This doesn’t need to be a time-consuming activity – dedicate half an hour every Thursday lunchtime, for example, to building your Linkedin expertise and profile.
Build your personal brand and your connections and networking slowly, a little at a time.
Some more reading
- Social Networks – Biggest Isn’t Always The Best (socialmediatoday.com)
- Facebook and the Reality of Your Online Content (briansolis.com)
- Understanding social capital: readings from the Web (ac-idealog.blogspot.com)
- The Secret Is Out – Social Media Is Work (einnoventions.com)
- Keep up-to-date with the best in online communities blogging (freshnetworks.com)
- Social Networks as Trust Building Tools (openmode.ca)
- Online Communities Meet Clinical Trials: Inspire’s Co-Founder on Social Networking, “Health 2.0,” and Trust (xconomy.com)
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