Tinkering with tools: LinkedIn, where networking and problem-solving gets professional

Who uses LinkedIn and how (Source: Lab42)

Who uses LinkedIn and how (Source: Lab42)

LinkedIn is a popular social network and it has been around for a while. Most people know about it. And yet most people don’t seem to really know what to do with it. LinkedIn the opaque social network? So what about LinkedIn? Let’s look at three aspects of LinkedIn: its functionalities (what it offers to do), its community (who it is made of) and its conversations (its engagement dynamics). Functionalities LinkedIn has been a popular tool early on because it clearly addresses the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) factor: help you find a job. The service started as a ‘CV online’ service. The web 2.0 wave which brought Facebook and Twitter to the  limelight urged LinkedIn to mark its ‘professional’ orientation, to fend off criticism about the futile nature of (other) social media. LinkedIn has thus become a professional social networking site which features:

  • The profile, where you present typical CV information, including groups and associations (see below), awards and a series of widgets (e.g. your Twitter updates, blog posts, Slideshare presentations etc.);
  • Recommendations – which you can give or solicit (the reason why I hopped on the LinkedIn train originally), as a nice way to collect nice and useful feedback;
  • A list of your contacts (see ‘the community’ below);
  • A status update right under the profile, which can be connected to a Twitter (or – I assume – a Facebook) account;
  • messaging system which combines direct (email-like) messaging and invitations to connect with new contacts;
  • Groups and networks (see ‘the conversation’ below);
  • ‘Answers’ (Questions and answers which people post, about content – so not really a FAQ);
  • Network statistics that tell you how many direct, 2nd and 3rd degree connections, most popular regional and industry connections that you have;
  • Statistics on your account: who has viewed your profile in the past period, how many times you appeared in search etc.
  • Jobs – a section to help you find or advertise a job;
  • A company directory/search function;
  • News and additional features such as events, polls, and all other ‘beta-phase’ features and a useful LinkedIn learning center to find help on LinkedIn;

The premium (pay-for) features allow you additionally to: sort your most important connections, enjoy additional statistics (location, industry of people that viewed your profile etc.) and a few more features which I don’t know (I have a simple account).

The community

LinkedIn has at least three communities that might interest you here: a) Your contacts, b) the community surrounding your contacts, c) the wider list of contacts.

It is very easy and intuitive to expand your list of contacts by connecting with people that you might know on the basis of joint history or just on a whim (although LinkedIn luckily doesn’t make it too easy to connect if you haven’t had prior contact with another person, and therefore requests you to fill the email address of the person you want to connect with). LinkedIn builds upon the serendipity factor by suggesting ‘people you may know’ on the basis of shared connections (remember the six degrees of separation?). The wider list of contacts forms a basis for e.g. finding a job, subcontracting some work to people you can rely upon or engage in fruitful conversations, which is perhaps the most interesting part of LinkedIn.

The conversation

LinkedIn allows conversations in various ways. The simplest form is through the messenging service that it offers between LinkedIn users (whether direct contacts or not), or through the status update, but the most powerful ways to converse are through the ‘Answers’ service and particularly through LinkedIn group discussions.

Answers are an older functionality where people can seek answers on topics that matter to them.

Another level of conversation however is through the many groups that one can join, related to a specific industry. Not all groups are active but those that are (usually based on a rather large group) can offer brilliant insights. You can ask questions by either starting a discussion or a poll, join ongoing discussions, mention what answers you like from those given, promote an event (or something else)… All in all group conversations are great as they connect you to very effective communities of practice and are likely to reap very interesting insights.

So what to make of LinkedIn from a KM perspective? 

The primary objective and perhaps strength of LinkedIn remains its job focus. However the conversations that take place on groups and the wide array of answers given are good arguments to develop a LinkedIn presence as a KM-focused organisation or professional wishing to engage in peer conversations, networking and problem-solving. If KM is considered to amplify conversations that matter for your job, then LinkedIn is a good complement in your KM apparel, particularly to engage with networks on your edges – but the documentation (and generally information management side) marks the limitations of LinkedIn as a KM tool.

Here is a short review of some positive aspects and some considerations to keep in mind to make the LinkedIn experience more worthwhile…

Positive aspects:

  • Group discussions, which bring you with like-minded individuals that you would not come across so easily otherwise and give rich insights to specific areas of interest;
  • Asking and answering questions, although this service competes with Quora;
  • The recommendations which add direct benefits to a CV and to one’s experience;
  • The easy network expansion which puts you in touch with people you know or might want to know;
  • The mobile version of the tool which works really nicely with instant access to all features including group conversations.

Possible points for improvement or considerations:

  • On groups there is no wiki or other repository of the conversation results so it comes down to individual members to volunteer to document a discussion;
  • The limited customisation means that LinkedIn cannot really become a central block of a ‘branded’ KM presence;
  • The job-seeking features are perhaps not ripe in all countries – outside the US, how many countries really pay close attention to the LinkedIn profile of applicants?

Hereby a selection of recent interesting readings and references about LinkedIn:

Related blog posts:


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