October 28, 2007
What Value Is There in Being LinkedIn?

A friend of mine, Surya Yalamanchili, recently took a job as director of marketing for LinkedIn. His moving into that position got me to thinking about the role that social networking site plays in the "Web 2.0" universe and the reasons people get involved with the site.

As you know, I am am a proponent of social networks and the way they can transform our lives. I also think they introduce a variety of new strains and that you should not enter them lightly; as well, you should have a strategy about how to handle connections and try to remain consistent with that strategy.

All these issues prompted me to write after I read Steve Cody's recent piece on LinkedIn over on his RepMan blog about the headache of trying to manage LinkedIn. Steve is one of the co-founders of Peppercom, a public relations company who recently graciously hosted me for a day at their offices in New York City. He writes about some of the challenges of finding use out of LinkedIn from an executive-level standpoint.

What Steve describes is the question these networks pose, especially since they encourage their value through connection. What often happens is a form of "friend bombing," as I've written about before. Trying to find the line of who to include as a friend and who not to is tough, and the standards are different.

While this is only anecdotal, I thought it might help tease through my own thinking on an issue to do an audit of my own LinkedIn connections. After all, while Steve Cody only has 63 connections on LinkedIn, I have 163. It's a far cry from a few people I know who have 500+, but it's still a fairly large number, so it got me thinking of whether I could be accused of using this site to try and scale myself up through quantity of connections, a process which I am not fond of to be honest, or whether these links are qualitatively strong. Like most people, i have made a few invitations along the way, and accepted them as they came in, often with little thought about what my network says about me.

I found that the most people I am LinkedIn with are academic contacts, of which I have 38. These include former professors at MIT and Western Kentucky University, as well as academics I have met through their work or through academic conferences or non-academics who I have worked with on an academic project (i.e. my thesis advisors, who don't work in academia but were interested in soap operas). Only a couple of these folks I haven't worked with directly, and almost all of them are close contacts.

The second biggest group of people I am LinkedIn with are former classmates, of whom there are 31. Again, I know all of these people well. From there, the biggest group of LinkedIn contacts I have are current members of partner companies at the Convergence Culture Consortium, of which there are 26. These folks range from people I work with closely to folks who I have never met in person and have only shared e-mails with. I am also "LinkedIn" with 16 former members of companies at the Consortium. I admit that one way I use LinkedIn is to keep up with folks who subscribed to our C3 newsletter who end up leaving the company. I have found that one difficulty in maintaining professional connections is the number of people who use their company e-mail and who become impossible to find once they leave their employer to stay connected with, save through sites like LinkedIn.

Otherwise, I have 14 connections from my other life as a professional journalist, 3 contacts who are family and friends (a couple of cousins and my wife, who has also been a co-worker and classmate), and 22 other professional connections, ranging from folks I have done freelance work with to interesting people I have met through my work at C3 and at conferences.

The most tenuous group among my LinkedIn friends is the 13 friends I have who I know primarily through the blogosphere, either through commenting on my posts here or linking to one another's blogs. I have usually accepted these LinkedIn requests, or even made them, through a common interest in the same professional topics and the fact that we travel in the same virtual circles, but the connections indeed range from people I have conversed with on a regular basis to folks I only know from a couple of interactions.

My own use of LinkedIn, then, is primarily to stay connected to folks I know well, as well as keep up with professional connections as a way to avoid losing people through constant e-mail changes. But my use of LinkedIn has led to plenty of awkward exchanges as well, including turning down a few requests along the way from people who I had never had contact with prior to a LinkedIn invitation. That is an absolute no for me, as I see LinkedIn as a site to maintain connections I already have rather than as a site to meet new people.

I have had a couple of awkward exchanges on my end along the way, including getting a message from a professor I thought I knew well entitled "Linked Out," who was angered not particularly at getting a request from me but rather that I didn't write a specifically tailored message to him and just used the standard LinkedIn invitation. In another instance, I reached out to a contact in the soap opera world who I had talked with on multiple occasions and wanted to stay in contact with, but he sent me a message explaining that, since he had not worked with me directly, he did not want to "link in."

I've also generated a few professional recommendations along the way through the site, although I'm not sure how those serve me. Whether to include them or not on resumes is a questions very much up-in-the-air at the moment, as they are a new way to get your work recommended and are publicly visible in a helpful way, yet they are also obviously self-selected, since you approve people's comments about your work.

The fact that this site is a tool used by a variety of people and for a variety of reasons leads to different standards of usage, which I consider a positive thing, but it does create new layers of questions of social and professional courtesy. I've written before about questions of etiquette raised by social networks in relation to Facebook and MySpace.

For C3 readers out there, any thoughts about how you use LinkedIn and the value the site provides, vis-a-vis the time and energy maintaining your network requires?


On October 28, 2007 at 10:23 PM, Dave Feldman said:

I am a member of Linked In. And I don't know why.

Actually, a friend bullied me into it. He couldn't give me a good reason why I should join, and I still don't have one.

I only know of one person who actually accomplished anything on L.I. -- he got a job interview from a second-degree connection.

My favorite thing about L.I. is seeing what names are pushed at me. In some cases, I have no idea how the names popped up.

You have the dubious honor of being the first person I've actively searched out and invited, Sam.

It wouldn't occur to me to contact you via L.I. rather than email or C3, but what the heck? We're building up each other's numbers.

On October 29, 2007 at 6:37 PM, Rick Thompson said:

LinkedIn is a valuable employment tool, both for recruiting and for referrals. I got my present job b/c of a recruiter who found my profile on LinkedIn, and I have referred several colleagues using the system. The fact that most of your contacts are from the academic world may be a reflection of your chosen career path, but it is interesting to read about this professional social network from an academic perspective. I send "boilerplate" invitations to people I know all the time and no one seems to mind. Maybe the person who got angry at you is just a little overly sensitive. From my perspective, the system is pretty low-maintenance, and I am pretty lax about who I will allow to join my network...however I like the personal recommendation feature and am much more selective about who I'll recommend vs. simply link to.


Hey Dave. Good to hear from you, as always. I saw your LinkedIn connection and I accepted it. So I officially amend my link count. For me, I've had some very nice recommendations from co-workers I'm proud of and it helps me manage some contacts, perhaps, but I've not used a lot of the question requests and greater social networking functions that the site could theoretically facilitate.

You make a very good point about the recommendations. Some of them make sense to me; I have gotten recommendations for folks at other companies I have worked at. Others confuse me, though. The latest round of recommendations for me are an employee of Procter & Gamble Productions who I have corresponded with several times in the past, a man with the Kentucky Press Association who I have conversed with in the past, someone who recently contacted me after registering for Futures of Entertainment 2, and (my favorite) it recommends I might want to connect with...myself.

My theory is that the recommendations are generated from folks who have visited my profile recently, since there's no other possible way I can think of that LinkedIn should know I have connections with them.

As for your point, Rick, glad to hear of a LinkedIn success story! You raise some good points about the various ways people use the site, and the recommendation section does reflect much more closely for you. There are certainly many connections I have that I wouldn't comfortable writing any sort of recommendation for, since I know so little of their work.

Now, I'm off to go see if I can LinkIn with myself. :)


Hi Sam,
Great post and interesting points.
I actually have my own success story to share - I am about to sign up with a company who found me through LinkedIn.
My personal "algorithm" is to join up with anyone I know, but like Rick, be more selective with recommendations.
And as for you questions about recommendations in CVs - what I do is put my "real" references (i.e. previous team leaders and bosses, etc) on my CV, and a note to the effect that "further recommendations can be found on my LinkedIn profile".
I also wish there was a way to signal how strong these links are. And am happy we can now add photos - I've a poor memory for names but a pretty strong visual memory.


Interesting points about whether there are ways to negotiate the strength of a link. Coworkers, classmates, and business partners versus folks we've met at conferences; by current measurements, those are considered equally as strong of a link. If, however, that were weighted against the degree to which connections know one another, it would make the value of connections stronger and might even help curtail the idea that impressions in terms of numbers mean somehow a greater network.

Some people in some lines of work probably legitimately know their 500+ links. The question is how to handle all those people on the periphery. As I said in the post, I have a few of those folks who I had to think about before I added because our interaction consists of a few e-mails or blog exchanges...There have been others who I have turned down because I had so little knowledge of who they were, and especially when I first met them through LinkedIn.

But I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts about the idea of giving more of a depth/qualitative measure to connections.

On October 30, 2007 at 12:07 PM, Mary Walker said:

Well, here's some ways that many people here in Silicon Valley are using Linked in:

- online Rolodex. People move around a lot in the Valley, which makes keeping their contact info updated in a pain (and Plaxo is spammy). If somebody's on LinkedIn, you assume that they're keeping that LinkedIn contact info current. My husband (a lower tier exec at one of the larger SV companies) just passed the 500 contact mark on his LinkedIn; I don't have that many, but I do have several hundred people that I'd consider in my wider circle of professional contacts, so I'm betting I'll get there eventually. LinkedIn doesn't esp help me with the social cloud management issue, but LinkedIn didn't create the problem either; before LI, I had a spreadsheet with ~400 names in it, that I used as my master contacts list. So the problem of orchestrating one's professional social network exists for people, regardless of whether they use an online tool or not.

- online resume. Meet a new person? Check them out on LinkedIn and Google. Many people are putting up short CVs on LinkedIn.

- Find new people you want to meet. I scan my LinkedIn contacts' lists for people in jobs/companies that I want to meet. IME, I can almost always get an introduction from a contact to another one of his/her contacts. More handoffs than that, gets problematic.

- finding job candidates. I've been proactively contacted by recruiters based on my LinkedIn profile. Also, people can email out to some or all of their contacts, about open jobs at their company; I've heard from people that they get a good response from that.

- rejuvenate old contacts. I've found multiple friends from college (now 20+ yrs ago) on LinkedIn; when we share professional interests, I'm more likely to bother to reach out to them.

I do agree that LinkedIn (like many other social networks) has difficulties handling the complexities of strong vs weak ties. But often the concern seems to be misplaced; based on the research, it's actually the weak ties (not the strong ones) that make a big difference in your professional life (job hunting etc). So rather than worrying that "too many" people are listed as your contacts -- the issue IMO is how to better classify and manage those weak contacts.

My personal preference: I wish that LinkedIn (and the others) would give me a feature where I could post private notes about the individuals in my contact list; that would help me keep track of who's who, their personal info like kids/birthdays, when I saw them last etc.

Like any network good, LinkedIn is only of use for people who are in an industry or group that uses it heavily...so IMO people who tried it and don't find it helpful, shouldn't bother. It's like keeping a phone directory for a city in another country that you have no interest in and will never visit.


You have a lot of interesting points, Mary, and I find the top reason you list for using LinkedIn is also one of my top reasons: a steady place to be able to find business contacts, even as they jump from company to company. This is as true in academia as elsewhere, in that people use their ".edu" addresses or their company addresses and, when they move on, there may be no way to find them again.

I've been giving a lot of thought to that lately and wondering whether, in the long-run, official company-based e-mail addresses may fade out for exactly that reason.

I think a lot of my ambivalence about reaching out to weak contacts or accepting weak contacts would be solved by a more qualitative system as well. For now, I in some ways hate to not connect with anyone who wants to reach out to me, because I am flattered they are interested in my work or something about me. On the other hand, it lessens the significance or value of my other links every time I "link in" with someone I don't know, or barely know, and it makes it more difficult to manage the links when I can't distinguish between them for myself, much less for others to look at my network, etc.

I get the feeling that LinkedIn is keen to continue evolving its product, so I hope we will see more of these qualitative differentiators evolve over time.


I think Li is a great way to keep up with the ever-changing job status of web workers.

The other obvious reason is job marketability from both hiring/employee perspectives. I can always dive back through my extensive list of contacts to either find jobs or prospects and they come from people that I know and trust without the usual agency hassles and fees.
For those of us who don't bother with the MiSpaceBookster crowd it's a great way to professionally reach out to others who are exploring the same medium(s) from differing angles.