The professional value I derive from LinkedIn is diminishing as it starts to look and feel more like a second Facebook. Is that just me, or has something happened over there?
Maxine Jeffery, Flummoxed networker
Dear Gentle Reader
On occasion Little Miss Social delights in a robust metaphor, and this one of them. Whenever I hear mention of LinkedIn I cannot but help think of the plight of Rome in the first century AD. For alas Gentle Reader, I fear the sack and decline of LinkedIn is upon us.
As uncouth as the Gauls, Visigoths and Vandals may have been, they are nothing on the modern-day Barbarians who wield their destructive power from inside of LinkedIn’s own city walls! What possible defence pray-tell do we have against fellow-denizens bent on recycling inspirational quotes from Richard Branson and Steve Jobs? Or the publishing of endless streams of math problems and the first-word-you-see letter plays? Or the spamming of one’s own group members with unsolicited in-mail? Or the pitching of dubious or odious business propositions from one’s newly acquired connections? If I may be permitted to paraphrase Augustus, we may have found LinkedIn built of marble, but we leave her today clothed in bricks.
Little Miss Social’s advice for the continued use of LinkedIn is simple: build and maintain your own house and let the city populous at large endure the Barbarian rampages. Grant access only to your chosen and build a safe-haven around them. Be vigilant of peddlers, serial sharers and the Bransonites. Do not be afraid to cast out transgressors – use the ‘unfollow’ option at the first signs of trouble or ‘disconnect’ the connection altogether. Do not engage with low-quality posts – that is how the Barbarian makes his presence felt. Do not post inspirational quotes – they depress our collective sensibilities (and it is how we know you have too much time on your hands or are just manifestly unhappy in your current job role).
But do play your part – be useful and ever-considerate of what you are directly and indirectly posting onto the newsfeeds of others. I will do the same and we will both once again enjoy Rome as it was when Caesar was a boy.
Let me say this upfront: I like LinkedIn – I use it frequently because it delivers tangible professional value to me. It’s my uber online calling card, a searchable rollerdex and a cross-industry research tool rolled up into one; and the live status updates from my 500+ connections for market intelligence purposes are profoundly useful.
But here’s what I don’t like about LinkedIn. They’re a law unto themselves; a private company based in a faraway land with the ability – and sometimes the will – to arbitrarily suspend or delete your profile account. It has happened to me.
Many people fail to realise that their profile information which may sit on an online networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook is not their property. Yes, it’s your profile, but it’s not legally yours. If LinkedIn for instance were to delete or suspend your account you would have no legal redress. And where your account goes your profile information and network follows, resulting in immediately reduced online outreach and online visibility.
Some of us have spent years building up our profiles and our network of professional connections; for many it has become an important business asset. But again, an asset I have only limited control over.
LinkedIn suspended my account without notice because they claimed I owed them money. I ran some ads as a trial and authorised $100 to come out of my credit card (as an aside the click-thru results were fairly ordinary). But LinkedIn kept running the ads after the $100 had been exhausted. By the time I had worked out what was happening, several hundred dollars worth of advertising had been spent. LinkedIn asked for the money, and I replied by email as to what the situation was – pleaded my case – and heard nothing back. Then one day shortly after my account is suspended. Talk about rotten customer service: no discussion, no notice, no compromise. Just a big heavy hand flicking the off switch.
This is the kind of service you would expect from a monopoly – which is exactly what LinkedIn and Facebook have become for millions in their respective categories of professional and social networking. These are monopolies not in the traditional sense of there being no other choice, but rather they have each acquired the critical mass necessary to render other online networking options as practical non-options.
Yes, I paid the money and they restored my account – I had no (real) choice. But now I know who’s really in control here – and it isn’t me. As a professional I would advise anyone to maintain at least one other strong online presence aside from LinkedIn – a personal website or a blog would suffice from a search perspective. After all, professional online invisibility, whether by accident or design, is not a desirable thing these days. And I would also regularly export my full network contact data for safekeeping – just in case.