Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reach a decision maker

Occasionally people I know invite me to join LinkedIn. Since I have accounts wilting at Orkut, Friendster and probably a few other network/social sites out there, I know myself well enough not to join any more of those. I even have a problem with email lists. If I don't REALLY want to participate, they become spam which I just shove into an archive and forget very quickly.

LinkedIn however promises something which surprised me. They announce that you can "reach a decision maker". I had to stop and think about that. First: If I was a decision maker, I would not be hard to identify for the general public. Why would I need to make a profile on a network site to become more available? Second: Let's say I had a profile on some kind of network software, would I want to be contacted that way? And last but not least: Would I trust the decisions of a decision-maker who was approachable through something like LinkedIn?

Joi Ito's now much-cited claim for WoW to be the new golf does however put me on the track of something here. LinkedIn, with the invitation policy, is supposed to be the same kind of exclusive community where you invite your friends and those you would like to have as part of your network into the inner circle. Like the two researchers' guilds in WoW you are invited to come play with the people who you would otherwise only read articles by.

It doesn't work the same way though. A golf club is exclusive because somebody are excluded and the participants contribute and risk something by their participation - if only a substantial fee. If you are contacted while at the club the person contacting you has been pre-screened, and is very likely to have useful assets you can then access at some other point. The contact becomes a valuable exchange of favours, if not mutual right now, there's an expectation of future favours included. LinkedIn invites us all to sign in. This means that the people you may want to reach will be contacted by a lot of people who have very little to offer in exchange, or if they do, they have made no commitment to the exchange.

I think systems like LinkedIn are interesting, and they most likely work great for the people who keep maintaining their presence and following up others. For people like me, who keep getting distracted by shiny phat l00t elsewhere (see that teenagers who do l33t speach? Women your mothers' age and up are doing it now, you can stop, it has become uncool), it's enough to be in the phone book. Which is where I find my old classmates, and quite a few decision makers, when I want to.


Jill said...

I think the kind of decision-makers you might find on LinkedIn are different to the ones we're aware of from media and the phone book. For instance, I'm in LinkedIn and I'm a small-scale decision-maker in that I can to some extent decide which guest lecturers to hire, I have a certain budget for helping people travel here , I'm aware of some local projects that might be relevant for people wanting to get into my field, and I'm in a position to encourage and counsel people wanting to apply for a PhD grant, say, in my area at my university. If someone's interested in new media in academia in Norway, they'll easily find me on LinkedIn, and they'll be able to see my background and the sorts of things I'm interested in. Someone in Australia, say, or Japan, would be hard put upon to use University websites (unfortunately) or Norwegian phonebooks to get that kind of information on who would be appropriate to contact in their field in Norway.

Now, I've never actually had anyone contact me for this sort of purpose through linkedin, and I've never contacted anyone myself either, so this is kind of theoretical. However, I know people who've searched for jobs (unsuccessfully) though LinkedIn, and others who've successfully been offered freelance work they really enjoyed from people they otherwise wouldn't have had contact with. I have friends in corporate jobs (OK, the oil business in Norway) who routinely check out the people they'll be meeting in contract negotiations or elsewhere on Linkedin.

So like you I'm not entirely convinced that Linkedin is a very useful service, but it's certainly doing something different than just having a listing in the phone book.

Also, unlike Orkut and Friendster, Linkedin seems to be alive and it has been for a couple of years at least. I spent five minutes making a profile ages ago and have since just slowly acrued contacts as others have signed up. So while I at first wasn't intending to spend time on it - I just wanted to see what it is - it's one of the few social networking sites I joined which is just keeping going. All I do is log on when I get an email saying someone wants to connect. When I log on, I see messages about other people at my place of employment who have signed up, I have a quick look, maybe add someone, maybe not, but really don't spend more than a minute or two on it.

Torill said...

Jill, this was a very good correction my my rather negative feelings, but I am still not entirely convinced. You see, Luca just found me on LinkedIn, so I obviously have a profile. I didn't even remember I had made it! I have no idea what password I have used, or what I wrote there. Perhaps I need to go log in, or delete - either/or.

Jill said...

Cool, I just found your profile and invited you to connect! Hehe.

I'm not quite convinced either, to be honest. I'm skeptical of how such things could be used by others, too - but still I think there's something there that's interesting..,

RennyBA said...

Hello again Torill. I'm glad you gave LinkedIn a second thought and decided to give it a try. I've used it since 2003 and find it a very powerful network tool. Hope you'll experience the same!