With all due apologies to Linda Richman, I thought I might take a stab at the social networking site LinkedIn, suss out its value to the business professional as source for networking, and ascertain whether it really is “MySpace for Grownups.”
As described in the Wikipedia entry for “LinkedIn”:
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site founded in December 2002 and launched in May 2003 mainly used for professional networking. As of December 2007, its site traffic was 3.2 million visitors per month, growing at an annual growth rate of about 485%. As of May 2008, it had more than 22 million registered users, spanning 150 industries.
It is described as a business social networking site: you sign up as a member for free, fill out information about yourself relevant to your networking aspirations and seek to make contacts with other LinkedIn members. You can search for other members based on various criteria and invite them to join your own network, building a virtual database of contact details. You also can access second and third degree contacts – persons known to your first level contacts – via your first level contacts. Theoretically, this web of contacts is intended to generate jobs and business opportunities. Employers and corporate members can list jobs and search unconnected members for likely candidates. This is where the site’s profit margin comes from: recruiters or businesses that wish to be able to mine the profiles of members outside the contact network pay for the privilege. For the rest of us, LinkedIn represents a “gated access approach”, intended to provide members with a sense of security regarding their information and the quality of contacts. There is also a forum called LinkedIn Answers which permits members to pose questions to the community for general discussion. LinkedIn Groups allows you to join a group based on your school, your industry or your profession.
For the mobile user, LinkedIn started a stripped down mobile version in February, 2008.
The value of LinkedIn and comparisons to the wildly popular social networking sites MySpace and Facebook are not new topics. Over a year ago, Seamus McCauley wrote in his blog “Virtual Economics” that the problem with LinkedIn is that it doesn’t do anything. “You sign up, you find some colleagues, you link to them and then…nothing.” Umair, in the blog BubbleEdge Generation, claims the real problem with LinkedIn is that there is no meaningful opportunity for interaction: LinkedIn is too clean compared to the “ugly, nasty, digital ghetto” of MySpace. In other words, LinkedIn apparently has sacrificed open dialog for gated security. The commenters on these blogs do not necessarily agree with these conclusions, describing circumstances in which LinkedIn has provided them with real value. Facebook, which also has the “gate” of requiring an email upon sign up, appears to bridge the MySpace and LinkedIn models.
There does appear to be some utility in LinkedIn, however, as its growing popularity attests to. The following chart, from simplyhired.com shows an increase in jobs secured through LinkedIn, although the other sites, which have an overall numbers advantage, have shown a similar increase during the same period.
LinkedIn also is favored among Internet marketers. The Nonlinear Creations Internet Marketing blog contains a recent entry concerning the marketing effectiveness of LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and two other social networking sites. Using its own website as the “bait”, NLC noted that approximately 18% of its web traffic comes from social networking sites. By far, visits from LinkedIn created the highest average time per visit and the most pages visited. As a result, LinkedIn, as well as Facebook, outperformed site visitors utilizing other channels. NLC also noted that the LinkedIn visitors tended to convert more readily into prospects than visitors from other social networking sites. NLC concludes:
If your company is in the B2B space, consider taking the time to understand and exploit LinkedIn. It offers a very real, very tangible return on the effort.
Apparently, even Facebook thinks that LinkedIn’s business networking model has value, given its recent addition of a networking function known as “friend grouping” by professional contacts. In light of the above-mentioned complaints regarding the “sterility” of LinkedIn’s interaction possibilities, a Facebook model with more opportunity for relationship development combined with business contact organization might prove formidable.
In any event, from the perspective of “it can’t possibly hurt to get more exposure”, these online networking tools likely will gain more utility and favor as more people join and avail themselves of the professional benefits. Consider adding your profile and exploring the features – one never knows where “the Social” might lead.