I just don’t feel LinkedIn. Why am I unplugged?

I need to improve my “professional” social networking. That’s what I thought about this morning after I posted a few times on a class discussion regarding the use of LinkedIn, and read about our instructor’s support of the platform. He found it was an excellent method for career advancement and now works at Gartner as a Research Director. I wasn’t overly surprised by that; LinkedIn is well known as a tool for job searching and recruitment. But, it did prompt me to think if I’m losing out on potential advancement in my future by not taking it seriously.

I do use LinkedIn. I go there every 3-4 months and endorse 20 people in skills I’m not sure they have. I also go and occasionally write an endorsement for someone I do like. I also update my skills list a couple times a year (but honestly, how often do your skills truly change? ). Other than that, I do absolutely nothing with the site.

What should I be doingon LinkedIn? Do I go on there and join groups and allocate X amount of time each week to writing posts and engaging with others? Do I reach out to people through my network so that it results in numerous phone calls and lunches with vendors and partners? That would likely be the socialite’s method and while that works brilliantly for them as a method of advancement, I’m an introvert and I’m not a huge fan of that kind of additional workload. It makes it feel like a job.

I just spent a few minutes writing on my class forums and I noticed my common theme was that I didn’t find the site useful. That’s the crux of the issue. If I don’t find it useful, I don’t have an interest in spending time there. Is the issue of use my own, or is the scope of the site too specific to a particular type of person and so I don’t engage? I spend plenty of time on Facebook (I check it 20x a day, make at least 10 posts a day, etc), so it’s not that I’m not engaged in social networking but I like looking at funny pictures and videos, not reading for hours about <insert new technology buzzword here> and then high-fiving other people in the industry for their replies.

I think the issue I have with LinkedIn comes down to a lack of value for my current state. If I was looking for a new position, I might feel the desire to spend time there networking, but since I’m comfortable I’m not driven to improve my image. Is that wrong? Probably. Proactive approaches always trump the reactive ones and its impossible to build a network of contacts overnight. But is it worth it? I have no idea and to date I haven’t seen any statistics that prove that people who are heavy LinkedIn users truly benefit from it such as in their job satisfaction and income.


Presenting Social Media to the Social-Media-Challenged Organization

I’m wrapping up the 3rd week in my short course on a course focusing on social media within the enterprise, and I’m repeatedly finding myself driven to the same discussion topic. I believe that the topic is driven by my current organization and the general lack of understanding that the business has of the advantages of social media. In general, the organization isn’t the most “tech savvy” business, and being a small business (<200 employees) it is managed closely by the executive team. When your CEO, who directly manages sales and a considerable portion of the operations of the business, doesn’t use social media in any form and states that it could be a fad, you definitely will not find yourself making much headway on winning a “benefits of social media” argument.

I think this is why this class has been somewhat of a struggle, because I’ve spent the past 4 years in this business and the entire concept of social media is lost. In my company, the general perception is that social media is a tool for teenagers to send each other pictures, rather than having any business advantages. If I was to venture a guess, I believe it comes down to the element of tangibility and control. The business cannot determine an exact ROI for investing in social media both for internal or marketing purposes and as a result it feels like a high-risk investment. One could make any number of arguments such as that its not about risk its about non-inclusion in the only marketing method that will matter and avoiding involvement means you’re not on the map, social media has been proven by countless other companies in all industries to improve the quality of innovation and process through increased collaboration, and that as an already small business competing against larger organizations we only make the business look smaller by not joining an industry that’s not a trend .. its been growing solidly for a decade and its not going anywhere. But, in the end, resistance is there and these arguments are not taking hold.

I’m left with the feeling that much like how popular trends in fashion styles and music leave designers and musicians in the dust after a decade of popularity only to leave them on a “Remember the ’80’s” CD you can get at the gas station, social media may leave companies in the dust as they struggle to understand why their customers drift to the companies that are in their sights through our modern social streams.

Mixed Feelings Regarding Small Businesses & Social Collaboration

Working through a class focused on Social Collaboration within the Enterprise hasn’t been easy. Had I been more involved in my career with larger organizations, working on the inside as a technology leader, I could bring more valuable insight and relate to the inherent struggles of massive divisions and virtual teams. However, as my career has been exclusive to the small to medium businesses and my largest teams consist of thirty staff, the advantages of an internal social collaboration effort seem largely lost. Not to say that there isn’t a huge benefit in utilizing social media as a marketing strategy for the business, but speaking purely about internal benefits in enhancing the efforts within project teams and enhancing inter-departmental efforts through a unified vision of social collaboration, there just doesn’t seem to be a huge demand for it within the small business.

Let me break this down a bit more through a few technologies …

Instant messaging, email, desktop sharing, and even video conferencing (cool, but rarely required) are great tools for communication, and small businesses are definitely engaged with them today. These are the basics of today’s virtual team and generic communication forms in the business.

Now, on top of the layer of general collaboration techniques we add the various collaborative portals a business could utilize which include wikis, blogs, forums, project portals, and document storage. Todays’ enterprises have a vast array of solutions to meet all of these common goals, and many are single software solutions that enable users across the organization to create projects, share and converse about ideas, and even collaborate on documents. Even at my organization we have the software implemented to do so, so the problem is not access: the problems are interest, adoption and efficiency.

Can my team of 10 people log on to a site, host a Word document, and then discuss it? Yes! Would the discussion be easier in person by walking down the hall to another cubicle? Absolutely. And, in the small business, the ability to collaborate is often desired to be in person rather than in a portal. Moreover, in a small team all it takes is a single user (which could be 20% of your team) to resist the technology curve and your ability to adopt the technology for the entire team now fails miserably. I’m not advocating the removal of these technologies, however, I see things taking their time in the small business to when social collaboration becomes a necessity. I see adoption taking hold when business process forces adoption due to an increased interest in accountability and profitability within departments, which will drive workflows, reporting and other aspects of the small business which can only be seen when technology becomes the medium of these interactions between staff.

“The Social Organization” by Bradley and McDonald (2011) starts with an interesting couple chapters that gives the reader an indication of their perception of the framework for social interaction online through today’s modern social networking sites. At this point, it doesn’t necessarily go through the inner workings of specific sites, but it does cover general topics such as how online communities collaborate, why they collaborate, and the general principles of this participation (such as transparency, the feeling of independence, and emergence of new content).

What struck me, about half way through the second chapter, is how such a discussion could be easily handled by first introducing someone to a particular website called “reddit”. If I was to introduce any individual that is not up to speed with today’s social networks, I would begin by introducing them to the largest “news” site (technically a news aggregation site). Just to gauge the size of this site, last month (January 2014) reddit (intentionally lowercase) had 112 million unique visitors, is currently ranked on Alexa as the 65th most popular website in the world (26th in the United States), and is worth an estimated $4 billion (worthofweb.com). All of that is great, but really is just to cement the fact that this is a serious player in the web. Now let’s talk about *why* it applies to this topic.

Social Networking can be on any topic, and is just a method to connect people with like interests. The purpose behind reddit is to allow people to post links such as news articles, to videos or music, and to pictures, or they can simply ask a question or post a paragraph of text. They don’t upload them, they merely upload a link to another site such as Youtube. Sounds simple? What happens next is the true genius of the site: they allow users to click a simple up or down arrow which applies a score to the post. Rankings on these items hands the power of raising visibility of something to the users of the site, making control of a given topic of interest part of the user group. Add to that the ability for long comment threads/discussions to occur on that link, and what you have is a site that allows people to post things under categories (called sub-reddits) such as News, Music, Politics, JazzMusic, and thousands of other user groups. Not enough? Users can gain their own rankings through the number of “upvotes” or “downvotes” they get on the popularity of posts they make both through links and their comments. This rich community is a self-filtered, world driven, and modern achievement of web 2.0.

So, why am I posting this again? Because if I wanted to teach someone about web 2.0, why blogs and online communities are a great thing, and what can be done with something when you have a truly good vision of how to use it, I would have them spend a couple days on reddit, and then teach them why they elected to do one thing vs another, and how mass collaboration, why user judgement and feedback and how interest is cultivated not by the site creator, but by the users of that social network and how that principle is lost by most enterprises attempting to implement them in-house.

AIm Program – Collaborative Organizations – Social Media Discussion Blog for Class