Social networking is for teenagers and geeks, right? Exactly. If you limit your view of social networking to popular sites like My Space, Facebook, Friendster etc. If you’re a professional you wouldn’t dream of trying to use social networking software, unless you were aware of Linkedin. If you aren’t aware of it then here are some factoids: Linkedin is an online network of more than 8.5 million professionals from around the world representing 130 industries, including all of the Fortune 500 companies. But who needs that, right?
The ideal social network for professionals has always been something CRM stuff that companies use. Lawyers in large firms sometimes use a product called Interaction (now owned by Lexis/Nexis). And their website offers this reasonable assertion: “A law firm’s most valuable assets are the relationships it nurtures with clients and contacts.” Many people believe that only the large law firms that can afford Interaction can properly take advantage of professional social networking,’ a/k/a CRM.
In fact, I think that Linkedin (or whatever successor service may flourish in the future to help professionals properly network) is more powerful than a product like Interaction, for several reasons:
- Linkedin has a larger network than any single organization
- Members only join if they believe in the goal (no one forces them to use it, like big firms have to do with their members who use Interaction). In other words Linkedin has perfect ‘buy-in.’
I started using Linkedin about a year ago when many of my tech-savvy friends introduced me to it. I didn’t really explore the power of it until recently, and it looks like the network has grown and added some cool new features.
The gist is that you set up a profile and add people that are members as your ‘contacts.’ You do this by asking them to link up to you. If you find someone in Linkedin that you don’t know directly, you can ask a friend who does know them directly to link you. In short, Linkedin is the whole ‘degrees of separation’ thing expressed in an online database. Even though it’s an online scheme, there is minimal likelihood of having silly requests from total strangers because to get to you they are filtered through one of your existing contacts.
Are you likely to contact anyone ‘out of the blue’? Not really, you say. Actually once you learn now Linkedin works, you might.
Let’s say, for example, that you are asked by someone to refer them an attorney who practices franchise law in Atlanta. You bop over to Linkedin and do an ‘advanced search’ for franchise attorneys in that geographic area, and you find several. Immediately, you can see a list of likely candidates. But Linkedin also shows you how many ‘degrees of separation’ away you are from the prospects. Let’s say you are only one degree away from someone who is a graduate of your same law school. You want to help an alum, and so you note the name of the mutual acquaintance and ask for an introduction. Your fellow alum is likely to accept a contact from you (since you are potentially referring work), and you’ll probably add them as a contact.
Here’s another powerful feature of Linkedin. When you visit the home page (if you are signed in to Linkedin) you’ll see a quick recap of the activities of your contacts.
. You can see if your friend Francine has added someone new and who that person is. If someone from your law school joins you’ll be notified. If it’s someone you want to hook up with, but you don’t have any people to ‘connect you’ you can send a direct message (if you are a ‘premium member’ that is).
There are a lot of things you can do with Linkedin to enhance your professional social network. Go read Guy Kawasaki’s post entitled Ten Ways to Use Linkedin.
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My problem with linkedin is that I apparently only know two people and I don’t see (or have not found) a function to search for people through shared groups, like schools, clubs, activities or geographic areas and add them without a corresponding and existing shared acquaintance. I did hear that NPR program on it, though, sounds good in theory.