I’m the first one to admit it--I am obsessed with LinkedIn. (I’ve also described myself as a LinkedIn whore, but I understand that may be a bit much for some people.) I find LinkedIn tremendously useful almost daily--less useful recently as the sponsored posts have taken over the feed, but great for sharing news and promoting articles or events. Oddly, despite my love affair with the tool, I still refuse to pay for it. Having considered this contradiction periodically over the years, I’ve concluded that, if LinkedIn decided to cut me off from my connections, I’d have to pay. So, I hope they aren’t listening… (Know your limits, folks!)
I’m not able to pin down precisely when I joined LinkedIn (if the info is on the platform, it’s very well hidden), but I believe it was late 2007 or early 2008. I changed jobs in March 2008, moving from an editorial director role to a product manager role, and I took the opportunity to try to get as many of my authors as possible to connect to me. Most of them were academics, and they were a bit baffled as to why I was asking. (It was the days were many such “connection” services were just getting started, so they can be forgiven, I guess. However, I find that academics continue to be slow to realize the benefits of such a platform. I have theories, which may find their way into a future post.) “It’s a roll-o-deck that updates itself,” I explained, eyeing the always out-of-date physical contraption sitting on my desk. Despite the confusion, I was successful in getting some of them to link in with me. The earliest connection I could find trawling around my profile today is my then library advisory board member and now friend Darby Orcutt, a technical librarian now at NCSU. As an early adopter, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he was one of the first to take the plunge!
As one might expect from someone obsessed with a platform, I make frequent use of it. I’ve told early careers at conferences that the quickest way to impress me is to ask me to link in with you before I can invite you to link in with me. (Very few of them actually attempted this, but I remember the ones who did!) LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch with folks you meet at industry events and, in particular, a good way for early career folks to build out their networks efficiently.
Actually, I recommend it for people at any stage of their career. As an industry, we tend to move around a lot (sometimes willingly, sometimes not), so the platform is a good way to track who is going where. Twice I’ve found myself re-orged out of a role, and I’ve been able to turn to my networks for suggestions and advice. Having your network already in place will save you time if you find yourself in this emergency situation.
Occasional LinkedIn users probably ignore (or perhaps despise) the frequent suggestions to congratulate connections on their anniversaries, promotions, or job changes. I, however, look at these messages as an opportunity to reconnect with past colleagues, industry veterans, or brief acquaintances. I try to go beyond the canned responses, and I like to send a direct message if possible (rather than commenting on a post), as I find this more personal. Even if the person I reach out to doesn’t acknowledge the message (or replies with a terse thanks), I think the activity is useful. If I ever need a favor from someone or I want them to speak on a panel for me, they’ll get my message in an inbox that notes that I reached out to them prior with kind words. It’s also easy to see from a glance at the message chain in the LinkedIn inbox when you last communicated with someone and what you chatted about.
A really useful thing about LinkedIn is the profile picture. If we are meeting for the first time, I will likely try to look you up to better spot you. (Silently shakes fist at those with animals, nature scenes, far away full body pics, or quarter face abstracts!) Yes, you can often find folks’ pictures online with a general google image search, but, if I see your LinkedIn pic, I’m more confident that I have the right person, presumably in “business mode.”
Over the years, I’ve seen some LinkedIn features come and go. There used to an indicator on each company profile page that made it easy to see from where their current employees tended to come and also where their former employees were likely to decamp to. Perhaps this is now available only to paid members? I remember looking up Springer SBM (now SpringerNature) during my time there, and seeing that people tended to come from Elsevier to Springer. If they left Springer, they were likely to go to Nature. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
Another feature that I like, which is not gone but only now well hidden, is the date that you connected with a person. Sometimes, I might struggle to recall precisely how and where I met a person. The date when we connected can be a powerful hint, as it may have occurred after a conference or other event. To find this feature now, click on a person’s Contact Info. At the bottom of the pop up you will see the date you connected. This information used to live right on the person’s page when you clicked through. I’m not sure why Linkedin decided to obscure it.
Those who know me, know that I tend to go “all in” on projects and activities. I’ve gotten a reputation as someone who knows everyone. I’m (not so) secretly pleased with the size of my network. I had a little competition break out among folks I met at the STM meeting in December 2017 about who would get to be my 5000th connection. (It was Matthew Cianfarani of the Mark Allen Group.) I’m taking bets now on the 6000th.
The thing that drives me is that I love people (with the exception of the parents who attend children’s sporting events). Even before I discovered LinkedIn, I always tried to meet as many people as possible at a conference. When I’m at a reception where I know a lot of folks, I’ll try to meet three new people before I’m allowed to fall in and kick back with old friends. (Networking at conferences is a topic for a later post.) You might say that LinkedIn came along at the right time to feed my people obsession.
Why meet new people? (If you have to ask, maybe I won’t be able to convince you.) Knowing folks at events makes things more fun. (Ask me about karaoke networking sometime!) Knowing people makes meetings more meaningful. In our lifetimes we’ll encounter only a fraction of the amazing humans who make their way among us, only a sampling of the interesting individuals in the wider world. I’d bet that any one of you could name a time where you met one of your best friends through a random encounter or an almost missed connection. So, you never know! My advice? Meet someone new today (and invite them to link in with you tomorrow--unless they get to you first)!