Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Trivialization of LinkedIn

LinkedIn seemed like a good idea when it was introduced in 2003, at about the same time Friendster and MySpace were emerging as pioneering social networking sites. LinkedIn's promise was simple:
LinkedIn makes your professional network faster and more powerful.
Designed to serve as a networking resource for business people who wanted to connect with other professionals, it is still described today as Facebook for business professionals, even though Facebook didn't launch to the public until several years later in 2006. I was an early LinkedIn adopter (2005) and a regular user, delighted to put aside my Rolodex and replace it with a real time, automated network management tool. As a believer in the power of networking, I kept my profile up to date, joined interest groups, methodically established new connections and reconnected with former colleagues, classmates and business partners. Over the years my LinkedIn network expanded steadily, and it has proven to be a useful and helpful resource for me. I have also enjoyed tapping into my network to help folks find or fill jobs, to get information, and to introduce people who have similar business interests.

LinkedIn now has over 300 million users around the world and it has developed a certain gravitas, characterized in Fortune by Jessi Hempel this way: .
Facebook is for fun. Tweets have a short shelf life. If you're serious about managing your career, the only social site that really matters is LinkedIn. In today's job market an invitation to "join my professional network" has become more obligatory -- and more useful -- than swapping business cards and churning out résumés.
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman blogged about the company's mission on its 10th anniversary in 2013:
Ten years ago, I co-founded LinkedIn in my living room with the mission of connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. Inspired by the invaluable role relationships played in our own careers, we launched LinkedIn with the tagline “Relationships matter.”
Google the question "What is LinkedIn?" and you'll get 928 million results, but right at the top is this one:

Unfortunately, I suspect it's the "Learn and share" capability on the right, which invited users to share news, inspirations and insight, that inadvertently instigated the trivialization of LinkedIn by enabling users who didn't appreciate the differences between Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn to flood LinkedIn with annoying and inappropriate updates.

What is an annoying and inappropriate update? In the LinkedIn user agreement, users promise to use LinkedIn in a "professional manner" and agree not to act dishonestly, or unprofessionally, or to post "inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content." The terms aren't defined in the agreement so the definitions seem to be a matter of personal taste. While I happen to feel that math problems (99% of people fail to solve this...), holiday greetings, family vacation photos, silly slogans, word puzzles, recipes and goofy pictures all qualify as unprofessional and inappropriate, others obviously don't think so. For example, consider the individuals who posted the "insights" shown below and the hundreds of LinkedIn members who liked and commented favorably about them.

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Of course LinkedIn contributes to the triviality by flogging inane and poorly written Pulse articles, incessantly soliciting skill endorsements, and doing insensitive things like blasting out an announcement encouraging users to congratulate so-and-so on their new position each time a new position is added to his/her profile, even if that new "position" happens to read something like this: Laid off and in transition--looking for new opportunities. That's sad, but what's even sadder is how often so-and-so's connections dutifully pile on, offering their hearty congratulations on the new position. See Donna Sapolin's entertaining description of her experience with this LinkedIn feature here, and Stacy Zapar's energetic take on how users are ruining the LinkedIn news feed here.

What can you do to shield yourself from the trivialization of LinkedIn? Well, you could close your account, of course, or access it less frequently, or perhaps just ignore anything you find annoying. Right now I still believe LinkedIn's positives outweigh its negatives, so I do whatever I can to minimize my exposure to the negatives. Every time I see a post that strikes me as inappropriate or unprofessional, for example, I use LinkedIn's hide capability to block all further posts from that user, and that has helped to decrease the number of what I consider to be inappropriate and unprofessional posts on my home page. Getting rid of the annoying Pulse feature was trickier, since LinkedIn does not provide users with the option to remove the Pulse banner from their home page even though it appears many LinkedIn users would appreciate having that option. The good news is that it is easy to use extensions like AdBlock or Stylish to quickly remove Pulse from your homepage.

For a folksy yet comprehensive view into the history of LinkedIn, take a look here. If you are trying to grow your network on LinkedIn,by all means glance at my profile and consider pinging me if you would like to connect. I am happy to collaborate and help you network, and I promise you won't get a response anything like this!

Dean K. Harring, CPCU, CIC is a retired insurance executive who now spends his time as an advisor, educator and watercolor artist.  He can be reached at or through LinkedIn or Twitter or Harring Watercolors.

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