Why Apply Different Rules of Connecting on LinkedIn?

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2ways.jpgOver on MyLinkedInPower forum late last night, Kamran Niazi asked a great question:

I am a member of both FB [Facebook] as well as LI [LinkedIn] and have noticed that, people who have really limited networks on LI (this is by choice) seem to be open to any connection request on FB. They would share information, which they take pains to avoid giving out in other areas (read LI etc).

What I am wondering about is, why people would apply two sets of rules to connecting?

As I’m one of those people who does exactly that, I’ll consider myself qualified to answer. 🙂

The simple answer: because a connection means different things depending on the context of the site.

The fundamental value proposition that LinkedIn has always positioned themselves as providing is that of “trusted referrals” — it was created to be first and foremost a tool to help you leverage your existing strong relationships to get business done and occasionally to make new relationships without a specific immediate objective. People have adapted it to all kinds of other purposes to suit their own idea of what it “ought” to be, but that is still where it excels.

So what does a connection on LinkedIn “mean”? Again, people have made their own interpretations of it, but consider what LinkedIn says on their About LinkedIn page:

Your professional relationships are key to your professional success.
Our mission is to help you be more effective in your daily work and open doors to opportunities using the professional relationships you already have.

This isn’t networking—it’s what networking should be.
Forget exchanging business cards with acquaintances that don’t know your work, or trying to renew professional ties when you need a favor.

If on LinkedIn, I connect with anybody who asks, or even with a slightly more select group of people, but who I still don’t know and they don’t know me, that “trusted referral” chain breaks down. If one of the people between me and the person I’m trying to reach doesn’t really know either me or them, then they aren’t adding value to the introduction — in fact, they’re getting in the way. I’d be better off making contact directly. And those electronic links that have no substantive relationship to back them up are basically showing me a road on my relationship road map that really doesn’t exist.

I mean really… why use LinkedIn at all? Why not just use ZoomInfo, Wink, Spock or a search engine (or blog search engine) to find who you want to meet and contact them? It’s not that hard — I do it all the time. For that matter, about a year ago, Facebook announced the availability of public search listings, i.e., you can find your friends on Facebook without logging in or even being a member.

I don’t need LinkedIn in order to network effectively online. Besides my blog, I’m a member of numerous other sites and discussion forums/lists that are better suited for meeting new people through the course of interaction than LinkedIn is. To me, it is the trusted referral chain — the introduction mechanism — that makes LinkedIn different and uniquely valuable. If I have time to network “just to network”, my time is spent equally well or better writing on one of my blogs or participating in a conversation in one of those forums.

Other sites like Facebook, Ryze, Ecademy, et al., are really designed for direct contact and direct interaction — no introduction needed, because everyone is pretty much open to talking to everyone. Still, my connection practices on other sites really depend on the design of the site:

  • On MySpace and Facebook I connect with most people who ask and whose profile demonstrates some commonality of interests.
  • On Ecademy, you’re “connected” when you simply send private messages both ways — it would actually take extra effort to disconnect.
  • On Ryze, I only add people as friends who I’ve gotten to know fairly well. Why? Because it displays all your friends on your profile page (not just your top 8 or whatever), so it would actually make my profile page more cluttered and less functional if I added hundreds of friends.

Some people might find that complicated — I don’t. It’s just about making each tool work best for me depending on the design of the site.

I think people generally place way too much value on an electronic link. The electronic link is a trivial outward sign of the relationship with little or no value as and of itself. But as Vincent Wright has said 1,000 times, “You don’t have to link to network.”

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting perspective on this, Scott. I use them all in different ways too — but differently than you. Facebook is reserved for personal use. If I don’t know you in real-life and consider you a friend or at least social acquaintance — I don’t take the Facebook request. LinkedIn I like because it’s only about the professional.

    I also use it as a post-meeting follow up. If I meet someone at an event, I follow up with a LinkedIn invite. Now, would I give someone I don’t really know a referral? No – at least not without telling the person I was referring them to that I don’t know them well.

    For me LinkedIn is a strictly professional networking tool, where all the others have very blurry lines between personal and professional.

  2. I can see where you’re coming from but have a different view on the two: I find it easier to add a contact at Linkedin than in Facebook because of my level of exposure. My contacts in Facebook can see what am I doing on a daily base, who are my friends and which events I am heading – something that I only want friends to see, but would not want an unknown contact to be shared with.
    On Linkedin that is barely an issue: the only thing known is my personal profile, which can be seen in an open search regardless to the friendship status. I happen to have more contacts on Facebook, but my entry barrier is a bit lower for Linkedin, not the other way around.

  3. I know this is an old post, but I thought it is still particularly relevant given LinkedIn refusal of a Google offer last month. This seems to legitimize the business side of Social Networking, although I’m still skeptical of the profitability of this business model. My own efforts at Facebook ads have shown me that Facebook users are not buyers in my market )SEO consulting).

    • I can see why that business wouldn’t be a good fit for Facebook ads. It’s a B2B purchase, and not an impulse buy, but more of an “informed decision” process. People are going to do their homework, check references, etc.

      Facebook ads are better for impulse buys, and generally more for consumer products, not B2B services. That doesn’t mean a Facebook page couldn’t be useful for B2B services, but probably not the ads.

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