The chances are that you use Linked-in, over 50 million people do. For some it is just an extension of their Rollerdex, a deeper view into “Outlook contacts”. For others is is a two way street connecting recruiters to the jobless and job-movers. For me it is an essential platform which organises my prospecting for new business, my client relationship management and my learning.
When I started work I was given a booklet called “Prospecting self-starter”. Its message was that in the network of relationships I had built up as a child and young adult, I had a personal resource which, if used responsibly, could generate revenue and allow me to build an advisory business over time. I learnt to recognise where there were immediate opportunities to earn and where, by referral, I could build on this network to secure future sales.
Over time, I outgrew the filofax. The history of my relationships with my clients needed to be stored in a more complex database. It wasn’t till 2008 that I found Linked-in. Linked-in took my relationship management into 3D. Not only could I see and record my interractions, I could begin to see how my contacts interracted with others.
As I became more familiar with Linked-in’s functionality, I could see that people were using the network to share information and learn from others. People asked questions and answered questions. These interractions lead to the creation of new relationships based on gratitude and trust.
Now I can establish groups where others with common interests can congregate and participate in wider discussions. I can see where people are coming from and, in their desire to understand, where they are going to. Where I can help them get to their learning destinations, I try to help, realising that this may offer me an opportunity to do business with that person at some time in the future. Often I need help myself and I find that those who help me do so for the same reasons. I have been able to refer some of them to solutions which have created goodwill for third parties who have themselves become contacts.
In my business, the end users (trustees) cannot use my products without fully understanding their problems (for which they need actuaries) and without due diligence being carried out on my product (for which they need investment advisers). Decisions are complex and often the process is stymied through lack of information, too much information or through conflicts created by poor communication, Linked-in goes some way to reducing these obstacles .
By creating a network of individuals who are Linked-in, people who are thinking of working with me can see that they are not alone. They can contact people who they know know me and this creates confidence. While Linked-in does not use external ratings in the way that e-bay does, it has implicit metrics for probity and there are opportunites for explicit reccomendation-solicited or otherwise. Quantity of relationships can easily be measured by the number of individuals linked to someone, the quality of those relationships is much harder to assess but it is the quality test that is critical if Linked-in is to be used as a springboard to getting things done.
While building my network, I have become aware of the capacity of Linked-in to damage reputations. Occasionally, someone with whom I was connected breaks that connection. When this happens I need to retrace my steps and understand what I could have done better. Some of my invitations to people to join my network have met with no response or a negative response “I do not know this person”. It is through these experiences that I have learned most about the manners needed to manage my relationships well.
Companies are right to worry about the collataral damage to their reputation that can be created by bad use of Linked-in, I would strongly advise companies to adopt a policy for Linked-in useage which clearly states what is acceptable and what isn’t. The information posted on Linked-in has the same impact as information in conventional media.
Linked-in is only a platform and a portal. As a platform it connects disparate people and can be a powerful means to enable good decision making. As a portal it offers opportunities for its users to find information, compare experiences and most importantly create face to face relationships , the nuances of which Linked-in can never capture. It is a means to an end but not an end in itself.