I Don’t Understand LinkedIn

Recently I have found myself more active on LinkedIn. The professional social network is strange web-space for a naive 19 year old to explore. The more time I spend on LinkedIn the more I have come to question its purpose.

As a tool for professional networking, LinkedIn falls short. Yet, as a platform for users to gain popularity, promote skills they may or may not actually have, and portray an online facade, LinkedIn works quite well.

The popularity contest

A week after I signed up for LinkedIn I had over one hundred requests to connect. These were mainly from acquaintances from high-school. I declined more than half. I am not self-righteous, I simply wanted to maintain the integrity of my profile.

My mindset was the opposite of my peers. I thought, “LinkedIn is intended to be for professional use. I will only connect with people I work with, do business with, or who I genuinely want to be part of my ‘network'”. Almost three years later I have 66 connections – I’m practically nonexistent.

The mindset of my peers is drastically different. Generally LinkedIn users ages 16-24 years old hold one of two mindsets. Either a; they created a profile and no longer use it, or b; they connect with anyone they have ever interacted with. Middle ground is hard to find.

LinkedIn is not useful for those who create accounts and never update them. For these people, LinkedIn serves no immediate value – rather it is a tool they may come back to use in the future, when “professional networking” seems like a good idea.

Group b are power users who work diligently to connect with many people. These users are also overlooking the possible value of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is transformed into a popularity contest. I have heard my peers refer to the, “race to 500”. Connections on LinkedIn are perceived as a valuable measure of ones self-worth. When in actuality the majority of the people you “connect” with don’t know a thing about your professional life.

I have 66 connections. Those 66 people know me. They know what I like. They would vouch for me, support me, and most importantly put in a good word for me if I asked.

What is the point of having a surplus of connections? Am I naive to think that your true connections will get lost in the sea of names and profile pictures?

Skills & endorsements

Bragging about yourself is a good thing, and in certain professional contexts it is necessary.

LinkedIn allows users to promote the skills of their connections, and displays a users “top skills” on their profile. It is perceived from someone viewing a profile that the information in the “top skills” section is forthright, accurate, and honest.

The value of the top skills section is derived entirely from the integrity of the people promoting another users skill-set. Which begs the question, why would someone go out of their way to falsely promote someone else?

The answer is not very scientific, rather it is simply an extension of the popularity contest discussed above. Power users regularly trade “promotions” with other power users to boost the number of people who have promoted them.

From my profile you get the sense that I know a little bit about web development, WordPress CMS, and search engine optimization. This is a fair assessment of my current skill-set. My most promoted skill has the endorsement of 4 people – I must not be very good at it.

What is the point of having people you do not really know promoting skills you may or may not have? Again, am I to naive to think that this is a recipe for disaster?

Where there is value

From my perspective I fear that most all of LinkedIn’s value has been corrupted. Thankfully, the social network has made a recent acquisition that can alter the course.

With the purchase of Lynda.com LinkedIn has gracefully entered into vertical integration. If, (this is a big if) LinkedIn can successfully become a resource to learn skills online they can then leverage their fledgling professional social network site.

Imagine the profiles of my peers filled with certificates from online courses. A balance of “promotions” from other users and verifiable certificates of skills would be a powerful resource for potential employers.

Yes, as it stands, LinkedIn has morphed into an online popularity contest. A virtual world where the number on a users profile means more than the words of a few.