LinkedIn is a Soulless, Selfish Social Network

Today rounds out three months as a consumer marketing intern. Had I not been offered a three-month extension last week, today would be a sad day. I probably would’ve spent my Friday night sitting here, at my desk, paws wrapped around a whiskey sour, Pandora set to B.B. King, searching hopelessly for my next job opportunity.

Worse yet, I could’ve resorted to badgering every contact in my social network. I could’ve — gasp! — updated my LinkedIn profile.

For all the beauty and wonderment social media has brought to my life, I’ve purposefully steered clear of LinkedIn, the soul-sucking social network which focuses on maintaining and making professional contacts for personal gain. It’s like a Rolodex. A really douchey, self-involved Rolodex. Facebook and Twitter can fulfill the same selfish motives, but they allow deeper interaction with photo albums and TwitPics, pages and links. LinkedIn exists to say, “Scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.”

Except very little scratching actually takes place — for me, anyways.

I keep a shade over 400 Facebook friends and follow about 350 on Twitter. I have 26 contacts on LinkedIn, several of whom I don’t know and wouldn’t recognize if we were stuck in the same elevator.

Facebook has done a lot for me. Hell, it’s the reason I have an on-going internship. And Twitter? I’ve made some nice connections on there, too, ranging from regional journalists to now avid readers of my blog. ;) I also look at Twitter like a word game with it’s 140-character limit; something akin to a Haiku or crossword puzzle.

But LinkedIn?

Look, I’ve always wanted to be the guy to earn opportunities based on merit, not connections. Who hasn’t? The more time I spend at my internship, the more I realize the business world revolves around relationships; not who you know, but rather why you know them and how you continue to know them. That’s where many PR amateurs go wrong, striving for quantity rather than quality.

I was an English major and briefly dabbled in an MFA program where the dream of being a published author was based, first and foremost, on ability. Relationships would help, but they wouldn’t sell books. The business world — marketing, especially — is dependent on relationship-building, not meritocracy. Unfortunately, many in the biz severely lack tact when it comes to interacting with other professionals. Go to a monthly meeting for any of the trade organizations and most of your interactions will go like this:

You: “Hey, I’m ____.”

Them: “Oh, cool. I’m _____Who do you work for?”

You: “I’m at ____.”

(If you’re from a well-known agency, they’ll hand you their business card and you’ll be talking to this person for 20 minutes. If they’ve never heard of the agency, they’ll ask which clients you work with. If you’re unemployed, they’ll flee the scene. No matter what, the next day on Twitter, they’ll post something to the effect of, “Pleasure to meet @you last night. PR rock star! Love engaging with other young talent!” You’ll know they see you as important if they add you on LinkedIn.)

In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece titled Twitter, Facebook, and social activism. I largely disagreed with his overarching sentiment, but he may have been on to something when he wrote, “The platforms of social media are built around weak ties.” LinkedIn fails because it’s main purpose is to help foster and maintain relationships for professional gain. Have people earned employment, found opportunity, created meaningful connections through LinkedIn? Sure. But I doubt the quality of those relationships, where Facebook and Twitter provide a more wholesome environment for communication unrelated to personal gain. LinkedIn is as personal as a job interview — is that really who you are? What you’re like? Do you really rattle off your three biggest weaknesses in casual conversation?

It’s who you know, true, but more importantly, how you know them. Nothing beats meeting in the flesh, and should I ever need to start looking elsewhere for employment, LinkedIn is the last well I’ll tap. I’ve got Facebook friends and Twitter tweeps for that.

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2 thoughts on “LinkedIn is a Soulless, Selfish Social Network

  1. I didn’t read Gladwell’s piece, and I don’t want to. But I’m going to riff on that quote for a minute.

    Most social media platforms are built on a foundation of weak ties, but there are two crucial caveats that should go along with a statement like that:

    1) The tie between, say, my mother and me is anything but weak. Yet we’re connected on Facebook, and that adds something for both of us. It’s easier for her to see more photos of her adorable grandson, and it’s easier for me to stay up to date with the local political stuff she’s working on back home.

    2) Of the handful of social networking platforms I actually use in some fashion, Twitter is certainly the one based on the weakest of ties. I’ll follow pretty much anyone for the slightest of reasons — at least for a while. But in many cases, those weak ties lead to incredibly strong connections, often with people I never would have met otherwise.

    So let’s not get in the habit of badmouthing “weak ties.” Romeo and Juliet started with weak ties, too, and look how they ended up. Wait… no. Bad example.

  2. I’m with you on LinkedIn, Miller: it seems at first glance to be a great networking tool, until you stop and think about a) how shallow that networking inherently is, and b) how unlikely that sort of “bookmarking” of professional relationships is to actually get you a gig when you need one. And it so easily leads to a sort of trophy-hunting mentality: I remember how thrilled I was when the new Senior VP of my division accepted my request to connect. Now, he is a great, standup guy, but his name on the sidebar of my LinkedIn page signifies nothing about the quality of our relationship: the fact that I could call him on the phone anytime, more than a year after I left the company, and he would have time for me does.

    Regarding the Gladwell essay: I had not read it until just now, and I might have to explore that at more length, but I’ll use my own space for that. I’ll just say I fond a lot of his piece persuasive.

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