Weak Link

I’ve been on Linkedin for a couple of months, I guess, as a test after stirring up the “social networking” cult which seems to believe that constant contact on the Internet is the answer to all human needs. (You can read some of the vociferous posts elsewhere on the blog, but not the ones we deleted because they were obscene, incomprehensible, or just vacuous.)

Here is my experience on Linkedin with 144 connections and 1,841,000 linked to them, or so the site claims. There are 2,733 new people on my network since September 23, whatever that means. I’ve posted questions and responded, started one group (for my mentor program) and conscientiously replied to all invitations and queries.

• With the exception of staying in touch and perhaps finding traditional employment, I see zero benefit to Linkedin as a marketing tool for consultants.
• It has the potential to be a huge time waster. Most postings are irrelevant.
• There are mostly inanities brought to your attention, such as two people you’ve never heard of who are now “connected,” or the really stupid notifications such as, “Roger is staying up late to work tonight.” Oh, great, now my day is complete.
• Exactly two people inquired about any kind of business with me, for coaching in both cases, and both said that they were going to contact me through my web site but happened to see me on Linkedin. One joined the Mentor Program, the other did not.
• The questions posted were 95% pretty sound and useful, but were also overwhelmingly (at least in my case) low level human resources type of inquiries.
• People with whom I interacted were unfailingly polite and professional. Not one exception.
• I received buying solicitations from others who invariably replied, when I protested, either “My assistant made a mistake with my list,” or “I never sent that to you” (then how did I get it?).
• Some people collect connections like stamps, and told me that the entire idea was to maximize their “network.” I refused to link with “collectors.”
• The technology is surprisingly primitive and unreliable, such as when I click on an invitation and its says, “This was not intended for you.” I had to go to customer service to have a duplicate of me removed, which the system inexplicably created.

I could go on, but I won’t. This is a mild diversion with limited utility for serious entrepreneurs and consultants in a world where time is a non-renewable resource. Worse, it has created a cultish behavior among many of its adherents who see the leaf and not the tree or the forest. I’m still awaiting my secret decoder ring.

Contrarian consulting advice: Use your time to network qualitatively, and don’t rely on technological shortcuts which don’t immediately involve you with real buyers. I know some people will write in ignoring the fact that I am writing about consultants, because the cult blinds them. They need to spend less time staring at Linkedin on their computer screens and go taste the coffee.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

20 thoughts on “Weak Link

  1. Great post, Alan. As usual, you cut through the hype. I’ll share one quick observation from my experiences with “social media” (blech – hate the term).

    While electronic business card exchanges (such as Linkedin) don’t create value, a focused and well-written blog will do amazing things at creating market gravity (great term!) for the solo consultant. But like all things in the MDC world, YMMV.


  2. I like your observations. Thanks for giving feedback on your experience – I had been waiting to find out what you thought of LinkedIn! My colleagues/friends and I tend to think of LinkedIn as a self-updating electronic resume and contact list. I used to write little notes about people on my Outlook contact list such as “used to work at such and such company” but now I don’t have to do that because I can just look these details up on LinkedIn.

  3. I have to agree. I did get one small, but fascinating project as a result of someone reading my profile. Otherwise, I’ve used it only to reconnect with former colleagues and classmates from years past. In other words, social, not professional use (I suppose there is the off-chance of referral work this way). I know a woman who has well over 1500 connections, a collector as you say. I have no idea what she does with them. That seems to be on par with those who used to collect beer can tabs in college: amusing yet useless.

  4. When I was fresh out of college, I was told to send out as many resumes as I could. The idea was to blanket the market with resumes. Best-case scenario would be renting a helicopter, flying over a major city and dropping resumes by the boxful on pedestrians. Fortunately, I eventually became aware of a more focused approach–figure out what you want to do, figure out what you have to offer, figure out what companies need that service, then get in front of the hiring decision maker. I do not know much about social media, but it seems to be an updating of the old “drop resumes by helicopter” idea. Now, as then, stick to meaningful contacts with people you can help.

  5. Alan,

    My brain cannot maintain more than 50 active contacts (and that is when I am running on double espresso). The 51st contact would require me to buy another chunk of brain, squeeze it through my ears and attach it to the rest of the social mush.

    95% of my income comes from only 5 contacts, so I am putting the other 45 in a virtual memory (on a disk) and use nearly full brain capacity for other things, driving a Turbo included.

  6. Thank you. I’m not a networker by nature, so I use LinkedIn to track my network. But when it comes to using it to further my career, I was at a loss and just figured I must not be seeing the obvious. Probably because I’m not a networker by nature. But since you said it, I can believe it, so that settles it!

    I’ll still use it for reconnecting with people I know because lots of the people I know like to use it; but I’m no longer going to be trying to figure out my missing LinkedIn marketing plan.

  7. I know an independent environmental consultant who landed a substantial project just days after joining LinkedIn – it was him who introduced me.

    I’ve had nothing in the 18 months I’ve been a member, but I see it like the small ad that Alan mentions in his books – if it delivers one big project for very little effort and no financial outlay, then it will be worthwhile. All part of the mix.

  8. I actually don’t use LinkedIn for marketing, I use it for networking.

    I use it to see who in my network can help me track down a contact, refer me to an economic buyer, help me with background information or provide assistance ona contract.

    I also use the recommendations there to fill out my resume, my websites, my references on proposals and so forth.

    It gives people an easily contactable reference point for my work, abilities and brand.

    Just to reiterate – not marketing tool, a networking tool. And what’s more I enjoy the interaction I have to admit.


  9. To Gareth and Daryl, fine, so long as you don’t fall victim to the nonsense that “this is the marketing route of the future.” This is the marketing route of futility. Using it as background and passively can’t hurt. By the way, “It was he who introduced me.”

  10. Alan:

    The biggest problem with social networks is that trust, necessary for a good relationship, doesn’t travel well over the ethernet. A number of my clients have found LinkedIn quite helpful by overcoming this limitation under certain conditions.

    Many have found signing people up a good way to rekindle old relationships. By agreeing to link the contact implies openness to a networking relationship. Here trust was established before any linkage through LinkedIn.

    Some, who have local markets, use LinkedIn to identify people they want to know and then seek introductions through a mutual contact identified by the system. These people then meet the new contact for breakfast or lunch, broken bread being a superior medium for developing trust.

    These are but two examples. In all cases, those who get a lot out of LinkedIn put a lot into it. No surprise there.

    I do believe that “there is a pony in there somewhere,” if you know the old joke. If enough people work at it, some will find ways to make use of what is a phenominal data base of relationships. But it’s not for everyone.

    Best regards,

    Ford Harding

  11. But the point is that this is not the place to invest a lot of time. No buyer is going to meet you on linkedin and then have a meal with you. The vehicle should get no more than minimal time from consultants who are much better served being interviewed, speaking, publishing, networking with real human beings, etc.

  12. Alan:

    There are many different ways to make rain and many different consulting environments to make rain in. First, the people I referred to are networking with real human beings. They simply use LinkedIn as a tool to access them. Second, someone using this tool to reconnect with old clients is going directly to buyers who will and do then meet with them. Third, there are consulting practices where it is difficult to go directly to buyers, because they very seldom need the service, aren’t interested in talking about it when they don’t and want to keep it a secret when they do. Turnaround consulting and location consulting are two examples. Referral sources, who will have lunch with you, are key to getting business in such fields.

    I agree with you that much time is wasted on social networking and many–probably most–would do better to devote their time elsewhere. But it does work for some people–and an increasing number. That it doesn’t work for you or me doesn’t mean it can’t work for anybody. It is one more tool in the complex arsenal used to sell consulting.


    Ford Harding

  13. Okay, we have a failure to communicate (and I don’t believe it’s ever difficult or unwise to go directly to buyers). Do you realize that the early session at IMC’s Confab is about how to use social networking? That’s absurd.

    I’m repeating for the final time: With the abundance of marketing gravity options available, Linkedin is a very minor priority. And just because it might work for a couple of people, maybe, doesn’t mean I think that the people I mentor should spend much time on it.

    It’s like the person who claims their self-published book sold 400,000 copies, so that’s what everyone should do.

  14. Hi Alan. I agree with many of your points; however, I have found some value in LinkedIn. I use this mainly as a way to reconnect with people I’ve worked with in previous lives, many of whom I’d lost touch with. In several cases, restablishing the contact through LinkedIn has led to an introduction to an economic buyer and in turn to new business.

    I don’t put a lot of time and effort into this (I established my profile several years ago and just tweak it once in awhile). I don’t accept links to people who I don’t know and I don’t ask others to introduce me to their links. I’ve turned off the silly email reminders and I pretty much ignore the “I’m having dinner with Fred now” updates.

    I’ve used the question function twice and gotten quite a few responses to each question. These ranged from thoughtful and insightful to fairly inane (my favorite was one that told me I was asking the wrong question and then proceeded to answer the question I didn’t ask and really had no interested in).

    In summary, I think there is value to LinkedIn as a tool within a bigger scheme of things, but it’s not the end-all and be-all discovery some people make it out to be.


  15. Alan:

    It is also faulty logic to say that because my self-published book sold poorly, no one should do it. It’s not for everyone, but it works for some.

    Linda makes the point simply and clearly. She has gotten business through LinkedIn. In her case, she invests little time on it, so it sounds as if the return on her investment is pretty good.

    I know others like her, a few of whom have invested heavily in LinkedIn and feel they get a good return. There may be a generational issue here.

    The trick with all tools is knowing how and when to use them. Certainly the hype about LinkedIn exagerates its value for most. There are a lot of smart people, and as the database builds, I suspect more of them will find ways to use it to advantage.


    Ford Harding

  16. How many ways can i say “exceedingly minor compared to other options”?

    What I said was that an “author” whose self-published book sold poorly (or well) has no basis to tell others that that is a major marketing avenue.

    I don’t care how many people you know who have had moderate success, you’re all missing my point because of situational success. I’m saying that consultants have more valuable way to spend their time, and if they put a small amount of time into linkedin, fine, that’s their call.

    But linkedin does not live up to the hype nor can it be supported by the cultists who want to claim that the so called “social media” are the marketing wave of the future. When I point out that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be, everyone wants to cite a minor exception, which only proves my point.

    And to suggest that it’s “generational,” or as some of more ugly postings did, that I’m too old to understand or use it, I find that appalling bigotry and ignorance. It’s a cop out when you don’t have facts, only blind emotion: she’s a woman, he’s too old. Please.

  17. I am independant consultant, and have used LI for the past 4 years; it is just one vehicle for BD and marketing, but an important one. Random points:

    – When I contact people on LI, they can view my complete bio, recommendations, articles & blog links….so I can establish immediate cred with contacts (as long as I have targeted correctly).

    – It has been most useful for me on market research and validation projects I take on for my clients; people on LI are essentially saying that they are open to contact…and if they are not the best contact at a given company, they usually provide referrals to other….quite valuable and a big time saver.

    – I similarly reject ‘open networking’; it just seems like ego building….

    – I think the next wave of social / business networking will provide more value; LI is starting to get there with discussion groups (or communities of interest)

    – I publish a lot of articles in my space (sustainability tech strategy), and LI provides a great forum for getting the message out to key discussion groups…plus I get feedback on strategy, POVs, etc…this in turn adds more value to my benchmarking work.

    So, LI is a key part of my BD program…..

  18. I have no idea what “BD” means (brand development?) and good for you on linkedin.

    How much time are you spending publishing in mainstream media, creating new intellectual property, speaking, networking in person, creating products, doing pro bono work, being interviewed, etc., etc.? If you’re doing those things, then linkedin is fine for you to fool around with. I’m guessing you have low level buyers.

  19. BD = business development.

    As I mentioned, LinkedIn is but one tool that I use; I publish 1-2x/ month, present / be a panelist 4x/ year, develop education courses….all work together.

    My low level buyers are CEOs at privately held companies, and VP / GM level execs at publicly held companies.

  20. Oh, good – I’m glad someone (Adam Fein) finally pointed this post out to me. I thought I was missing the boat on “social networking” and, gasp, “Twitter” – I just didn’t get it, but it’s gotten so popular I figured I needed to keep at it until I “got” it. Maybe I get it after all…

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