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I Can’t Recommend This August 28, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I like LinkedIn.  I’ve used it for many years, well before the term “social media” came into vogue, and value what it does well: keeping me abreast of the career changes within my professional network.  Although the powers-that-be at LinkedIn have added other features over the years, the core value of network awareness hasn’t changed. Many of those new features provide little value, at least to me. And there is one feature that needs to go immediately: recommendations.

In theory, recommendations seem to make a lot of sense.  If you feel strongly about a person to whom you are connected, you can write a recommendation of that person.  The recommendation, once approved by the recipient, is placed on their profile for all the world to see.  LinkedIn thinks this is such a good feature that your profile is not considered complete until you have accumulated three recommendations.

In reality, the LinkedIn recommendation system is useless.  Here’s why:

  • Recommendations are universally positive. No one in their right mind would permit a negative recommendation to appear on their profile.  Self-selected recommendations tell me nothing about you, except that you can apparently convince others to laud you in public.  I suspect this is a quid pro quo practice anyway, so even that skill is suspect.
  • Recommendations are usually solicited. Who hasn’t gotten a request for a recommendation?  How many of us have written one, if only to avoid an awkward refusal?  Not to upset anyone, but if I really thought highly of you, I’d write a recommendation without prompting.
  • Honest recommendations are tainted. Surrounded by so many fake recommendations, the occasional sincere unsolicited recommendation is lost in the noise.  Their value is diminished to the point that they are useless.
  • Real recommendations occur without the knowledge of the subject. Real recommendations (which LinkedIn was trying to emulate) occur between people privately.  When someone calls and asks my opinion of another person, they’ll get a real recommendation.   It will have for more value to the requester than any generic recommendation on LinkedIn.

To eliminate all these problems, I think LinkedIn should just drop the entire system.  No more recommendations cluttering up profiles, no more requests filling up my LinkedIn mailbox, no more “happy talk” about people you’d otherwise not write about.

Instead, when you want to find out about someone, find a mutual connection on LinkedIn and contact them.  Use LinkedIn for what it was intended: connecting with your professional network to learn things and do a better job. You’ll get a better, honest answer that benefits everyone concerned.

And please, if you like this idea, recommend it to someone else.

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The Original Social Media Guru June 8, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Book Reviews, Networking.
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If you spend any time doing anything on the internet, you will soon stumble across a special kind of expert who is just dying to help you improve your virtual social life.  These self-professed Social Media Gurus promise to reveal deep secrets about Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, all designed to garner you more followers, more attention, and more interest on the internet.

Let’s face it: the vast, vast majority of Social Media Gurus know just a teeny bit more than you do about all this stuff.  If you really wanted to learn their secrets, ten minutes with Google (or Bing, which is growing on me) will make you a Social Media Guru, too.  And if you really want 100,000 followers, or friends, or connections, one mortifying YouTube video should do the trick.

All these social networking tools are just communication tools: conduits for information. You can learn the mechanics of any of them in a day, and absorb most of the culture in a week.  But that doesn’t make you any more social, although you may have made a good start at a network.

What matters is what you send over those conduits.  The information you share and how you respond to others is what’s important. It’s the content that counts, not the mechanics of the tool.

Most modern Social Media Gurus want to teach you the mechanics.  This is not social networking, just like understanding the mechanics of a piano is not going to make you a piano player.  Very few Social Media Gurus can teach you what to send using these systems, once you have mastered the mechanics.

Sadly, the very best Social Media Guru died in 1955, before any of these things were invented. Fortunately for us, he wrote down all his secrets well before he passed away.  That Guru was Dale Carnegie, and his secrets are revealed in his book, How To Win Friends & Influence People.

If you have never read this book, do yourself a great favor and pick up a copy.  For Amazon’s bargain price of $8.70 ($0.96 on your Kindle) you can learn the secrets of the greatest Social Media Guru in history.  Carnegie’s book is easy to read, with each concept presented in a short chapter with supporting anecdotes.  If even that’s too much for you, he summarizes each chapter with a one-line moral at the end.  The anecdotes are delightful, recalling social situations from the 1920’s and 1930’s that are still relevant today.

If you have read this book before, read it again.  You will have the same revelations all over again, and be even more committed to changing the way you communicate with people. Carnegie was among the first, and is still the best, Social Media Guru.

I won’t even try to summarize Carnegie’s advice here.  Click the link above, buy the book, and start your summer reading with the one book that could truly improve every relationship you have.

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How Big Is Too Big? December 15, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking.
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I’ve been using LinkedIn for a long time, at least six or seven years.  In that time, I’ve accumulated 270 links in my network.  In all but a few cases, I know each person, why I linked to them, and what relationship I currently have with them.  Certainly, some links are stronger and more robust than others, but they all were created from an initial meeting of some sort that justified the connection.

Some people are compelled to collect links and compete to see who has the most.  Some of these people even include their link counts in their LinkedIn account names, as a sort of badge of honor.  I’ll confess: I do not understand this behavior, beyond some natural desire to compete and win at something.  Certainly, the network that results from this kind of link-hunting is effectively useless.

Network connections have value because you leverage the trust relationship for a mutual benefit.  That might be some advice, or a job reference, or a quick answer to a question.  You know to whom to turn in your network because you actually know these people and know what they can offer.  My recent post on “knowing who knows” expands on this.

When requests are sent to me through my network, I know that I can trust them and deal with them with some level of confidence.  The original goal of LinkedIn was to replicate the traditional face-to-face business network with its semi-formal model of introductions and references.  That whole practice only works when knowledge and trust is part of the network.  If you don’t know the person at the other end of the connection, the interaction is worthless.

I routinely ignore requests to connect with people I don’t know.  No offense intended, but my network is valuable to me.  That value is diluted when anonymous connections begin to accumulate.  Honestly, my rejection improves the quality of the requestor’s network for the same reason: if they don’t know me, why would they want to trust me?

I feel sorry for those link hunters that you see on LinkedIn.  Their network is worthless, and everyone else (except for the other link hunters) knows it.

There is far more value in a small, carefully maintained network than in a large, unkempt one.  Guard your network closely and grow it carefully.  You’ll reap the benefits for years to come, and its value will grow immensely over time.

Show Your Face! October 10, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking.
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This week, LinkedIn took a huge step forward when they finally started including profile photos in the popups that appear when you hover over a person’s name. Previously, the popup displayed a textual summary of a person’s profile data. The addition of the photo makes the popup profile much more useful.

I am a big fan of including pictures in your online profiles for these kinds of sites. The primary reason is selfish: it makes it easier for me to remember names and faces when I can see a person’s picture. I make it a practice to copy these photos into my Outlook address book; they’ll appear in the header of emails when possible and get synced to my phone as well. On more than one occasion I have been at some sort of gathering and used the pictures in my phone to confirm someone’s identity before walking up to say hello. They also show up in the caller ID display when I receive calls.

Photos are a huge part of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, but are notably missing in most professional sites like Plaxo and LinkedIn. Why? I suspect that most people are too self-conscious to include a photo with their professional profile, or only have casual photos that don’t convey an appropriate professional demeanor.

Too self-conscious? Get over it. The value of your photo in cementing connections with people far exceeds your concern over having a “good” picture of yourself online. Moreover, most people are far too picky in choosing a picture of themselves. People who know you accepted what you look like long ago. Few of us are supermodels; the rest are just average-looking people.

Inappropriate photo? Not a problem. For online photos to be effective, you must crop them tightly, showing only your face. The latest fad is to crop even tighter, clipping off the edges of your face. Either way, those embarrassing background details won’t show up. Just find any photo that shows your face clearly, crop out everything else, and get it posted online.

So get going! Find a photo, crop it, and post it. Your profile will be much improved as a result, and I’ll certainly be happier, along with everyone else in your online network.

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Imperfect Integration April 15, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking.
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Social networking sites are getting too clever by half, providing more and more features to lure users into their web of connected people.  What they are missing are the features that connect their “walled gardens” to other equally useful networks.

As I’ve posted before, I like different systems for different features.  LinkedIn is the gold standard for professional networking, delivering controlled access to professional colleagues in a manner that most closely mimics (and respects) real-world relationships.  Plaxo is the best contact management tool I’ve seen, with unparalleled cross-platform synchronization.  The Plaxo Pulse, which provides a Twitter-like stream of activity for your connected contacts, is interesting and becoming more useful.  My blogging platform is WordPress, which seems to meet my (limited) needs at this point. To be honest, I don’t know that I have the energy for Twitter, although I’m willing to tinker with it.

The problem with these systems is that they don’t play well together.  They want to attract users, confine them to their system, and keep them there for all levels of service.  I understand the rationale: eyeballs = dollars.  But I dislike the constraints, which makes it harder to use all the services.  I want them to interoperate seamlessly, but they aren’t there yet.

Plaxo makes an attempt at this, allowing you to hook feeds from other sites (like this blog) into your Plaxo pulse.  The problem is that Plaxo pulls the content into Plaxo, instead of connecting to the actual source.  As a result, updates lag and the Plaxo version gets out of date when I update the content.  More importantly, readers in Plaxo don’t see the full blog unless they click through to it.  Reading this in Plaxo?  Click here to read these posts in their full glory, see what I am reading, explore the archives, peruse the tag cloud, and subscribe directly (if you are so inclined).

LinkedIn has fairly pathetic contact management.  Why can’t it get my contacts from Plaxo, so that everything is in sync everywhere?  Why can’t LinkedIn connections be mirrored in Plaxo automatically (and vice versa)?  LinkedIn also has a simplistic Twitter-like feature, as does Plaxo.  Why can’t LinkedIn and Plaxo integrate my Twitter stream so I can update things in one place and see them everywhere?

I suspect this will all happen in due time as this space coalesces and matures.  Like other web technologies (and the web itself), we need this period of experimentation and overlap to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  At some point, it will settle out, great sums of money will change hands, and one integrated system will remain.  Until then, we’ll all be updating lots of similar sites, over and over again.