Monday, December 22, 2008

Top 6 Reasons To Join LinkedIn

My last post I talked about the reasons why I joined LinkedIn and how from being a Spectator now my goal is to be a Connector.

Personal contacts will continue to play a crucial role in building professional relations however everyday we see a rapidly growing trend towards the use of online social professional networks to establish the first contact or to disseminate product information. Recruiting and staffing firms were definitely the early adopters and today they are the leaders in the space.

Last week, I attended an event on the topic “Is Technology Facing Another Nuclear Winter?” hosted by NCTA WISE. It just took few seconds after people were shaking hands to ask the now so familiar question: “Are You in LinkedIn? Let’s connect there”. Less than an hour after I left the event my mailbox began receiving invitations from new contacts. One recruiter suggested that people should consider adding their LinkedIn profile information to their business card. I would say that is a pretty good advice.

Back to the title of this blog: Why People Have Joined LinkedIn? After I posted my previous blog I decided to find out the reasons why other people are joining this professional social network and to gather this information I posted a simple question to three of the groups where I have membership.

So far I have received 26 responses across the three groups.

Most of the responders indicated that they originally joined LinkedIn to stay in touch with old colleagues who have moved to other organizations. However, everyone recognizes that the real value of the social networks comes later when the user becomes familiar with the different features of the networking community and primarily the discussion groups. While staying in touch with people that you already know still very important, now there is a shift from connecting with old colleagues to building new relationships and getting business advice for new ventures.

The following list represents the top reasons why people have joined LinkedIn:

1) Establish new contacts from related industries or new industries.
2) Access to industry practitioners and experts.
3) Participation in global dialogues.
4) Create the opportunity to introduce a product line to different groups.
5) Create new business development opportunities.
6) Find professional talent.

Even some people have been able to generate savings by cutting off on their travel expenses because now they have direct access to perspective clients and partners.

What is your social networking personality behavior? Do you hide your network if you are a member? Are you just a Spectator? Or do you fall into Malcolm Gladwell's categories? Are you a Connector with million of connections in your network? Are you the knowledgeable Maven who provides helpful insights but doesn't really spend much time connecting, or the Salesman with the perfect profile and persuasive recommendations?

If you are already there don’t forget to send me an invitation to be a part your network!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why did I join LinkedIn?

Does your manager think that you are looking for a new job if you are in LinkedIn? Well, not necessarily. As I have learned, LinkedIn can been valuable in many ways.

I wrote this post for TrendsCast - an internal corporate blog on Emerging Trends. It generated a good amount of dialogue and I decided to share in my blog.

For those whom the word is new or have heard about LinkedIn but have not used it yet, let’s first check Wikipedia for a simple definition.

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site” - to be clear this is an external website not hosted by your company.

If you are already in there then you know the value of a professional social networking site where members can make professional connections, join multiple groups, discover new business ventures and yes, search for career opportunities. I say this because as a mentor, I view LinkedIn as a great tool for future career planning and a way to be informed with what is happening on the job market and to gain insights into any industry.

There are also other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace where you can connect with friends, make new connections or join different groups. But LinkedIn’s value proposition is unique in the ever-expanding world of social networks for its professional and career focus.

Plaxo is another example of a business-oriented social networking site. I opened an account with Plaxo, but never used it and ended up closing it. I realized that if I make time to join a social community, I want to be actively engaged - not just have a profile hanging out there. Otherwise, I ask myself: What is the value you get from the community or you bring to the community if you are not engaged?

My secret goal is to reach a point when I am connected to all members within the “Six Degrees of Separation” rule. Ah, well I guess it is not a much of a secret anymore!

Interestingly, how people engage in social communities for different reasons. In the book “The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (which I enjoyed reading), he breaks the people that “build the communities” into three categories: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

For example, Mavens are the people who own and share information. They are the subject-matter experts who know every detail about every little thing.

I joined LinkedIn in 2005 and did exactly what I have told you not to do, I was opposite of the Maven. I posted a short profile and never engaged with the community. It was just a checkmark.

I rejoined in 2006 and since then my view on how to get and add value to social networks has changed. My engagement level has increased exponentially. At first my new intention was to connect with people I already knew from other organizations, but slowly I began to make connections with people I did not know from other professions and began to explore new topics and openly, I have let my curiosity see what business opportunities are out there.

It is also important to me to add value to the community and I want to use my network to help people connect with each others. So now, compared to my original intentions, my purpose for using LinkedIn has made a 360 degree turn and today my main goal is to establish new connections with professionals from different fields and to participate in discussion forums.
One of my favorite features is the personal network calculation. In LinkedIn people are connected by degrees of separation. “Six Degree of Separation” still counts as the magic measurement within a social network but in LinkedIn the common denominator is “Three Degree of Separation”.

Connectors are the people who link us with the world and introduce us to social circles. In other words, we are the ones that turn the “Six Degrees of Separation” into the “Three Degrees of Proximity”.

In my last blog, I talked about trust and employee engagement in social networks. Some people are half-way there – meaning they are not yet willing to have an open profile and share their network information. On LinkedIn if you want to protect the privacy of your network you can use a feature that blocks others from having access to your personal contacts.

Of course, in every community we have such participants, I call these Controllers. Typically they have a few protected connections and no additional engagement. Even more extreme are those that I call Spectators with a lonely profile and no connections at all. Just like I was when I first joined.

Gladwell’s last group, the Salesmen, are well, the people with the power of persuasion. Do you know of any these?

Another significant value I get from LinkedIn is the unique opportunity to collaborate with people on topics of personal and professional interest of mine.

I recently posted a question to the Women 2.0 group that generated a very insightful dialogue among the group members.

Yesterday, I connected with a woman and found out about a 4 week summer program at MIT labs for high school girls. The objective of the program is to spark their interest in future study in engineering and computer science. Can you imagine? I wish I could attend the program too! (As a side note, if you know of any high school girl who wants to attend, tell her to apply before January 15th.)

My point is not to persuade you to join LinkedIn but to share how I have personally benefitted from it and learned how to effectively use it in my professional life. It removed preconceived notions I had about social networks and has created a bridge between career and personal life.

I could share more about my engagement, but I first would like to hear back from YOU. Tell me about what you have experienced so far using LinkedIn or don’t hesitate to tell me about the reasons why you are not part of this social network. Do you hide your network if you are a member? Why? Are you a Maven or a Connector?

If you are you ready to join don’t forget to send me an invitation to be a part your network!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Trust, Employee Engagement and Social Collaboration

I want to connect the dots on a controversial topic: How can organizations build TRUST using social networks for collaboration among employees?

Before I dive into the topic let me tell you how I became engaged in social web 2.0.

My first official step into the social web 2.0 world was last year when we launched TrendsCast - one of the first corporate-wide blogs at Wachovia dedicated to discuss the impact of emerging technologies to the marketing strategy of the organization. The blogger is quite verse in the matter of writing blogs and I just enjoyed reading the articles instead of writing them.

All good, but nothing too exciting since I lead emerging trends for the bank and it‘s part of my job to drive transformational change using emerging technologies.

Later on this year, looking at the growing significance of this emerging trend and the opportunity for marketing organizations to leverage the power of online communities, I decided to immerse myself into the online social world. First, in April I invited Google to participate in our Emerging Trends forum. The second step was to engage and grow my LinkedIn network. I have been watching my 3rd degree “proximity” network growing everyday. By the way, I like to use the phrase “degree of proximity” rather than the more traditional definition of “degree of separation”. Most recently we launched our corporate presence on Twitter and in order to personally learn more about the dynamics of the community, I opened my own Twitter profile under Curiosidad.

Through my participation on Twitter I began to think about the differences and similarities on how I participate in corporate communities versus external communities. At the same time, my colleague the Director Enterprise and Web Services posted a blog about crossing the lines that divide home and work, personal and professional, private and public world.
I became extremely intrigued by topic and couple of weeks ago I launched a study to research the following questions:

What is the perceived danger in crossing the lines that divide home and work, personal and professional, private and public world?

How can organizations build trust using social networks for collaboration among employees?
The potential for tools like social networks, blogs, and wikis for collaboration, communication, and information sharing are rarely questioned, but all require one key ingredient: people’s participation. Yet, while many businesses of all shapes and sizes have begun adopting such technology for business uses, driving user adoption can be a challenge. With literally hundreds of millions of users on the broader internet, garnering the participation of even a fraction of a percent is more than enough to create a vibrant social network, blog, or wiki-style crowd sourced database.

Trust, first and foremost, is paramount to employee engagement in social Web 2.0 communities. Employees may be deterred simply out of fear that what one does or says on an internal network or tool may later come back to haunt them.

Moreover, employees may be less concerned that the manner of their participation will be judged, but even that their participation itself would be judged. Most managers within the company view blog’s participation as distracting and having a negative impact to employee’s productivity. Web 2.0 tools are sometimes considered childish distractions instead of valuable technology, and thus employees may believe that their reputation within the company could suffer as a result of their active participation. Thus, a lack of trust that one’s participation will not harm one’s career aspirations is a key inhibitor to employee participation

Many people, though, are disturbed or uncomfortable with the blending of the professional and personal spheres. Increasingly, people are facing the precarious decision of whether or not to accept a coworker’s – or worse, a boss’—friend request on Facebook or MySpace. Some people often fail to release the amount of personal information that is available on their profile, and who is really paying attention. Even others, who may be more careful about the type and amount of information they put on their profile, cannot control what others within their network post on their message board or wall. As a result, both Facebook and MySpace (though to a lesser extent) have enacted new privacy settings that allow users to customize who is able to see what information on their profile. Some have complained, however, that these settings are cumbersome and difficult to use, and are both insufficient and underused.

While one might think that this might be an argument in favor of an internal business network, some may see it as a step in the wrong direction. Employees who are trying to keep business separate from the other parts of their life might perceive this as yet another potential intrusion as opposed to an opportunity to distinguish the two realms. Others might refrain from participating simply because they do not want another social network to have to update and check regularly.

The blending of the personal and professional is already having implications in the workplace, beyond just companies tracking employees’ profiles and policies on using these tools in the workspace. Both the authenticity that is so conducive to engagement in these tools and the persistent availability and connectedness they provide have real world consequences. Perhaps most notably, the social dynamics of the workplace has the potential to change significantly (and is already changing in many places, one could argue) as a result of the ability instant message leaders carry on conversations in a much less formal fashion than would be normal in, perhaps, an email. These informal conversations can lead to a greater comfort in approaching leaders, more candid responses, and a “horizontalization” of social dynamics.

Trust, Relevance and Authenticity are the drivers of engagement in social networks. Social collaboration tools are connecting people that otherwise will never connect and while this is happening a new behavioral trend for increasingly blurred lines separating home and work, personal and professional, private and public is emerging!

A version of this blog was posted last week to TrendsCast internal blog.