If I Can't Find Anyone Like Me, Do I Still Belong on LinkedIn?

reflectionA recent Question in LinkedIn Answers concerned an executive who worked in a very specialized field. He didn’t feel like he fit in on LinkedIn because he couldn’t find anyone else in his field. There didn’t seem to be anything in LinkedIn for him.

This reminded me that “networking” was a concept that was still relatively new for many people. In the U.S., we had a social contract until the 80s: most people trained for something, worked hard, advanced and kept within their silos. The concept that you could meet strangers who might know something or someone that could lead to some kind of opportunity was a foreign concept for some people, especially Traditionalists or older Boomers. Here I’ll share some of my response to him in which I explained some of the fundamental values of LinkedIn.

Whether you want to invest time in learning about LinkedIn and developing a network is at root a personal decision whose answer depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. To begin, it’s worth asking yourself questions like:

  1. What are the biggest risks you (and your company) faces this year?
  2. What is the source of the most uncertainty?
  3. Where is the biggest opportunity for you?
  4. Lastly, what is most important to you this year?

Risk Management

For #1 and #2, in my experience, risks may fall into known and unknown, but usually if you can find the right expertise or advice, you can mitigate risks you know about. You can also discover risks you don’t know about. LinkedIn is a global community of high caliber professionals, so when you ask questions, you can get some very high quality answers. By continuing to practice asking questions and connecting to people, you can understand your situation much better. LinkedIn is excellent for crowdsourcing.

For #3, you can give scenarios that you are thinking about and tap the global network. For many people, it’s a little spooky at first to think about asking serious questions of strangers, but it works much better than one would think. When people answer questions, anyone can comment on someone else’s answer, so if that person doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about, other people will often question or disagree. Everyone who answers questions knows this and doesn’t want to be embarrassed. In 20 million users, there are a lot of people.

Changing the Economics of Engaging with Experts

An investment banking friend of mine points out frequently that we reduce risk by applying knowledge. Think about that for a minute. Knowledge can shed light on the unknown, and LinkedIn is a massive network of experts. LinkedIn changes the economics of working with experts along two axes:

  1. Experts are usually specialized, rare and hard to find. LinkedIn makes it much easier to find people with very specific knowledge. You need to develop your skill at reaching out to people and asking them questions that they can answer fairly easily.
  2. LinkedIn makes it possible to interact with people asynchronously (like email, back and forth), so everyone communicates at the time that’s most convenient and lowest cost to him/her, yet the conversation is usually very coherent.

LinkedIn, when you know how to tap it, starts to offer something close to expertise on demand. I have been a member since 2006, and I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the community.

Invisible When You Are New

When you first become a member of LinkedIn, your universe is small indeed, especially if you use the free account because, when you search for people, results are only from your network (no “LinkedIn Results”). If you have a few connections that have few connections themselves, your universe is a very small portion of LinkedIn’s 20 million members. Many people have fewer than 100 connections. Don’t be surprised when you see a small universe! However, you can begin asking specific questions of the entire community right away, and asking questions and having a great profile will help you connect with valuable people more quickly.

The Profile’s Importance

If you add details to your profile, it won’t take long for you to connect with people. If you do that, other people will be able to find you better. It’s key to help other relevant people to find you. When you add to your profile, make sure to use keywords, technical terms and product names that are used by people with whom you want to connect. Here’s Guy Kawasaki’s LinkedIn Extreme Makeover as an excellent example of how to do one.

Parting Shot

As a community of experts, LinkedIn can enable you to do many things, so think in terms of customers or stakeholders you have, not only people that are “like you.” With LinkedIn, you can phrase questions in ways to try to attract customers or influencers that can help you to impact your company’s competitiveness. Here’s another post on asking questions in LinkedIn.

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