In an online discussion the other day, several people were debating whether LinkedIn should "force" questioners in LinkedIn Answers to "close" questions properly and designate "good" and "best" answers. This is a good opportunity to examine motivations behind responding to questions on LinkedIn Answers, and why "expertise" is far less important than focusing on your contribution. Read on to learn how you can increase your satisfaction with answering questions and get a higher return on your investment.
I encourage you to think about LinkedIn Answers (main navbar, fourth from left, "Answers") as a market in which buyers ask questions and sellers offer solutions. If you have spent any time on a trading floor or in any other market, you can see that buyers create markets by telling the market what they're looking for. People who ask questions in LI Answers are looking for a solution to a problem. Do not be distracted if you see questions that seem trivial because there are myriad questions that are very serious, as are responses. When I recommend Answers, most people roll their eyes because they have invalidated the platform due to "self-serving" questions they have seen. I understand this because people often hold emerging technologies to higher standards than things they know. For example, do you invalidate all business conversations because there are many self-serving business conversations out there? I doubt it.
Second, whether you are looking for a job, funding for your startup or philanthropic organization or a new client for your business, you have a USP (unique selling proposition). To create opportunity, you need to find buyers whose UBN (unique buying need) most closely matches your USP. To use LinkedIn to drive down the cost of finding prospects whose UBN corresponds to your USP, you need to:
Most LinkedIn members are more executive and business-focused than members of any other social network of comparable size. When someone takes the time to ask a question, they are often pretty serious about it. Disregard questions which you consider frivolous and focus on the serious ones. LI makes it easy because you can search Answers for questions/answers using keywords that correspond to your USP or your prospects' UBNs.
To get the most value out of answering questions, concentrate on the part of the situation you can control: the quality of your answers. Unless you specifically turn it off, your responses to questions become a part of your LI profile. When you choose the questions you answer with purpose, you are letting the asker of the question to set a business context in which you can offer your expertise. They set the scene for you to be observed helping someone with a challenge. This is the primary benefit, your responses themselves.
If you have ever asked a question in LI Answers, you know that LI closes the question automatically after a week and prompts you to rate the answers you received as "helpful" or not. when you have selected all the helpful answers, LI will ask you to select one that is "most helpful" or "best." The person who contributed that question gets an expertise point and logo on his/her profile. Notably, the expertise also shows the forum. If your "Best Answers" are in the Law Forum and the International Forum, that is a reliable indicator of your ability to do cross-border deals.
The problem starts when people are focused on answering questions to receive expertise points. this approach is a mistake because:
Very few LI members use Answers because 1) they don't understand how powerful it is and 2) they don't have the skills to host online discussions. LinkedIn the company understands that most members don't understand the importance or ramifications of their online actions, and they are trying a soft approach to encouraging adoption. They want people to use the features enough to see the value, so they use the features more often. If they adopted a punitive approach (forced people to award points), members would not ask questions as often. I do not expect LI to add conditions to the "Ask a question" process.
How about you? What are your experiences on LinkedIn Answers?
As I wrote earlier today, LinkedIn is an excellent venue to discovering, diligencing and developing cross-border deals because it significantly reduces the transaction costs of these processes. Therefore, I am pleased to announce my first presentation that will address using LinkedIn and other Web 2.0 tools to discover, build and manage global business relationships. I will give a presentation hosted by the Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce in Chicago on 18 February 2009. Non-members can register, so make sure to consider it if you are downtown. Read on for a preview.
While it is a truism that Web 2.0 is inherently global, most business leaders do not yet appreciate the degree to which global business will be transformed. LinkedIn can significantly change the economics of cross-border relationships because it is primarily focused on business relationships, and its members are globally minded executives. Here I will present a brief executive summary of LinkedIn’s impact on international business development as well as opportunities and threats for professionals.
Online social networks make it possible to search for executives (prospects, experts, partners) with very specific characteristics and interests right now and to communicate with them directly. The networks by no means replace the need to get across the table of prospective clients and business partners, but they can shift this requirement to later in the relationship building process. In considering an international business deal that requires partners or clients, a team typically progresses through several stages:
Discovery is the first step, when the team is seeking prospective clients or partners. In the 20th century, discovery necessitated extensive communications with existing business partners, counsular and trade offices, consultation with professionals with useful contacts and country visits. These represented significant investment of time and money. Online social networks can be revolutionary in reducing discovery by an order of magnitude, to the extent that the sector under consideration is represented sufficiently in the network.
Due diligence traditionally requires extensive research, work with experts, conferences and country visits to surface potential problems and resolve them before significant commitments are made. Social networks have a significant impact on this step as well because they make people with the right information quickly accessible.
Engagement members of online digital networks are a self-selected group that is interested in being more accessible; therefore, they are often more willing to respond to business invitations from other members; the communities themselves vet members. All the networks offer members features that optimize privacy and accessibility, but members as a whole are more approachable than business executives in general. Exchanges in forums and via messaging can be effective precursors to conference calls and eventual face-to-face visits.Relationship development is a multiple-phase proposition, but beginning it online and via phone and video can change the numbers in terms of time and financial investment.
Web 2.0 is pressuring all professions to decouple information gathering from expertise. Traditionally, professions like law, medicine, engineering, management consulting, executive search, M&A advisors, business brokers and international trade experts bundled information gathering with expertise. Information was difficult to find, so professions added value by assembling information for clients to support decision making. Web 2.0 enables everybody to provide highly relevant social information which serves as meta-information and aids decision making. For example, LinkedIn enables you to see who knows whom and how they know each other. Increasingly it is possible to see how an executive thinks about a relevant subject, based on her blog posts or interactions in LinkedIn Answers. Consequently, clients can inform themselves.
Although most professions will initially perceive this development as a detriment to their business, by considering the situation more closely, most see opportunity. Information gathering is at the low end of the value chain. Research is an input to their true expertise. To optimize value, professionals should focus on their unique, highest value expertise, judgment, experience and all the implicit elements of dealmaking. Professionals that can engage and collaborate with clients' emerging ability to self-inform will add to their competitive advantage.
International trade specialists can use LinkedIn to change the economices of their businesses. They can use LinkedIn to reduce the time and financial investments they need to make to build, execute and manage deals. Deals are all about people, increasing trust, communication and, yes, information gathering. Since these all involve interaction with people, social networks will change the business because they change transaction costs; they lower the time and
I just answered a question this morning in a private CMO forum of which I'm a member. One of my colleagues wanted to know what level of LinkedIn membership would be most effective for a job search. Since I haven't addressed this here on the Executive's Guide to LinkedIn blog, here we go with the LinkedIn Membership Selection Guide.
As I teach in the Executive's Guide to LinkedIn seminars, the main advantages of public (i.e. not custom enterprise) accounts are a matter of degree, and they are:
|Executive Summary: Comparing LinkedIn Membership Levels|
|Personal||Business||Business Plus||Pro Corporate Solutions|
|Pending Introductions (connect with people in your network)||5||15||25||40|
|InMails (connect with people outside your network)||0||3||10||50|
By the way, "Saved Searches" is relatively new. Let's say you searched "magnesium smelting, supply chain" and you came up with 12 people around the world. You would like to be notified when more people have those search terms on their profile (akin to a job search agent). That's Saved Searches.
Roughly speaking, you can get tremendous value from LinkedIn along two main vectors:
If the latter, I highly recommend having a paid account because you can find more people with highly specific characteristics. In the graphic, right, you can see that free accounts constrain you to your network (only 100 search results). Paid accounts tap the entire LinkedIn network more, using LinkedIn's search algorithm to search by your search terms and return the best. It's easy to go up or down the scale of memberships, too. If you don't want to find people on LinkedIn, Personal could be okay because all the differences relate to locating people with specific criteria. If you are looking for people, I would advise you to begin with Business and increase if you are running out of introductions and/or InMails.
Learning how to leverage social networks for business will be one of the top five requirements to thriving in 2009, and LinkedIn is an ideal place to begin because it helps to find opportunity: new customers, partnerships or jobs. The Executive's Guide to LinkedIn has scheduled three new Collaborative Seminars in Chicago and Cleveland. Unique points of distinction are:
The EGLI offers limited open enrollment seminars when time allows between client engagements. Our seminars are the most rigorous on the market, and participants learn to use LinkedIn better than 90% of other LinkedIn members.
Collaborative Seminars feature limited enrollment to enable more interaction among participants and applied learning. These seminars feature the intensive Key Concepts Session in the morning, with the option to stay for the Application Session in the afternoon, when participants apply key concepts using laptops. In addition, the seminars offer Social Networking Registration, which applies social networking to seminars and features group pricing.
To learn more, please visit the Public Seminar home page.
LinkedIn is about "professional social networking," and the Executive's Guide to LinkedIn opens the world of LinkedIn and other Web 2.0 venues (sites) to you. Web 2.0 venues can enable you to find and connect with very specific people who have similar interests and concerns, with whom you can collaborate. For example, LinkedIn and Facebook can help you to locate clients and prospects that have very specific needs you can fill, reducing the sales cycle and increasing revenue per client because the fit is far better. Likewise with business partners, jobs, employees...
In the digital world's new rules, it pays to be specific because the cost of finding people with specific interests continues to fall dramatically. If you know how to conduct yourself in these venues so that you increase others' trust and confidence in you, you become far more effective. That's what we aim to deliver.
Why should EGLI not tap the same phenomenon to organize seminars?
Rather than taking out ads and conducting email carpet bombing, why not let the most motivated and engaged people self-select and bring like-minded people to discover this together? That's the key idea behind our "Social Networking Registration."
We want to let you help us to add value to the learning process by having a say in who takes the class with you.
EGLI shows you how to form meaningful relationships using online tools. This involves learning new concepts, tools and behaviors, and group learning can have a sigificant impact on how much you learn. If you take a seminar with one or more trusted friends, you may be willing to open up more and try harder—during the seminar and afterwards. You have a head start in supporting each other in your continued learning. Of course, EGLI seminars facilitate powerful group interaction among "classmates," so we will help you get a lot out of it whether you come as an individual, a pair or a group.
|October 9 Seminar Resources: Seminar Overview | Registration Form | Social Networking Registration FAQ (Q&A)|
|Pre-Enrollment (27 August-3 September)|
We let you know about the seminar before enrollment to give you time to find some people and start a group (hint: try tapping your strongest LinkedIn connections). People, associations or companies can start groups, and each group gets its own group code. What to do:
|Enrollment (4 September-1 October)|
People enroll individually or with group codes. Enrollment is first come, first served because class sizes are limited. During Enrollment, anyone can cancel, but it might drive up the group's per member cost. More on this on the FAQ . What to do:
|Closing (2 October)|
Enrollment closes one week before the seminar, with the first 25 people getting places. EGLI applies discounts to your group based on its size. No cancellations after this point, but we gladly accept substitutions. What to do:
|How to create your group code: the logic of group codes is seminar date (year, month, day) + your initials. If you have no middle initial, put your first initial, any number between 1 and 9 and close with your last initial. For example, my group code for this seminar would be "20081009csr." If I had no middle initial, I could put "20081009c2r." If you are not part of a group when you enroll, enter your own group code according to this rule.|
Yesterday I presented LinkedIn as an executive job search tool to a packed house at St. Chrysostom's Career Evening, and it was interesting to focus LinkedIn on a new area of human endeavor, getting a new job. We had a lively discussion, which I'll recap briefly before providing links to additional information pertinent to our discussion.
But Facebook Data Tickles Privacy Concerns—Will LinkedIn Seize the Day?
As a presenter at the Social Networking Conference, I was able to catch some excellent presentations, and one of the most eye-opening was Clara Shih's "Enterprise Mashups: How Facebook Is Changing Sales and Marketing." In a word, Clara and Facebook's Todd Perry mashed up Facebook and Salesforce.com via AppExchange so that a prospect's profile in Salesforce now includes select Facebook profile information in a separate pane (see illustration, right), providing a much richer "360° view" of the person to Salesforce users. The result is elegant, powerful and pregnant with social and business issues that I'll explore briefly here.
For starters, how about: "I'm not sure I want salespeople to have access to who my Facebook friends are, that some of my favorite cultural pursuits are, well, a tad risqué or that some of my photo albums show interesting tattooed body parts." Called Faceforce, the mashup puts the professional you and the personal you side by side—it has definitely moved your cheese. But before you grab your shotgun, let's look at some of the issues, tools and opportunities.
Much of Generation X heeds Scott McNealy's famous quote (something like), "Privacy? You lost that a long time ago, get over it." Generation Y is native with the realization. Most, er, executive Facebook users are not aware that Facebook's default setting means that their friends, unlike in LinkedIn, are visible to all Facebook members, even though "full profile" information is only available to people with whom they are "friends" (this is customizable). Therefore, if you are a friend of the Salesforce user, your full profile shows via Faceforce. All Faceforce does is to access Facebook data automatically, within the Salesforce application, but said application presents a completely different social context around the information. "I can be sold to."
Moreover, most Facebook members (and members of most other social networks) do not understand the privacy and account settings tools, which give them significant control over what information is displayed and how. For example, Facebook offers a powerful relatively new feature, the ability to segment your "friends" with "lists." That means you can arbitrarily separate your friends into different groups, each with its own access to your information—and most components of your Facebook profile are customizable individually (i.e. The Wall, Photo Albums, Minifeed, Education and Work). For example, your frat brothers have access to certain photo albums. Your banking "work friends" don't know you go to Burning Man every year but other groups do (like your Burning Man friends). The rub is that most Facebook users don't know about this feature, and all their friends sit in one big pool. The lesson here is, you have to keep up with the tools to be able to get the benefit of Web 2.0 without compromising yourself. The challenge is, all things Web 2.0 are fast-moving trains, and to keep up you have to, well, keep up.
Therefore, don't unplug your Facebook account, but do make some friend lists and tie the content on your profile to them (to access, go to your "Friends" page, and you'll see "Lists" upper right; you can make as many lists as you want). For example, create a "business networking" list that includes people whom you do not know well. Give them minimum access to your personal life. Parcel out other content accordingly. Facebook actually is far more flexible than LinkedIn in this regard. Use it!
Traditionalists, Boomers and many Xers grew up with the concept that work and personal worlds were very different, and Faceforce is certainly flushing out some heated reactions. In fact, some of the comments remind me of the other (Silicon) Valley privacy heater Jigsaw. The rules regarding the creation and use of social networks' and Web 2.0 sites' information are described in the privacy and user agreements, which most members don't read. In general, I have found that most sites give members significant control over their information, but the burden is on members to understand the intricacies of how their information is chunked (sorry, componentized ,^) as well as the tools and settings that control access to it. And the sites are very dynamic: Facebook is a hotbed of innovation, much of it introduced by members in the form of widgets (mini-applications), which offer new ways to create, capture, access and display information. So, it's not just "work" and "home" anymore; the divisions are far more specific.
To recap, the concept is that enterprise applications can invoke external (professional) information to supplement the information in enterprise systems. This sounds like a perfect play for LinkedIn because, unlike Facebook, its profiles contain almost exclusively work-appropriate information. And, LinkedIn's profiles are hived off from "Connections." Theoretically, CTOs could think about invoking LinkedIn profile information without Connections. In LinkedIn, most of the sensitivity and privacy revolves around who knows whom. People rarely include personal information in their LinkedIn profiles.
Think about this for a minute. Many enterprises are building their own "Pfacebooks" using Lotus Connections or Microsoft Sharepoint, but these often have limited value because:
External social networks, on the other hand, are multipurpose; the employee owns his/her information and presents him/herself in the best light possible for myriad opportunities. Because there are many possible rewards, people are more incented to have better profile information externally. Therefore I hypothesize that:
External profile information will always be superior to internal information
All LinkedIn has to do is expose profile information via RSS, and the game is over. LinkedIn can add tremendous value to the enterprise and itself by providing fantastic profile information to enterprise systems. Here are some more tweaks that would make the offering especially hard to beat:
Before seeing Clara's presentation, I had prepared my own in which I recommended that enterprise "social" networks syndicate open social networks' profile information (see illustration, right). The beauty is, from an enterprise perspective, Salesforce is syndicating the Facebook data from the prospect's Facebook profile: enterprise data doesn't get shared anywhere else. CIOs and CTOs should have learned by now,
If you build it, they will not come.
To add the most value, they need to invoke information from the best source, and better information will lead to increased enterprise performance because applying expertise to a challenge reduces risk. Right now, organizations are very inefficient and locating and invoking the expertise of their employees because it doesn't exist anywhere. I would be remiss if I didn't mention IBM Atlas, which offers enterprise-strength analysis to internal social networks (dive deeper here). But I can see no reason why Atlas couldn't work with invoked external information as well.
External social networks will be the ticket to bringing superior information to the enterprise. Clara's presentation was exciting because it's working right now and shows the concept beautifully.
Many executives have allowed their LinkedIn networks to grow by reactively accepting invitations from former colleagues, club members, people they met networking, etc. One day, when something compels them to look at "their" networks, they are dismayed to see that it's not a pretty picture. They don't recognize some of the names. Others aren't really what they think of as "trusted." They might get requests from their connections to connect them with someone else in their network whom they barely know. They don't know what to do, and they wonder whether they should just throw it all away and start over. This is a very predictable and normal circumstance, and here I offer a step-by-step guide to reclaiming your network.
The first step is to think about what you want to accomplish with your network. Do you want to stay connected with people you already know? Meet new people in a defined area? Build your understanding of social networks? Based on your goals, what people in your network and outside would have similar or complementary interests? The best gardens have a concept or strategy behind them.
If you are like most people, you will want a mixture of people in your network. Fast-moving friends, colleagues and acquaintances. People you may not know well but who are focused on things that also interest you. Think about categories that make sense to you. Try thinking along two vectors: how much you trust the person and what kind of expertise, interest or passion the person has. You might be willing to keep someone in your network that you don't know well enough to trust them but who is interested in something that is important to you. For people in that category, make it a goal to get to know them better. Everyone has his/her own comfort level about tight-tie and loose-tie connections.
Now that you have planned, grab the rake, hoe, shears and gloves. How you go about this will depend on how large your network is. Assuming it's between 100-200 people, task yourself with taking 1, 2 or 3 letters of the address book at a time for a two-step process, qualifying and pruning. Go down the address book list, and blow by people that you know you want in your network. When you get to someone you're not sure about, click on his/her name to view the profile and measure him/her against your criteria. The big three screening criteria for many people are: expertise, people and affiliations: what is the person's knowledge base? What organizations does s/he belong to? Whom does s/he know? A great way to get a better flavor is to view the person's activity on Answers. What kind of questions does s/he ask, and how well does s/he share when responding to questions? Finally, look at his/her Recommendations. Are they sincere and specific? Obviously the more data points, the more valuable the criterion. On a piece of paper, mark the last names of the people who don't fit.
After you have some names on the paper, you can remove them from your network very easily. Hit the "Remove Connections" link at the top right of your connections address book. It will present you with a little "address book" where you can tick the boxes and remove as many people as you want—in one click!
When you remove someone, LinkedIn does not notify the person that you have removed him/her. You will disappear from his/her connections list without fanfare, and s/he will be transferred to your "contacts," where you can add him/her to your connections later if you want (currently, there's a waiting period of 3 days).
I recommend pruning as a separate step because it can be a hassle or an embarrassment if you delete people you don't intend to delete. By having it as its own step, you'll be less likely to make a mistake. Also note that, when removing connections, the names are not hot-linked, so you can't get any more info on that person from that screen.
When you have finished weeding, you will have a much more agreeable LinkedIn list of connections that fall into two major areas:
The next step is to focus on the people you know less well. You need to get to know them better, so you can increase your trust level with some of them. By the way, there will always be people you want in your network whom you don't trust because they have expertise you value. The converse is also true. You trust some people even if they don't have knowledge or connections that are not aligned with what you are doing. Of course, there are different levels of trust, too. Think about this; it will help you to sort things out. There are many approaches you can take to increase trust, and the most effective will depend on your and the other person's natural preferences and how well aligned your interests are:
Of course, before you go on this campaign, categorize and prioritize your list.
At the same time, when people invite you, do not automatically accept. When you get an invitation, use some screening criteria similar to during Pruning above. First, how does the invitation make you feel? Is it short, specific and sincere? How much trouble did the person take? Second, click on his/her profile. How aligned is s/he with your interests? Based on this, you can "archive" the person, which simply takes the invitation off your active invitations page. You can hit "Show Archived Messages" at any time and accept the invitation later. The person only knows that you have not responded. It's not really a rejection. If the invitation is interesting, consider hitting "send 'person's name' a message" and propose a phone call to get better acquainted. Write something like, "Name, thanks for inviting me to connect. I try to actively help people in my LinkedIn network, and I would like to get to know you better, would you like to have a short call to explore how we could help each other?" If the person doesn't respond, s/he's probably not a good candidate for a "trusted" connection!
Please let me know how this works for you, or suggest your favorite gardening methods!
As of writing, we are one third through Q2, so here is a quick list of some of our goals and challenges whose successful resolution we aim to report in July ,^) !
Thanks for reading and your comments. Please share your thoughts here or via email anytime!
Christopher S. Rollyson, Managing Director, EGLI
Have you ever come across LinkedIn profiles of people that have something fascinating or potentially useful in the future? The problem is, you don't know the person enough to sent him/her an invitation to connect, and you don't want to interrupt your workflow to send him/her a message. LinkedIn doesn't have a built-in function to "save" or "flag" profiles for future reference. Ah, but there's a wonderful hack I've used for months that's very easy, effective and free. My thanks to Jack Jackson, who posted this question on LinkedIn Answers today, making me realize that my workaround could be helpful to many other people. Read on for the step-by-step rundown.
To save LinkedIn member profiles for future reference, you can use del.icio.us; it's a perfect workaround for this situation. If you don't know del.icio.us, please see Three Easy Steps to Bookmarks 2.0 first.
Please let me know how this works for you or if you have another system. Here are two other references that might help:
I like using del.icio.us better than saving the URLs (of the profile pages) in a text file or word document locally (on my computer) because then it's accessible via iPhone, Blackberry, Palm or other computer. It's also easier to search.
I've used this process for months now, and it's awesome because it's a way to file people you want to engage but don't want to ask them to connect yet.
By joining a group, you have the option to do two things:
By joining a group, you can safely enable (pre-qualified) other members to contact you regardless of whether they are among your 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree connections. However, other group members are not "connected" to you in any other way, and they are not listed among your connections unless you have established connections with them as a separate step. Nor can they see your connections.
Therefore, groups enable you to extend your network with people that have similar interests, but you are not exposing yourself or your network to people you don't know. However, you can turn this off so that other group members cannot contact you directly.
Separately, you can decide whether to enable LinkedIn members who are not members of your group to see your affiliation. This might be useful if you are a member of the Golden Gate Skinny Dipping Club, and you may not want your colleagues to know that. When you turn this feature off, only other members of the group see the affiliation. Some people think of this as a "private group." Note that this feature is not available to all groups. I am a member of eight groups, and six enable me to turn this feature on or off.
The meaning, value and character of groups reflect their membership online and off. Some groups have tight ties and others are loose. Groups' characteristics affect how you can use them for different things. Here are some examples from my groups:
Access groups in LinkedIn's left sidebar by hitting "My Groups." On that page, hit "View members," which is really a LinkedIn search for members of that group. Depending on its size, you may get some number or the "greater than 500" result. Now let's say you're a marketing executive exploring a product launch in a new geo like Tianjin, China. You know that MENG members are senior executives and have deep marketing experience, so you search MENG for "China." Moreover, you are in telecoms, so you layer your search by adding that. You ask these members their advice on thinking about that market. Due to the collaborative nature of the group, the likelihood is fairly high that they will give you some great advice.
Likewise, think of groups as great places to ask for qualified referrals for experts, partners or employees. Let's say you are looking for a marketing partner to help you to introduce that product to Tianjin. You may think that it would be more effective to ask a question of the 19 million LinkedIn members about entering the market rather than asking the MENG membership. But by invoking the MENG membership, contacting people through the group, you will undoubtedly get faster and higher quality results as long as the expertise you are trying to access is resident in the group.
Note that you can constrain Advanced Search to the members of any of your groups. You can also overlay groups. For example, I highly value PwC Consulting's CRM methodology, but I want a holistic picture as a build the strategy for this new product I'm launching. I perform an advanced search for CRM, and I constrain the search to MENG and xPrice groups to locate people who are members of both.
When you get invited to join groups, join with purpose
Groups are a powerful LinkedIn tool that can enable you to find, qualify and engage expertise quickly—with very little downside. I highly recommend that you experiment with them and leverage them to the utmost.