Over the last few days, I’ve been playing around again with LinkedIn and also joined Facebook. I’ve been a LinkedIn member for some time now, and also have had people invite me to Plaxo, Spock, and even got an invitation to participate in a beta for something called “NotchUp”.
In talking with some of my friends and business contacts about the benefits of social networking, particularly as relates to business, I’ve heard opinions on both ends of the spectrum – that it’s good because you get a chance to find out what’s available out there, or just to reconnect with former coworkers and friends from the past; or that it’s bad because it’s essentially one more untrusted organization with your e-mail address and the ability to spam you. Some of my friends even consider the invitations themselves to be nothing but spam.
My own experience with LinkedIn has been that it seems to be a good thing; while I’m not looking for a new job, I have received a couple of interesting contacts with proposals for job offers – a director of developer training and support at one company, and a general “let’s see if there’s a match” from another.
At the same time, I’ve also managed to reconnect with past employers – most notably a boss whom I (regrettably) feel I burned some bridges with when I left the company. We exchanged a few e-mails, but nothing much more happened with that.
Perhaps of more interest is seeing who the people I know know – I found a former VP of mine who knew someone I attended university with (not someone I knew at all from classes, but to find someone who knows two people who attended the same small university in Daytona was a bit of a surprise). I’ve also managed to find long-lost business acquaintances, partners, and co-workers whom I thought I would not be likely to hear from again.
Most people, it seems, form fairly strong but temporary relationships with the people they work with. At my last company, I was very good friends with my boss (who was first my team lead and a coworker); we used to get together regularly for parties, have lunch together, and just chat about the state of the world while he was out on a smoke break (I’d go out even though I’m a non-smoker myself – it often was the only time I could catch him to ask for his opinion on work-related matters). Once I left the company – an amicable parting by all accounts – we never really chatted again.
I have to admit that I miss that when I think about it, but at the same time, that has been replaced by similar working relationships with my current coworkers.
So, is this newest trend in social and business networking a good thing, and if so, where should the trends go?
Personally, I think it is a good thing – not just because it’s interesting to see that in my 2nd tier of connections on LinkedIn, there are people who work for companies like Tippett Studios, DreamWorks Animation, LucasFilm, and other such notable companies (though that admittedly is pretty cool), but because in todays job marketplace, it is valuable to keep your options open – and in order to do that, you’ve got to know what’s out there.
Not long before he passed away, my father told me that if there was one thing he’d learned in his nearly 90 years on this planet, it was that giving loyalty to a company is not something that is generally going to be rewarded. He worked for the same company for around 40 years; the retirees ended up having to sue the company’s successor in order to get the benefits that they were guaranteed under the pension plan. As rapidly as companies are born and die in the modern workplace, nothing is really guaranteed these days.
In nearly 20 years of being in the workforce myself now and having worked for 8 different companies (some as the result of a merger or acquisition, but different management, policies, and processes constitutes a change in employer in my book), I’ve observed some of the things my dad talked about. The bottom line was that only you are going to look out for your best interests, and having a contingency plan in place is something everyone in the workplace should have.
Having a good list of contacts helps with that contingency – if you can go to your network and say “hey, I’m available to be hired, and I have this skill set now”, you’ll have a leg up in trying to keep that unemployment period as short as possible.
Now, with that said, there are some trends that I’m seeing in the social networking sites that need to change. First and foremost, there are far, far too many of them now. Pick one, folks, and stick with it. Personally, I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn, probably because it’s the first one I joined. It’s where I update my information; as an identity management specialist, it seems very awkward to me to maintain the same set of information in multiple places, so I picked one place to keep up-to-date.
If I were to make a prediction about these sites, it’s that there will be some consolidation over the next couple of years. Some of them may integrate services (similar to the way Facebook can integrate your network on LinkedIn now). But I think some integration and consolidation is inevitable – and not at all a bad thing.