One of the most misunderstood and underused social media networks today is LinkedIn. I consider myself something of a social media early adopter. I’ve had a Facebook account since its first year. I was on Twitter before anyone knew what a tweet was. And I’ve had a LinkedIn account for more than five years. However, I will be the first to admit I check LinkedIn and am active on Linked far less often than I am on Facebook or Twitter, when in reality, the opposite should be true.
Most people think I’m pulling numbers out of my, well, other end when I tell them LinkedIn is older than Facebook. However, it is. LinkedIn will be 9 years old May 5. By comparison, Facebook just turned 7 (and has only been open to everyone for five). Twitter will turn 6 in March.
When it comes to users, Facebook, of course, leaves everyone in the dust. Facebook claims 750 million active users. Twitter claims 100 million active users as of September, while LinkedIn hasn’t been so keen to publicly declare its membership. However, as of August, the site stated it had 116 million members. You will note the absence of the word “active” in that claim. While there may be 116 million or more LinkedIn accounts, site statistics, anecdotes and word of mouth indicate the number of active users is probably closer to 60 million. So, while it may be the oldest of the three, it’s by far the least used. Or is it?
In terms of raw numbers and daily traffic, yes, LinkedIn trails far behind Facebook and Twitter. And when you read stories about job seekers needing to clean up their social media feeds, LinkedIn is never mentioned, while discussion of horror stories about incriminating and damaging posts on Twitter and Facebook torpedoing a job candidate’s search abound, you never read any such stories about LinkedIn. And that’s primarily because it’s not really a social media tool at all. It’s a professional media tool set in a social media format, and that makes a good deal of difference.
While I am on Twitter an unhealthy several hours a day (partly to manage my professional feed @comminternships), and probably spend one or two hours a day connecting with Facebook in one way or another, I tend to spend only one or two hours a week total on LinkedIn. Yet, I find that my time on LinkedIn is far more gratifying — and educational — than my time on Facebook or Twitter. I find this to be true for multiple reasons.
The first is the quality of content is stronger and more dynamic than that of Facebook or Twitter. Rarely do I see users on LinkedIn posting what they just ate or drank, or how much they hate their professor who is lecturing right now (note: I follow you on Twitter and see that post after class). Instead, I typically find news and information of note in the topics to which I’ve subscribed. I follow groups that include professionals who are passionate about journalism, internships, careers and higher education, and I find those discussions to be more robust and contain greater depth than conversations on other social media accounts. (Quora also has good discussions, but service is another feed for another day).
The second are the people with whom I am connected. My LinkedIn contacts, while many do overlap with my Twitter and Facebook followers and friends, serve an entirely different purpose. These are professionals with whom I expect to develop a professional relationship, both for present needs, but also for future needs. If I need a reference, an expert recommendation, or job leads, I expect to find myself positioned through my contacts and my involvement in LinkedIn groups to get solid recommendations when needed. Yes, as a journalist I can send out a tweet and ask for recommendations on a topic, but LinkedIn’s nature pretty much ensures you not only know who gave you the advice, but gives you access to their resume, background and other recommendations by their own connections so you have some quality and accuracy check available at your fingertips.
The third is simply professional development. My LinkedIn contacts are frequently posting information about tools I can use to improve my knowledge in my field, nearby conferences I can attend to improve my knowledge (and where I can network with these users face-to-face, something even more valuable than my virtual networking) and access to webinars, databases and other forums of note.
It was just a year ago that Forbes reported that LinkedIn and other social media sites would eventually replace the traditional resume. And in January of this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that for some firms, the traditional resume was dead, and that LinkedIn was becoming the go-to source for those companies. It’s not too late to get on board and build a virtual resume, or, as one firm put it in the WSJ article, a “Web presence resume” that demonstrates your knowledge, abilities and life.
Norah Carroll, the social media specialist for @LavaRow, a Des Moines-based social media firm, recently spoke to a room full of college student journalists at the Iowa College Media Convention. She gave many of the tips we’ve all heard before about social media, many of which are listed in some form or another above. However, one she said that stuck out was to not sterilize your social media presence. Your future employers need to know that there is a person with a personality out there. They just don’t need to know — nor does anyone else — that a degenerate might be lurking in there somewhere. Keep your social media presence clean, but not so clean you look perfect. After all, the company wants to hire the human behind the web presence, not the web presence.