Are social media networks as useful as they are made out to be? I have a LinkedIn network with more than 1200 first connects.
Many of these contacts have been in my network for months or years, and a good number are regularly in touch with me. In general, it is a fantastic tool to keep up-to-date with what my main business contacts are doing, and there are very interesting discussions. But, recently I have reached out to a number of old acquaintances with whom I have had little contact in the past months, and I had very few positive reactions. This made me think about the usefulness of the network, and I am trying to work out what the reasons are for the lack of response. I put forward five possible reasons.
In a number of cases, it turns out that the problem is simply a technical issue. People have changed their internet provider, but not bothered to update their profile so that the email address that is listed on LinkedIn is no longer the one they are using. Many people have their office email as the first means on contact, and when someone moves jobs this email address is no longer valid. Unless the profile is updated by the owner, this is not obvious, and not all users of LinkedIn maintain their profile. Microsoft and Google are starting to integrate the different social media more and more. I can see my Gmail messages on LinkedIn, I get LinkedIn alerts on Gmail, and my Blog is linked to both Twitter and LinkedIn. This increased integration should make it possible for the computer to alert you that an email address may no longer be in operation, but we are not there yet.
I am spending a lot of time on LinkedIn, reading messages, participating in discussion groups, looking for jobs and generally following what my network of contacts is up to. I can only do this because I do not have a full-time job at present, and I have to admit that I devoted much less time to social media when I was fully employed. I have received a number of responses to questions only after a while from contacts who had not seen my message because they do not log in very regularly, or hardly ever at all. Maintaining a large network of internet contacts takes time, and not everybody has enough free minutes to do this effectively. Unless we can manage email communications more efficiently, this will become a growing problem.
Not active on the network
In a number of cases, I have discovered that people who have a profile on LinkedIn do not actually use the network at all. You may ask why they have joined, but I guess this could be due to peer pressure. In such cases messages will simply sit and nothing will happen. Maybe the system should send out a message to anyone has not used his or her profile for a certain period and ask if they wish to disconnect.
Too much effort
I also believe that in some cases I may not have received a response because I asked a question that required the recipient of my message to take action, look for information or get in touch with a third person. And, that may simply be asking too much. People do not like to be asked to do additional work, over and above their normal duties, especially if they are (or think they are) really busy. This raises the question whether maintaining a LinkedIn profile should be seen as an activity that is part of the working day, or as an extra-curriculum activity that therefore requires extra time. It would be interesting to hear what HR Directors and CEOs have to say about this.
What is in it for me?
A final point is the fact that asking for favours and responding to requests is often a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” situation. When I represented a large organisation and therefore engaging with me could eventually be beneficial to the other party, I got quick responses. Now that I am effectively an independent advisor, I am not that useful any longer to some of my contacts, and I believe that this may be another reason why I may have had nil-on-request from some of them.
All of this makes me wonder if social networks are as effective as they are made out to be, and whether some of these issues will resolve itself over time. Or will the opposite happen, and people will become less and less responsive? In that case, LinkedIn and other such networks may be doomed.