As a meed-jah type, our columnist Olly Mann is no stranger to social media. Nonetheless he has managed to avoided LinkedIn like the plague. Until now…
I'm on Facebook. Almost certainly, you and I have this in common. Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t yet achieved his stated ambition of connecting the world—but with 1.7 billion monthly users, his company is well on the road to it. So, like me, you probably feel obliged to be included; to feel part of the conversations between your nearest and dearest, despite any doubts you have about the data you’re permitting a corporation to commercialise.
As a meed-jaa freelancer, I’m also on Twitter. I’m nostalgic for the days when I could merely witness live events without a nagging sensation that my opinion need be instantaneously validated by the masses, but, broadly speaking, I enjoy it. It’s fun to engage in lively water cooler chat with like-minded folks worldwide, while actually sitting alone, sipping on a caramel macchiato and tapping away on my laptop.
Left to my own devices, that’s probably all the “sharing” I’d do: Facebook for friends and family, and Twitter for those who follow my “work” as a minor public figure. As a tech journalist, however, I’m not left to my own devices—indeed, I’m loaned dozens of devices throughout the year, and I’m expected to have sampled social networks on them. The first one I joined, a decade ago, was LiveJournal (it’s big in Russia, apparently), for an appearance on daytime TV in which I attempted to explain to Fern Britton what blogging was (“It’s a type of website, and it’s a log!” I advised her, ambiguously).
"I imagined LinkedIn to be the online equivalent of a networking lunch, where wannabes shower you with cards"
Since then, I’ve reluctantly joined almost every social network that’s been and gone—the music-focused MySpace; the tweenage wonderland Bebo; the mumsy scrapbooks of Pinterest. I’ve Instagrammed and I’ve Pinged, and I’ve even briefly Google Plussed, which felt slightly less pointless than its predecessor, Google Buzz, and a considerable improvement on the search giant’s first attempt at social media, Google Wave (which I still couldn’t explain if you put a gun to my head).
Yet there was one major omission from my social-networking repertoire. I had, quite deliberately, avoided LinkedIn. Considering it’s the world’s fourth-largest social network, and therefore regularly making headlines, this was a risky decision on my part: I’ve found myself discussing it on the TV many times, while never having actually used it.
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I just couldn’t bring myself to. Partly because it’s so ruthlessly targeted at big-mouthed business people, I imagined it to be the online equivalent of being at an endless networking lunch, where wannabes shower you with business cards. And then there were the pestering emails. You know the ones: “BALD MAN YOU ONCE MET AT A PARTY HAS SENT YOU AN INVITATION TO JOIN LINKEDIN!” Over the years, I’ve deleted thousands of these. “HE IS AWAITING YOUR RESPONSE!” Well, forgive me, Bald Man, but I’ll make you wait a little longer. There’s nothing more unattractive than neediness.
I was being petty: deep down, I realised such persistence was an automated process. But I was resolute: I wouldn’t join LinkedIn. If the membership consisted of people who’d responded positively to that kind of hectoring, I wouldn’t “connect” with them anyway. Humph!
Then, last week, I needed to get in touch with the marketing director of a beer company. I wanted to offer him a sponsorship slot on my podcast, but he had no phone number listed on his website, and he wasn’t on Twitter. My heart sank: the only way to contact him directly was via LinkedIn. So I swallowed my pride.
"It’s fun to engage in lively watercooler chat while actually sitting alone, sipping on a caramel macchiato"
Initially, my fears seemed justified. The first thing the site asked me to input was my “Professional Headline”—a summary of my job—and the example it provided was “Visionary Entrepreneur and Investor”. Ugh! Who would introduce themselves like that? I bet even Richard Branson would leave out the “Visionary”, and he’s designing spaceships!
Then, within minutes of enrolling, people I worked with 15 years ago were emailing me, thanking me for “connecting” with them. Ugh! I did no such thing! I too had become one of the spammers! My self-hatred ran amok.
But, as the days rolled by, I found myself logging in quite regularly. It’s oddly compelling to discover what my ex-colleagues are up to, and rather refreshing to be in an online environment that’s so clearly about professional life.
It’s also fun to see which jobs the algorithm is suggesting I should apply for, even though I never actually ticked the box to say I was looking for work. (Press Officer at Renault, here I come.) I was also touched when LinkedIn suggested adding “Social Media” as a “Skill” to my online CV. Who knows, perhaps this last decade of social networking wasn’t entirely pointless, and I’ve learned a marketable skill. LIKE!
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