LinkedIn dating

After receiving yet another LinkedIn contact request from a complete stranger (with the accompanying over-eager email from LinkedIn a few days later, saying “hey, this connection request is still waiting!!), I asked friends on Twitter:

Why do people ask to connect on LinkedIn when they don’t know you, and have never met you?

There was a variety of responses from people about their reaction to these requests, but the majority response was definitely one of annoyance. In the end, I came to the conclusion that interactions on LinkedIn are a lot like dating.

Now, having had my fair share of dates and dating-related interactions both online and in person, I thought I’d help out by giving a couple of etiquette tips for LinkedIn, and also for life generally (and dating).
  • If you want to get to know me, spend some time on it
So many times on LinkedIn, I get a generic “X wants to connect” request. No information about why they think they’d like to connect with me, and no clue about what it is that they think we should connect for. Now, on a dating site, that generic contact (in that case, usually a message that just says “hey”, “hi” or hello”) is a big red flag. It means you’ve looked at something superficial, and decided you want to have it. On dating sites, it’s only my photo you’ve looked at. On LinkedIn, it’s my job title. In either place, that type of no-content contact just gets immediately deleted rather than acted on, because you’ve given me no reason to pay you any more attention on first look at your request than you paid me when you looked at my profile…if you even went as far as looking at my full profile, rather than just the eye-catching bit of the photos/title. 
Moral: If you want to connect with me, tell me why.

  • Nobody wants to be part of a cult

One of the commonalities with these LinkedIn invites is that the person asking to connect with me usually seems to be just gathering numbers of connections in an attempt to look well-connected and important, often because they’re job hunting, or “seeking new opportunities”. The other people who like to gather lots of people to look important are…cult leaders. And I ain’t willing to go live in a bunker. Or connect with people who just want to gather a lot of meaningless connections in an attempt to look import. Those connections don’t actually translate into useful professional relationships, and are therefore pretty damn meaningless.

Moral: Develop some sort of relationship with your contacts, don’t just gather them as if they were possessions.

Tenuous dating analogies aside, there is a point to this post. Honest!. 
The point is that if you’re going to be using it, you really do need to be aware of what you’re doing on LinkedIn, and understand what you want to get from it. Do you want to develop a network of proper, meaningful professional connections who’re happy to be linked to you, or a sprawling and meaningless guddle of strangers and semi-strangers who won’t ever assist you because they don’t actually know you? LinkedIn itself says this about connection requests:
We strongly recommend that you only accept invitations to connect from people you know.
So by extension, if you shouldn’t accept invitations from people you don’t know, you shouldn’t be sending them to people you don’t know either!

In the Twitter discussions about our feelings about  LinkedIn requests received from complete strangers, one friend was an exception, and said that she was quite happy to be invited by random people to connect on LinkedIn. There’s a good reason for this though – this friend manages an events venue and professional society, so she’s happy to be able to expand her pool of contacts in this way, as each new contact could be for the potential benefit of her employer. However, myself and another librarian find these contacts from totally unknown people to be intrusive and timewasting – we have to spend time to try and figure out if we know the requester in real life, on social media (perhaps under a different name/username), or through other personal or professional contacts (both in real life, and checking by looking at the LinkedIn 1st and 2nd level connections visualisations), in order to make a decision on whether this is someone we’re happy to connect with. As we work for a public sector body and a private commercial law firm, connecting with complete strangers is of no real benefit to us or our employer, and doing this checking just wastes our time. And timewasting means we get annoyed, refuse the request, and remember that the person asking to connect had been acting inappropriately. Making people annoyed with you, and remembering your name as someone who acts inappropriately online is not really a good thing!

Part of the problem here is the design of LinkedIn itself, which despite saying you should only connect with people if you know them, makes sure you can ask to connect with people that you don’t know. It’s unfortunately set up to make requesting connections with people to quick, easy and impersonal from certain parts of the site, e.g. at the point when you’ve just accepted a connection request, it loads a page that only requires you to click on a person’s image when they’re displayed as part of a “you might want to connect with these people” option in order to ask to connect with them. This means those people get a non-personalised, random email saying you want to connect. The only situation where it’s ok to do this is when you do actually have some sort of connection to those people, at a level where they won’t need you to explain who you are, and why you want to connect with them. You could justifiably use this option when connecting with a past or current work colleague, or other people you may know, if you already have some sort of contact or relationship with them.

Otherwise, if you want to use LinkedIn in an real, professional manner to develop your professional network, I’d suggest you avoid using that quick-and-easy-and-annoying connection request option to mass spam strangers, and restrict your connection requests to people you’ve already met in some form, whether in person or online. If nothing else, by doing that you’ll at least avoid aggravating a lot of people you don’t even know!

The perils of allowing apps unchecked access to your information

Late last month, I got a bit of an unpleasant surprise when I came home to find the front of my house covered in scaffolding. My first thought was that was that something was seriously and suddenly structurally wrong with my house, and the council had put it up as an emergency measure. Having checked the frontage, it was clear there were no big chunks falling off, so it wasn’t the council. Maybe it was my neighbours – we’d agreed a few months before to have some work done on our adjoining building fronts, so perhaps it was them, and they’d either forgotten to mention it to me, or they had had a unexpected chance to get scaffolding and do the work at short notice (they run a construction company). But I checked…it wasn’t them. Which left the option of the scaffolders being idiots, and confusing my house (on X Road) with the same house (on X Loan), or….someone putting scaffold on for an unknown reason! Luckily, after I went round to see the owners of the house on X Loan, it turned out that it was indeed their house which should have been scaffolded. They got in touch with the scaffolders, and got the scaffold removed to their house…but not until it’d been up on my house for 3 days.

Then, once the scaffold came off, I realised that the corner of one of the original coloured concrete tiles fronting my house had been broken. It’s cosmetic damage, but my neighbour had recently had her house valued, and similar damage to one of her tiles had been highlighted as a top issue, because it makes it look like the house isn’t properly maintained and hints that there could be other issues with the fabric of the house. So – I wanted this fixed.

I emailed the scaffolding company and I informed them about how upsetting and stressful it had been to not only have someone trespass on my property, block my car in, and worry me about the safety of my home, but I also now had damage to the building that would affect the value of the house. I asked them to put right the damage they had done. Days went by with no response, then finally they emailed me back and asked me to give them a time and date that was suitable for me to meet and let them assess the damage. However, when I went home at the end of that day (not having been able to reply as I had been in a training course all day), they had been to my house and completely replaced the tile…without my permission. I actually had the broken piece of the original tile which should have been fixed back on rather than a new one being put on, and the new tile is thinner, smaller and a different shade, but never mind, it’s done now, and out of my hands.

At no point did they properly apologise for the stress and upset, the tone of the email wasn’t particularly professional (they wanted to arrange to come and “inspect the claimed damage”, which implied they didn’t believe me), and they went ahead and did a repair on my property without my agreement or permission beforehand. Awful customer service, an epically annoying and frustrating issue for me to have to deal with when it was nothing to do with me, but for me, the issue was done and dusted.

So, this week, I was surprised, to say the least, when I got a connection invite for LinkedIn…from the office manager of the scaffolding company! I couldn’t believe that a representative from a company that I regarded as entirely unprofessional (they can’t even get an address right, and they damage property they don’t even have a right to be on, and walk away from it) would actually want to connect with me on a professional network! I burst out laughing at the cheek of it…then I tried to figure out why on earth this had happened – I couldn’t imagine they wanted anything more to do with me, just as I wanted nothing more to do with them!

They’d asked to connect with me via my personal email, which I had used to contact them about the scaffolding issues. I use a different, professional email address for LinkedIn, so what this email invite was actually offering was to let me, via my personal email, connect with this person by joining LinkedIn. The person at the scaffolding company hadn’t actually gone onto LinkedIn, looked around, found my profile, and decided to ask to connect with me.

What must have happened is that they’d allowed LinkedIn to do its “oh, let us import your email contacts and you can connect to loads more people” thing, and LinkedIn had then duly pulled in all their contacts, and sent out connection invites to any email addresses which didn’t already exist in their databases as registered with LinkedIn.This included my personal email, which was in their contacts because I’d complained, not because I was a customer, or a professional connection. I can’t imagine that the scaffolding company person would actually have actively decided to ask someone that had been on the receiving end of bad service from them, to become a professional contact on LinkedIn. Some people suggested I could give them a bad recommendation, or endorse them for bad skills, but that’s not what LinkedIn is set up for, and not something I’d be happy to do. The easiest option was to delete the connection request, and tell LinkedIn that I didn’t want any further contact via that email account.

So that was my LinkedIn entertainment! However, this prompt to look at the workings of LinkedIn does show why it’s important to understand what certain apps like LinkedIn are going to do with your email contacts, when they offer to make your life easier by importing them for you. You do have to be totally confident that those contacts are all contacts for GOOD reasons, rather than being in there because they’re because they’re unhappy with you, as that could lead to even further damage to your professional reputation! As for me, I always play it safe and assume that if people want to be on a network, they will be, and try to never let apps access my address book.

Taking the fun out of LinkedIn

I think it’s almost standard now that most types of professionals these days have a LinkedIn profile. It effectively works as an online CV, allowing contacts to easily review your skills and experience, and lets you gather many disparate facts about you into one place, such as your non-work skills and experience.

One element of the LinkedIn offering is that colleagues and contacts can “endorse” your skills, allowing you to build up a list of your abilities that have been verified by others. On the face of it, this is a handy option – people who know you and your skills are able to vouch for you, and allow others to get an unbiased view of what you can actually do. Skills would be selected from a pre-approved range of options. It all sounds sensible, and useful.

However, the reality was a little different in practice. It turned out, those pre-defined options were actually quite wide ranging. And in some cases, somewhat odd. I’ve attached a screenshot of the current endorsements I have, that are waiting for me to approve them before they go on my profile (endorsements for a skill you’ve not been endorsed for previously seem to have to be approved by you before they’ll show on your profile…thankfully). As you can see, there are some very strange skills you can be endorsed for, albeit they’re relevant in their sector. And there are some very strange skills, full stop.

Personally, I’m proudest of my “Murder” endorsement. I could tell you how I got it….but then I’d have to kill you….although “Breathing” is a close second favourite.
The endorsements above are the result of an endorsement war that myself and a few friends launched when we realised that there were such odd options available. We went all out to find silly skills, and endorse each other for them, and laughed ourselves silly when we found a new, obscure skill for each other.

So, in the end, the Skills section of LinkedIn became so easy to mess with that those endorsements were irrelevant. And it appears that at some point recently, LinkedIn realised that. This week, I went to endorse a new contact for “Library”. This is my favourite pointless endorsement, as it’s a skill that looks like it’s real, but in reality it’s utter nonsense. Imagine the conversation:

“What are you good at, I was going to endorse you for your skills on LinkedIn, but I wanted to be sure they were ones you agreed you had a strength in. It suggests I endorse you for Library. Are you good at Library?”
“Oh yes, I Library really good. Of all the people who can Library, I am the best at Library, I can assure you. When my peers think of others in the profession who can Library, their thoughts immediately turn to me as an outstanding Library-er.”

So, needless to say, I wanted others to know that she was good at Library. But…it’s GONE! As are the other fun endorsements. No more Murder. No more Cucumber. No more Breathing.

Dagnammit, LinkedIn went and took the only fun bit out of having an online CV!

Meeting, Tweeting and Fb’ing – An SLA Europe event

On the 24th of April, I went along to the National Library of Scotland to attend the SLA Europe event “Meeting, Tweeting and Fb’ing”, which promised to cover topics such as “how useful is social media for libraries? Can Facebook really help me to promote what I do? What benefits can using LinkedIn bring me as an information professional? “
We began with Bryan Christie of the National Library of Scotland (NLS) giving us an overview of the aims and activities of the NLS on social media. The purpose of this approach is to increase the NLS’ digital presence, and raise awareness of the interesting, non-digital materials within its collections, especially to a younger audience. Bryan views a relevant social media presence as being like journalism – you have to find the interesting information. He’s found that posts on Twitter publicising material from the NLS collections is driving traffic to the NLS website, for more information on these materials. Examples of traffic-creating posts on Twitter included an online discussion of the new, e-legal deposit responsibility of the NLS, with the accompanying hashtag of #digitaluniverse allowing easy collation of the discussion. The NLS’ Facebook presence is also focused on promoting the collections through highlighting interesting holdings – a post showcasing Mary Queen of Scots last letter was particularly popular. By analysing the statistics on, it can be seen that the followers of the NLS Twitter account have trebled in the last 18 months, and comparing the NLS Twitter account to that of the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Ireland, all libraries are experiencing an increase in followers. Bryan did say that at this point, it’s hard to know whether this growth is due to the NLS being an active tweeter, or due to the general integration and uptake of Twitter in the general population. Using Twittercounter, it was also possible to pick out some of the basics of the Twitter approach of the other National Libraries, including whether they had a set target amount of tweets per day to create. Another example given of a successful NLS social media campaign was the “Scotland At The Movies” Facebook competition, which attracted around 1800 entries over the three month period of the event, hugely increased referrals from Facebook page to the website, and reached a younger demographic  (a majority of 18-34 year olds)than other methods of attracting interaction. There was also an effort made to monitor the entries for inappropriate language, as the competition was open to all, and therefore potentially able to be abused.  In general, Bryan said that the best way to build a social media presence is to be active, be interesting, be funny,  monitor,  listen and respond.
Nick Goldstein, Senior Account Executive was there as a representative of LinkedIn, which currently has a membership of between 80-90% of UK professionals. Nick began by describing one of the benefits of social networks – they allow tracking of the dissemination of information within them. They also allow power to be in the hands of the people producing the material hosted on them, and people are producing material at an astonishing rate – the activity statistics of users of social media are mindboggling, and the number of users continues to rise. The major players in social media are sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, with the different sites fulfilling different purposes for users, whether it be for personal or professional use. Personal use of social media is centred on activities that link to the desire to have fun, keep in touch, and the enjoyment of nostalgia, while business use mainly relates to learning, developing, and finding information. LinkedIn itself is a massive company, with 11 million members (if not 12 million by the time of writing of this article) in the UK, and over 200 million worldwide, as at December 2012. Its growth has been purely viral, as it doesn’t advertise, and it’s now so massive that it’s the only real professional platform, internationally, and is the 21st most visited site on the internet. Although it is already a massive network, it aims eventually to have all of the world’s estimated 640 million professionals as members. It makes acquisitions of key business that it thinks will enhance its offering, such as their purchase of Slideshare in 2012, designed to allow better representation of members work. LinkedIn also uses member activity to tailor their homepage to what it believes to be their interests, basing the news it presents to them in their LinkedIn Today section on each individual users previous activity history. This ability to see what individual users are doing also allows them to see how the way LinkedIn is being used changes throughout the day – in the morning, it’s mainly accessed via mobile devices, as members travel to work, in the daytime, it’s mainly desktop based access while users are in offices, and in the evening, access is mainly through tablet devices.  It also has an open API (Application Programming Interface), which makes the development of new elements to the site, and its integration into organisations far easier.
After each speaker had given their presentation, there was an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. The first question related to using Twitter in business, and how to improve your reach. The response boiled down to:
Have guidelines in place for appropriate account use/content (with the example used of the April Fools Top Gear joke tweet issued by the Danish police, as a time when more care should have been taken)
Be interesting
Be active
The next question was how best to use LinkedIn for career opportunities. This led to a long list of tips to enhance your account:
Get an 100% completeness score – adding a photo is a large part of this.
Get recommendations, by giving recommendations – 3 recommendations are required for a full profile.
Use the headline area – describe what you do and who you are. It’s better than the job description area.
Flesh out and give detail to your previous job information.
Join groups – you can be a member of up to 50.
If you make sure your profile is as complete as possible, it allows their algorithms a better chance to match members and their skills to opportunities. 
The issue of false staff having claimed on their profiles to have worked at organisations that they didn’t actually work at was raised next. It was explained that as LinkedIn is an open platform, sometimes things do get abused, but checking algorithms are running, and human moderators are also performing checks, so there’s a constant mixture of human and machine monitoring. Also, individuals can alert LinkedIn to any false users or claims.
Then… it was onwards, to the networking!
I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by the amount of user activity tracking that’s going on behind the scenes with LinkedIn. I don’t ever actually look at the LinkedInToday section, as it’s not a site I go to for news, nor are the suggestions every particularly relevant to me. I don’t know what they base their news suggestions on – perhaps it’s related to whose profile I clicked on? But I’m pretty sure I’m not deeply interested in learning about management from bees or golfers, which is today’s main story! Personally, I think I may be the wrong market for any site that wishes to tailor its content to my viewing preferences by using data on my browsing history: I have PrivacyFix installed on my browser, and try to minimise any information I give to sites that I know are using me as the product, like Facebook.  If I *want* a tailored service, I’ll give the information requested, I actually find the thought that this is being done in the background, based on how I use a site, kind of uncomfortable. But I think I must be in a minority – personalisation seems to be the way forward….