LinkedIn: Learning Through Progressive Failure
It wasn’t all that long ago that friends of mine were being banned from LinkedIn for promiscuous linking. In those days (four or five years ago) maxing out the 2,500 connection limit was a badge of honor in some schools. The LinkedIn posse hated it and built policies and procedures that punished people for developing large networks of distant connections.
That’s because LinkedIn’s model of itself is the group that founded the thing. That group (sometimes known as the PayPal mafia) is a tightly connected fraternity of allies who have long histories with each other. Their core model of a good network was a tight group who could vouch for each other.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. More importantly, LinkedIn can’t make money that way.
I was surprised to see that the new ceiling is at least 30,000 connections. Glen Cathey, who has one of the earliest incarnations of the new LinkedIn profile brags about the size of his massive network. It wasn’t that long ago that LinkedIn was wrecking careers by suspending the accounts of people who dared to exceed the 2,500 connection limit.
(While that’s how they operate over at LinkedIn HQ, that’s the subject of a separate piece on why LinkedIn can’t build an ecosystem)
So, what’s changed?
It turns out that the people you know and love can’t really help you with your career. If you’re laid off, they’re laid off. If your job sucks, theirs does too. Your up close and personal network is riding the exact same economic wave as you are. The lot of you might help each other stay afloat but that ‘s about it.
It turns out, like the early promiscuous recruiters knew, that the power of your network comes from the people you only barely know. Because their distance from you can be geographical and professional, they are plugged into other views and ecosystems. Opportunity does not spread evenly across the economy. Rather, it gathers in clumps. If you’re clump isn’t getting the opportunity flow, you need to be able to reach out to people you don’t know very well.
You close and personals can continue to vouch for you but they are subject to the standard disclaimer. Of course you can get recommendations from your friends. So what.
This is the strength of the new LinkedIn endorsement system. One’s reputation spreads much further than the old group of college chums. In this day and age, what matters is who knows you. Endorsements provide a validation spot for people who are not close in but understand your reputation and value none the less.
(Stop by my profile and endorse me for something)
LinkedIn is reshaping itself in a pivot that isn’t required by stock market performance. Instead, this is the move of a mature operation that is ready to jettison ideas that don’t work. As a user, the challenge is to figure out which version of the LinkedIn rhetoric you’re plugged into. While they’re really good at pivoting, they are less good at keeping their users up to date on the current thinking about what works.
John Sumser is a principal analyst for HRExaminer, an independent analyst firm covering HR Technology and the intersection of people, tech, and work. John’s mix of experience over the course of his career gives him a broad and unique perspective on the industry. Like anyone trying to process a lot of information, he is two or three steps ahead in some areas and still learning about others. Sumser’s work includes deep research into the nooks and crannies of HR Technology to identify and explain rapidly evolving trends. Built on a foundation of engineering, design, and philosophy, John’s seeks to understand and advise clients on where their technology works best, for whom, and in what context. Each year, John examines the insides of hundreds of companies, their products, and ecosystems. He delivers vendor analysis by building the framework from which to deliver the critique. He is constantly connecting and making visible the front end of change. He can help you see the path of evolution and the risks on the journey. The HRExaminer is Sumser’s vehicle for understanding and explaining the inner workings of the industry. With three weekly podcasts, and written commentary, he covers emerging ideas, the state of the industry, and the executives who operate it.