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November 27, 2007 / Toby Dayton

A Conversation With Nick Corcodilos (aka Ask The Headhunter) About LinkedIn

This morning, I received an email from LinkedIn notifying me that Nick Corcodilos had accepted my connection on that social networking site. Nick has a terrific site with a diverse range of excellent content. He also writes the always informative and insightful, syndicated column ‘Ask The Headhunter.’ To anyone working in the recruiting field, I would highly recommend subscribing to Nick’s weekly newsletter. In any event, Nick left a comment for me on LinkedIn about LinkedIn, which started a small back-and-forth conversation which I thought would be worth reprinting here.

Hi Toby,

LinkedIn fascinates me, more for what people expect out of it than for what it actually does. All those nodes! But the system does little about the quality of the connections. Let me give you an example from real life. I know a guy named Jon — a pretty good friend of mine. He’s former pres of a major college, a medical doctor, venture capitalist. He and his wife regularly have dinner with Pres Bush and his wife. The families are old friends. So, yours truly is just one link away from the President. So I ask Jon to get me a meeting with Pres Bush. One link away! What’s the likelihood I’ll get that meeting? About zilch. And that’s the problem with LinkedIn. People expect value from the connections, when the database does not capture it or create it. Some of us recognize the same thing you do — LinkedIn can be a nice way to explore these nodes, find people we’ve forgotten about. But it’s no more useful than a resume. The successful “hunter” is still the one who knows how to create a relationship.

Best to you for the holidays,

Nick Corcodilos

I replied:

Thanks for the note and the connection. I agree with you entirely, by the way. I expect very little from LinkedIn (or Facebook or any other social networking site), but I am fascinated by the evolving technology and infiltration into daily routines. I use LinkedIn primarily to keep track of where people are, the new jobs they’ve taken, and old connections, friends, people that I know only through friends, etc. It’s interesting to explore, watch networks grow, see where connections are made, who uses it, etc. Anything derived beyond that simple pleasure is a bonus.

I do think, too, that the technology will continue to evolve and improve, reflecting more so than today the subtle nuances of real relationships, the hierarchy that people apply to their networks, the personalization, the value they deliver into and derive from them, etc. It’s got a long way to go, but the process will be interesting to watch and participating in it (through use) is a more engaging way to watch than reading about it when it happens.

I have gotten some small benefits from it, too, beyond the normal staying in touch with somewhat distant connections. In the first month of using it, I received an introduction to an investment banker on the East Coast that specializes in the media, advertising, and talent management spaces, among others. Not a huge deal, and maybe we would have discovered one another at some point anyway, but it’s a nice contact to have made and perhaps one day something might come of it. I didn’t expect it, but the network facilitated the connection and that’s what I like about LinkedIn.

I then added to the comment…

I was thinking about your story a bit more as well, as I’m not sure your example is a completely fair one to critique LinkedIn. Your contact Jon would most likely not get you a meeting at the White House no matter how close the connection, with or without LinkedIn. If you meet someone at a dinner party, and maybe even have a great connection, you are not automatically friends with their entire network and in possession of all the benefits associated with their network. The laws of transitivity in a real, live social network pretty much mirror the laws of transitivity in an online social network. A direct, close connection is the strongest, a direct, not-so-close connection is a little weaker, a new relationship that you form with someone that shares a mutual connection is interesting, and a friend of a friend without having met becomes somewhat tenuous. Beyond that, it’s virtually hopeless. It’s certainly true on LinkedIn, but it’s also true in real social networks.

I will grant you that the propensity people have to become online ‘friends’ with anyone who asks does diminish the value of people’s networks to a large extent. Your example serves as an entirely legitimate example that characterizes the misguided expectations people have about social networking sites. But again, the trade-off is that by publishing the nodes, I am potentially able to make connections that might not otherwise be there or to strengthen, if only slightly, connections that are already there. As you say, it all comes down to people’s expectations, their social awareness, and how realistic they are about what an online ‘friend’ or a ‘friend of a friend’ means.

And finally again from Nick:

I agree with your points. But the reality is that LinkedIn is marketed and generally interpreted as a free-for-all. No matter what common sense dictates. It’s why I get requests to link from people I’ve never heard of and who do not justify their requests. What’s really perplexing: they don’t even refer to a mutual contact. Consider all the people who accept such requests, all in the interest of “building their networks.” What does that do to The Network?

I like your explanation of the first three nodes…strongest, interesting, and virtually hopeless. But I think many of the first nodes are virtually hopeless. I wonder how much of the attraction behind LinkedIn lies in being able to show people how many links we have!

I don’t worry about any of this, because I think once we get past the first node, there is very little overlap between one’s LinkedIn network, and one’s circle of friends. As you imply, it’s still all about reaching out and building relationships.

You’ve given me an idea for my own blog. See? This linking pays off…

Best,

Nick

It’s an interesting discussion in light of the proliferation of social networks, especially in the context of the value those sites add to a job search. Just like a real, live network, the value one derives from an online social networking site depends on how one uses it, how one identifies and treats their ‘friends,’ and the amount of energy and value one injects into their network. And of course, this entire thread could be discredited by the fact that it is taking place between two people older than 30 who could be accused of having absolutely no clue about how people younger than 25 regard, utilize, and leverage social networks. Such is life.

[tags]Social Networking Sites, LinkedIn, Facebook, Social Networks, Using Social Networks To Find A Job, Using LinkedIn To Find A Job, Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials, Baby Boomers, Nick Corcodilos, Ask The Headhunter, The White House, Get Me a Meeting With The President[/tags]