Updated: June 13, 2016
In recent years, Linkedin has perceivably become a rather important part of the modern business world. People use this social network to search for jobs, advertise jobs, and get their own work-related resume out there into the spotlight. Which is why I always get a funny look when people ask me to add them on Linkedin, and I tell them, I don't have one.
The same why I told you why you should not be using Facebook back in 2010, and the arguments still hold valid, I would like to tell you why you might want to entertain the idea of not having a business profile on a social media site, and why this could actually be good for your career. To wit, let us philosophize.
None. Let's make it clear that I am not concocting a vendetta against the social network giants. I have nothing against Linkedin, and it's probably the least bad social network around. However, it's all about profit and gain, and if a technology or a service offers none in return, they do not help promote your cause, making them unnecessary, or even detrimental to your success. Still, you do deserve a bit of background context. BTW, this article has NOTHING to do with the newly announced Microsoft acquisition, either. Just lucky timing. Or just sheer prophetic brilliance on my end.
Much like Facebook, which I briefly used to find some long-lost friends in order to lose them again, I had a Linkedin account back in the day when it was a fledgling service and only mildly popular, roughly 2007 or so, about the same time I was testing the promised wonders and delights of Facebook. Within less than a year, I closed the account because I wasn't benefiting from what it was offering. Fast forward to 2016, I am writing this article to enlighten you about the ways of the world, and why your business career should not revolve around social media.
Do as others, be like others
Simply speaking, if you do like everyone else - you will be like everyone else. Some people derive great solace in the fact they are behaving just like millions of mindless borgs around them, and they are comforted in their misery by the common denomination of numbers, but the brutal fact is, you will NEVER be successful if you do like the vast majority of population.
If you deviate from the norm, you are facing two options - failure and success. In other words, your unorthodox approach could lend you in serious cacky, or it might elevate you to a higher level of power and approval. Now, you might think I'm talking nonsense. But the proof is quite simple. Just observe the rich and famous and successful around you. They all have extraordinary stories of risk, luck and madness.
And the reason for that is - people with ordinary stories are boring, they get forgotten, they get swallowed by the statistics of the world. The laws of physics apply to life just as equally as they apply to particles. Unless you invest energy into a system, it will remain in its steady state.
If you believe - oh, deluded you - you will be a millionaire by paying off mortgage and driving a middle-class car, you are in for a lifetime disappointment. And this extends to everything in life, including having your business profile displayed on Linkedin. Sure, you might score or a job or two here and there, but it will keep you nicely locked in the middle of the Gaussian distribution of boredom.
So, rule number one, if you want to have an extraordinary career - not having Linkedin is the first step. This means total obscurity or marvelous exposure by other means. Risky if you plan on having steady income perhaps and scraping through life with the bare minimum of effort, but utterly rewarding if you're not afraid to play the game.
Free versus useful
People will often say - nothing is free. And if you get a service for free, you ARE the product. In essence, this is true, and only becoming more prevalent with the vomit avalanche of social bullshit flooding the Internet. Everyone wants you to have a profile, to get pointless likes, and to share as much as you can about yourself so that all this vast information can be monetized. Fair game, and if you know and accept the rules, you might even enjoy the ride through Idiocracy.
That's not the point. Getting a free product is all nice and well, and having your data used to help someone else gain profit is also nice and well. A bargain of a sort. A trade. The only question is, regardless of the fact your information is helping marketing vampires squeeze money off morons, are you benefiting from it in any way?
In this case, is Linkedin - or any other social media - helping you as an individual? And that's a crucial point, and you might be missing it. Being a business - and having a social account - makes a LOT of sense. You use these wide reaching services for your own agenda. This may work well - or not, but it is a valid vector in the finance game.
Personally, after having tried most of the monetizing schemes out there, including advertisement services the likes Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other companies and social networks offer, I can honestly say that there's very little return on investment. It makes sense, because these companies could not be so profitable otherwise. It's a zero-sum game, so if someone wins, someone else loses. Nevertheless, professional business often make conscious decisions to invest money in marketing and advertisements to increase their exposure, hoping to recuperate the financial investment one day.
But you are not a professional business. You might be, in the best case, a professional individual.
You pay money, sell and bid for ad space, the usual stuff. Now, you might say, if you're not really making lots of money from these services, your product might be lousy, you're not focusing on SEO, your ads are not appealing enough, and so forth. Nope. There will always be a few extraordinary examples, which will infuse you with hope and greed, but that's the whole point. Overall, you won't be profitable using Internet to make money, no matter how good you are. This same rule applies to the stock market, restaurant business, anything and everything in life. Linkedin included. So we go back to our topic.
Does Linkedin help you make more money? Are you richer, better off, more influential, happier, more satisfied, more highly promoted because and through the use of Linkedin? You may say yes, just because you found a job using the portal, you're now earning 20% more, and the chance affirms your belief. But ask yourself this, if you had tried to get that new role using other means than Linkedin, could you have made more? This is a question that few if any people will ask themselves. It is also a reason why most people with mortgages think they're making money off the inflated prices of their property, ignoring the crucial question what they might have otherwise done with the cash they had given to their bank. But that's how the economy rolls. And the extraordinary people are having a blast.
Moreover, the more people are using a service, the thinner the margins. Ask any long-time Google Adsense user what their percentages were 10 years ago versus today. You can't have exponential growth. It is not sustainable. There's nothing personal to it. Just raw, brutal math. Which is why you have venture capitalists and tech pioneers, because they know all the money for grabs is only gonna be there in the beginning. Once the society gets a greedy sniff, it's over.
We go back to Linkedin. It might have been awesome early on - but now everyone is using, so the very incentive of being special, unique and noticeable is watered down. Statistically speaking, you are far more difficult to find on a network with a million users than one with just ten. Makes sense. Moreover, since the margins are getting thinner and thinner by the minute, the amount of effort and energy you need to invest is getting bigger. So you need to ask yourselves again, is it worth it?
People may say: it's free, and it's out there, so there's no harm. But that's the illusion of a free service. If you do have a social media account, you want to keep it up to date. What's worse than having a social media account is having a lousy social media account. Out of date, incomplete and whatnot. That sure won't help. So you spend time polishing, tweaking, fixing. Seemingly tiny, innocent bursts of effort. But again, what could you have done with that time had you invested your intellect and marketing skills elsewhere?
How not to be seen
Again, I will use my personal example. Linkedin, back in the day. Tried it, and it didn't make me a wizard with a bigass hat and a majestic cape. You might be astonished, but actually knowing people and talking to people, and having a physical human connection, i.e. real life, made far more difference than any amount of digital peddling and posturing. Repeatedly.
But then, a single point, or even a handful of measurement points, means nothing on the bigger scale of chaos. Which brings me back to our rule number one, and we're going to expand it into rule number two. You do not want to be like everyone else, we've established that. Or you might, but you're reading this article out of spite and getting quite annoyed. Fair enough. Anyhow, if you do want to capitalize on your rebellious streak and hopefully some talent that is not misplaced in time and space, then you need to figure out a way that will get you the necessary exposure plus the unique edge that everyone else lacks. So you do need to be visible.
How do you do that? Well, the Internet is your oyster. But eat it on your rules. Don't let social media dictate what you should do. If you think about it, Linkedin limits what and how you expose your information. Of course, it makes sense, because there are only so many ways you can capture text and store it in a database. But that is the optimal way to gather and expose information for Linkedin, as a company. It is NOT the optimal way for you.
Moreover, by doing it, you're automatically averaging yourself. You are doing like everyone else, setting yourself into familiar patterns, and only diluting your worth. Now, do not be deluded. Most people are average and will be average for the rest of their lives. It takes energy to change the state of the system. So you do need to make a conscious decision and work toward the new state you seek.
Having Linkedin CAN be useful, with a very low probability of success, especially if you're not willing to do anything that would upset your neighbors and the rest of the zombies, and you need that mass approval from everyone around you. But Linkedin will not be useful if you seek to change the odds in your favor. So what to do then?
Use the Internet
The Internet has no rules. Do not limit yourself by how Google, Facebook, Linkedin, or whoever seek to define it, because their definition is designed to help grow their business and their revenue, not to make you into a better, smarter, or richer person. If that happens, it's a happy coincidence, not a part of any business plan or org mission statement.
So you need to put yourself out there. Invest the energy you'd have put in Linkedin into making yourself a part of the Internet. That on its own will make you unique. Sure, billions of people have websites and whatnot, but few people actually maintain an active corner of the Web. Then, not everyone seeks the pleasure of CSS, not everyone is interested in hosting and associated headache, not everyone likes technology, and that's not where their core skills are.
But they do exist, and they need to be made visible. If you can make yourself an organic part of the Internet, you become the Internet, and you challenge the powers that be. In other words, if someone searches for your name online, they should be able to find you. Not the pictures of your cakes on Facebook, not your contrived Linkedin mugshot, not your angry post on a local neighborhood forum. They should be able to find your talent, being exercised in anger, and etched into the annals of the Web.
Again, this does not mean writing websites. But it does mean promoting what your job qualifications are in a measurable, noticeable way. If you're an accountant, make sure topics around accountancy mention you. If you're an artists, make sure galleries mention you. If you're a car mechanic, make sure your repairs are mentioned and praised everywhere. It means putting yourself out there in a wild, unique, unpredictable way that does not conform to the mediocrity principles of business social media.
Now, if you're opposed to this idea, then why are you using Linkedin in the first place? Because it's convenient? Then, why do you think your profile will ever be good or interesting enough? Just because you have 10 years of experience? There are a million others just like you, and they all can use Linkedin.
Rule 3: Maximize exposure
Searching for your own name is a first step. Making the search glamorous is the second. And once you embark on this path of self-optimization in the information space, you will quickly realize that your own habits and the ways you do your work are going to change, too. By the very fact you seek active, unique promotion of your skills and talents, you will hone and improve your skills and talents. It's a positive feedback loop.
If you want to be interviewed by media, have your work presented at an expo, sell your books in a store, get a cover by a leading publication, have your name praised by the local charity, and who knows what else, then you will fine-tune the way you do things, so they can be Internetized. That means promotion, marketing and acclaim all at once. And then you let the Internet work for you. Truly for free.
Think of any boring presentation you've done at work. But what if you had to present it at a conference, or send it for peer review to an international standards body or some such. Would you not change it? So why not change it in the first place? Boom. You start working and thinking Internetly, and you start making your uniqueness more and more visible. Does Linux Torvalds need a resume? No. Does Bill Gates need one? No. That's how you want to be perceived. Your name is your resume. Once you get there, you are the pimp, or pimpette.
Obviously, most people won't be that talented, famous, and/or lucky. But you can definitely make yourself into sort of a humble celebrity by letting the Internet do all the hard work of gossiping about you. And that will never happen if you confine yourself to a social media account.
So practically ...
I've written a lot, but you might be waiting for some blunt pointers. Well, whatever your profession is, as savvy with the Web as you are, but definitely enough to use Linkedin and read this article, think carefully what you want to do, and where you want to be. Then, remember there's only so much for grabs on social media, whereas the Internet is free and unrestricted. After that, start building up your Internet fame, directly or indirectly. Make sure that work translates into Web chatter about you. Perpetuate yourself into the annals of the net, make sure your name comes up in online searches.
Are you a fisherman? Write an article for a fishing magazine. You don't need to use Wordpress. Microsoft Word is fine. Are you a potter? Get your urns and dishes photographed and displayed online. Do not limit yourself to dry bullet points or one-liners resume-like. That's boring. That has no distinction, no passion. Do not be a zombie. Don't let the bullshit social media hype make you into one.
Don't talk about yourself. Let others do that for you. That will maximize your credibility. After all, we all know that resumes are embellished, full of empty statements and acronyms. So instead of you aggrandizing yourself, let the Internet be your Sherpa to Mount Success.
Last but not the least, Linkedin can be of use. You might want to utilize it to search for job positions, which can be okay. But then, if you know what you want to do and where you want to work, you can always apply directly. So this approach might be valuable for people early on in their career. Rarely after that, though. If you're any good, you will be doing yourself injustice by limiting yourself to what social media offers. Spread your wings. Don't search for jobs. Let jobs find you. That's the ideal state. Become wooed.
So yes, by all means, link it in as much as you want. Just be aware of the cost, the benefit and the charms of the alternative path. If you're running a business, be it a website, a book store, anything, then there is sense in having exposure through the social media channels, although your success will vary, and your margins will be brutally thin, because those are the rules of the game. Do not expect instant wins and morning glory the day after. It might happen, but only to a select few. Most people will invest, enjoy limited to moderate exposure, and very limited profit down the road. But this is the universal law of capitalism, and the digital world does not change that. It masks that behind HTML5, Web 2.0 bullshit, funky AJAX, Node.js, share buttons, likes, and similar crap. At the end of the day, having 554 likes on your Facebook page, 333 followers somewhere else, and whatnot, will have minimal impact on your business success. If you don't trust me, try it yourself. I want you to prove me wrong.
It is not about Linkedin. But Linkedin, being the business social media giant, is the de-facto tool that will so conveniently help you decide to compromise, average yourself, and not distinguish yourself in the vast sea of little piranhas. Because no one wants to work hard when they are promised easy wonders, and given the choice, most will go for a gilded cage rather than vast, empty, dangerous pastures.
On a personal level, forget all of the above. You want to be noticed, and that means doing something special that others aren't. That's the best way to monetize on your intellect, education, luck, skills, talents, experience, and greed. You are playing the Internet game, use the Internet. But use it in a way that profits YOU. Not someone else with a bunch of servers and a fancy Web frontend. And remember, if you're not in the middle, you're either at the bottom or the top. So if you have some talent and drive, and you're willing to risk it, you can make a nice, extraordinary story for yourself. Don't let the mediocrity set the rules. We're done.