By Sree Sreenivasan
DNAinfo Contributing Editor
In the social-media workshops I teach across the country, there’s a moment when I ask the audience, "How many of you are on LinkedIn?" Unless it's a workshop filled with high-school or undergrad students, at least 75 percent of the hands go up. I then ask, "How many of you know what you are doing on LinkedIn?" Almost all the hands drop, amid a burst of laughter.
LinkedIn is the social-networking site that everyone is on, but more of us could use help in using it in smarter ways. This has been the situation since I first wrote about LinkedIn in two columns starting November 2005 (Social Networking for Journalists) and (LinkedIn, Anyone?). Back then, I called it "a site that is used in business contexts rather than 'I want to meet new people' contexts."
This excerpt shows you how early that was in the evolution of social networking:
I used to rely exclusively on e-mail to make these connections, but for more than a year now, I have been depending on a free social networking Web site called LinkedIn.com. Social networking sites, such as a MySpace, Friendster, etc., have a less-than-stellar reputation these days, so describing LinkedIn as "MySpace for professionals" does not make it sound appealing — but that description is appropriate (I thought of calling it “MySpace for adults,” but that makes it sound like something else altogether). Social networking does have its uses and I think LinkedIn is the most useful of the lot when it comes to making professional connections.
Fast forward six years and LinkedIn has just crossed 100 million users and is about to IPO (some experts have predicted a $10 billion valuation). You can read a letter that co-founder Reid Hoffman sent to members last month (among other things I learned was that even though I signed up in the early days, I was member #57,609. You can calculate your member number, too).
Here six new-to-me things about LinkedIn that you ought to know:
1. 'LINKEDIN TODAY' IS A NEW PAGE YOU SHOULD VISIT EVERY DAY: LinkedIn.com/today, a new mashup of LinkedIn and Twitter, is one of the most useful ways to start your mornings. It displays, in an easy-to-read, easy-to-share and easy-to-save manner, the most shared items among your LinkedIn contacts. It’s also broken up by industries you are interested in, which makes it even more useful professionally.
2. THE NEW RESUME BUILDER IS VERY USEFUL: One of my favorite new parts of LinkedIn is the Resume Builder at resume.linkedinlabs.com. It takes your LinkedIn profile and creates an instant, customizable resume that you can save as a PDF or share on the web with privacy settings. There are several templates to choose from, including "classic," "business," "law" and more. Here’s my new resume, (which I haven’t done any editing or customization on yet); you can compare it to my LinkedIn profile at LinkedIn.com/in/sreenivasan. (A tip about the profile URL that I learned from LinkedIn’s Krista Canfield, who teaches journalists on using the service better: try to customize it with your full name, not just your last name — since that’s how LinkedIn’s search engine work. I need to fix mine).
3. LINKEDIN LABS HAS COOL FEATURES: LinkedIn’s experimental Labs page at LinkedInLabs.com, which hosts the Resume Builder, is filled with new things you’ll want to check out. Among them: InMaps at inmaps.linkedin.com, which makes visualizations of your network (see my wife’s above); Swarm at swarm.linkedinlabs.com, which shows you the most searched companies; Year In Review at yir.linkedinlabs.com, which shows you who among your connections changed jobs in a year; in 2009, 607 people in my network changed jobs; in 2010, 922 people did; so far 267 have done so in 2011).
4. YOU SHOULD BE FOLLOWING COMPANIES: Most of the time, we think of connecting with people when we think of LinkedIn, but we should also be thinking of connecting with companies. If there is a company you are interested in (because you work there or would like to work there or you work with its competitor), you can now follow it on LinkedIn, keeping track of employees and much more. For example, here’s DNAinfo’s company page — you can read info about the company, along with a list of folks you know (or folks you know who know) who work there. There’s also a section where you can find "insightful statistics" about a company’s employees (see the link on the right rail of the page), which works really well for big companies, such as Google or The New York Times. Here’s a detailed explanation from the LinkedIn blog. A word of caution: If you start following a company, it will send out an update on your network, so my suggestion will be to follow, say, 3-5 companies at the same time, so your connections aren’t clued in to why you are following a particular company.
5. CHECK OUT THE NEW SKILLS SECTION: A new part of LinkedIn is the Skills section at linkedin.com/skills. You can use it to learn what skills are growing and shrinking these days among LinkedIn users. For example, here are Skills pages for college teaching, budget oversight and social media, three skills I’ve added to the new skills section of my profile. They are, respectively, down 3 percent; down 4 percent and up 50 percent among the skills that LinkedIn users have chosen to add to their profiles (it's still very early days yet).
6. OTHERS, BIG AND SMALL, ARE GUNNING FOR LINKEDIN: Several companies are getting into the professional networking space and gunning for LinkedIn. Facebook’s recent revamp, with its forced highlighting of your job and where you live is part of it’s effort to become more professional (even if Facebook denies it). Smaller players are involved, too. For instance, there’s BranchOut, which "brings career networking to Facebook," and InTheDoor, which offers "job search for the Facebook generation." At this moment, I believe that no matter how much traction these others get, LinkedIn will stay safely ahead for several years.
What did I miss? Post your comments below using your Facebook account or on Twitter @sree.
Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.