On the ever-interesting LinkedIn Bloggers discussion list, Konstantin Guericke, VP of Marketing of LinkedIn, posted a fascinating response to a question posted by author Scott Allen about whether having your own blog is a better networking tool than the popular LinkedIn site.
Here’s what Konstantin said (published with permission, including some interesting hints of what’s coming next from LinkedIn too):
It’s really just a matter of definitions. When we initially said “networking tool” we meant what LinkedIn was designed to do — not replicate what was already working well on mailing lists, Web sites (now blogs), networking sites and in offline networking events.
We sometimes called this internally “fishbowl” networking: anybody can see anybody else, and you easily approach people directly or make yourself good-looking, so people will want to approach you. While not every approach was welcome, in general people opt into being on mailing lists, have a blog or attend offline networking events and so the “hit” rate in terms of getting into a dialogue are much better than when you walk down the street and try to engage a stranger.
Some of the networking sites had done OK, but none ever made it into a big business. Our estimate was that 5% of business people attend networking events or participate in online mailing lists/forums.
And the reason none of the networking sites ever became a $100 mil business (or even a $10 mil business) was precisely because they only appealed to people who enjoy networking, have the time to network and are good at it. This not only limited quantity, but also quality.
Many VC’s we knew quickly left sites like Ryze after being exposed in the fishbowl. The most ardent users were small business people — sometimes selling aromatherapy; other times selling outsourcing services. It was like eBay with all sellers and no buyers.
We focused LinkedIn on attracting the buyers, knowing that sellers would naturally follow the buyers. If you ever did a survey asking a random sample of business people if they would like to network online, I bet 95% would say “no.” However, if you asked the same population whether or not they thought relationships matter in business, I think 95% would say “yes.”
And most would be willing to admit that they haven’t done a great job about keeping in touch strengthening their relationships with former co-workers, classmates and business partners/clients. And virtually none had a way to efficiently tap into who their contacts know.
This is the gap in the market we set out to fill. So, when we called it “networking”, we meant the kind of networking that happens when two old colleagues have lunch and catch up, and maybe one of them later makes an introduction for the other. Not a “fishbowl,” but a very intimate/high-touch affair based on a lot of mutual trust and knowledge.
However, most people don’t call that networking, but think of networking as something where people walk around with name tags that say “hello, my name is . . .” So, we generally avoid “networking” to describe LinkedIn. However, The OpenLink Network and what happens within LinkedIn groups truly is networking in the “fishbowl” sense, and so that’s where we use that term. We estimate that of our 4.7 million members, 200,000 to 300,000 are networkers (I bet a good number of those are bloggers as well), and so we are investing more resources this year to better serve their needs.
In our next release we will provide users the option to make their LinkedIn profile public (summaries for Personal account holders, full profiles for Personal Plus account holders), which has been something asked for by bloggers and networkers alike. It also makes the LinkedIn email signatures much more user friendly.
We are also doing SEO for these profiles, so our hope is that our users’ LinkedIn profiles will show up pretty high in the search results of Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. when they are being searched for by name and thus people can leverage their LinkedIn profile to better control their identity on the Web.
Very interesting, as you can see. My take on the subject is that LinkedIn is very good for narrow, focused networking (as in “can I find a contact inside Sony Entertainment that I can email?”) while blogging is much better for broad visibility and bringing in prospects (as in “you’re blogging about our company, would you like to come in and meet the team?”). Together, they balance buyers and sellers, to use Konstantin’s evocative terminology.
What’s your opinion on this topic? What networking tools do you use?