In terms of variety alone, social media as it is probably already has all the places you might need. You’ve got Facebook and Twitter, maybe Google+, Myspace or Tumblr, which all offer something unique and personal for all of their users. Sure, Myspace has become a laughingstock among all of those other outlets, but it just might have greater name-brand recognition than LinkedIn. This is because LinkedIn is technically neither a social media platform nor the pinnacle of what social media could be.
When two people or more engage in a social environment, the implication is that they could be anywhere from work to lunch to gathering at a bar with friends. By definition, the social media umbrella encapsulates more than just your resume. But this is an entire company restricted to the very tiny market of sharing resumes in a social media setting isn’t just the beginning; it’s the reason LinkedIn stands alone.
Whereas Facebook and Twitter are the standards of social media, LinkedIn is the pizza: it’s got a thin layer of your life’s story, a few meaty bits strewn about and a thick layer of cheese on top of everything (wakka wakka). Yet LinkedIn is a full nine months older than the endlessly relevant Facebook, which is, in turn, older than Twitter. Indeed, the forerunner of needy invite reminders, groan-inducing network updates and the longstanding bane of your email inbox predates every other social media site you actually might enjoy using. Somewhere off in the background, you can probably hear Xzibit’s shaking his head and mumbling, “Yo dawg. I heard you like social media but they’re blocking all your favorite sites at work, so I put some business in your social media.”
Those sites where your friends share hilarious videos, awe-inspiring artwork and jaw-dropping news and then turn around and debate the validity, relevancy or neutrality are the primary destination because there’s a real conversation happening. You can also find conversations on LinkedIn, but it’s usually job opening discussions or inter-specialty debates (“If a woodchuck could chuck wood, would it first demand health, dental and a 401(k)?”), but those are just more of your favorite email fodder. It’s not a conversation destination because it is a business network. It can only ever augment your resume.
Surprisingly, even LinkedIn’s innovation methods plod on like your standard business as well. Maybe it was the pressure to innovate that came with going public back in May, but they just won’t stop mimicking their more mature sibling, Facebook. Their shares opened at $45, peaked at $122.70 and closed at $94.25. It’s quite a showing, but LNKD has never been higher than their peak on that first day. They went into a slow decline for a while, but regained some momentum and stock values in the 100s–until it was revealed they’d overvalued themselves and their stock plummeted to $75.47 on August 8th. They haven’t been above $88 per share since. They might show a slow increase over time, but it’s not going to be because they’re innovating.
Facebook’s new Smart Lists and Subscription capabilities reek of Google+ and Twitter, while LinkedIn recently finished chasing a rabbit hole they called social advertising that had already failed for Facebook. There’s this odd inter-connectivity among Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn where the last is the little kid following along trying to look as cool as his big brothers. Google+ seems to be generating far more interest and appears to have knocked most of social media on their ass. They call it the Facebook Killer or Google’s Incredible First Foray Into Social Media. The fact of the matter is no one had any idea what Wave was, what to do with Buzz or why they would want to use Orkut unless they were Brazilian. But Google took all of these mistakes, looked at the rest of the social media landscape and brought Circles and Hangouts to the table, which Facebook had no choice but to implement. If Google+ doesn’t last, it’s still forcing everyone else to head in its direction.
In some sense, Google+ figured out how to provide Facebook’s unrestricted sharing method with Twitter’s ability to share things only with friends. Not every at-reply on Twitter is visible to everyone’s feed. You have to be following both people in order to watch their conversation from the sidelines, but that and Twitter’s list system let Twitter nurture whole communities of friends—so long as their Twitter handles aren’t too big. And while all of these sites are breaking ground, expanding friendships and maintaining segments within those relationships, LinkedIn lies stagnant, ensuring you can only do the same thing they’ve always offered: refine your business associations, gain new professional contacts and request recommendations. There’s no mobility among your social groups (beyond the professional groups you can join) because it’s stridently business only. It’s a place where you can still network with your friends, but you can’t share things with them unless it’s strictly business.
Perhaps what makes this all so difficult is the concept of a public persona. It’s this new shiny bauble that no one quite seems to completely grasp yet—but everyone still seems to want one anyway. It’s another facet of Warhol’s idea that everyone will get their 15 minutes of fame, but in this version everyone wants that and the ability to vent about work on Twitter without being liable at work. And these are all really hard demands to come to terms with, particularly considering how the people who shocked the social media world with Circles will not let you be anyone but yourself—at risk of losing your entire profile.
On the grander scale of the internet, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all dinosaurs. Google + is just a couple months old. But matching your public persona to your online avatar doesn’t really go back more than 20 years. For example, ICQ came out in 1996 and AIM was out in 1997. AIM’s even shutting its doors now, but just about everyone using social media had a screenname that included things they loved but wasn’t their name—perhaps the origins of our online anonymity demands. There were personal conversations in anonymous chat rooms with anonymous people. The idea that you can be yourself and be safe is only a recent trend.
Which makes a whole lot of sense because the greatness of the Internet resides almost entirely in how egalitarian it is. When you’re acting abominably, you will most likely be treated as such in return. For example, it seems to hardly matter whether you’re posting as yourself or anonymously on Twitter—it just has to be good. The woman who tweeted the photo of Endeavor’s last launch from a plane window gained 1000 followers in a day. The guy who live-tweeted Osama Bin Laden’s assassination currently has just over 86,000 followers. These are just two examples of people who achieved something important and convinced the masses to continue listening to them. There are no restrictions on your personality on Twitter—and you even get rewarded for being yourself.
Someone I don’t even know once said it better than I have, and more succinctly:
Anytime I go on Linkedin, I always feel like I need something or am looking for something. Linkedin must be the supermarket of the internet.
It’s hilarious and deserves reward because she’s illustrated LinkedIn’s sole use as a utility on a site where you have the freedom to say whatever you want. Brevity is the essence of wit and if Twitter is doing anything, it’s encouraging wit while also increasing the speed at which users can get their news or communicate with each other. It’s all happening right now, whether you’re laughing or laughing at news—all of which seems far more productive than updating your resume again.
Everyone has been told to adapt their resume to every job they apply for, but this is the resume you change for no one. It’s always up and it’s always the same for everyone who sees it. Despite free website construction from a slew of blogging platforms paired with cheap hosting options or free document sharing from Google Docs, Scribd and more, LinkedIn still wants to host your resume. Why, in anyone’s job search, would they want to build yet another online resume when some companies even require resumes uploaded to and tweaked on their corporate site so every incoming application is standardized? LinkedIn, in cases like these, is the middleman that ends up sitting on the sidelines.
Supposedly, LinkedIn’s biggest supporters are HR representatives and job recruiters who love the standardization LinkedIn provides. And despite copying Facebook all the time, they do not seem to have the API for something like Facebook Connect, where your resume could automatically be uploaded to job postings that require you to assimilate your resume to their specifications. It’s not really saving time or adding convenience for either applicant or recruiter, but LinkedIn Connect could actually be helpful. And yet, if HR representatives are the ones who benefit from resumes personalized for them and their company, then why would they be fans of standardized resumes that stay up for every company?
Business, Not Pleasure
It sometimes even feels like LinkedIn is for people who don’t understand computers at all, or are only there because they have to be for a recent HR request. Some people get away with arguing that not knowing how to upload a photo of yourself makes you less employable, when the reality is that some people are hiding their face because they’re neither ugly nor incompetent; they’re just making an honest attempt to maintain their anonymity, trying to come to terms with that public persona they have to present because they’d like to stay employed. They’ve been holding out for a while, but they can’t prevent their business life from entering the online arena. But on LinkedIn, you have to be more than a resume. Your profile isn’t complete until your face is on it—and your actual face—or it’s not professional. It’s the only site where you do not have the freedom to guard some of your privacy while receiving reminders from both the site itself (“Your profile will forever be only 95% complete! Spend more time here and (almost) complete your profile!”) and community members that you’re not doing it right. It’s the essence of business: they tell you to join up, then wear you down until you assimilate.
The keys to getting the same rewarding feelings of camaraderie or collaboration that you can get on social media instead of a business media site is oddly centered around maintaining a business network to take advantage of. Which sort of makes sense, but when using it strictly for colleagues and acquaintances to grow your network, it seamlessly pairs itself with humans’ most selfish impulses and operating procedures. Indeed, they say the best networkers are the worst workers, and that could be because they’ve tapped into that very human desire for everything they don’t have and LinkedIn offers just that, but in the cheapest way possible. Unless you’re on LinkedIn to write a recommendation out of the blue—or, more likely, because someone asked for one—, there’s very little chance you’re growing your network for any reason but for your own advantage.
Most people in a position to offer advice have chosen to go with some variation of “Don’t be an idiot,” and LinkedIn seems to be the only place on the Internet actually forcing you not to. Which is great in terms of professionalism, but not in terms of the egalitarianism that the Internet is designed for. Everyone with a computer will continue to be told to go there by career counselors who will, for once, at least know a cool networking site the kids have never heard of. The counselors can keep thinking it’s social media or a social network if they like, but the kids know it’s just business and will spend no more than an hour on it every six months. Professionals young and old will keep signing up, but because they have to—not because they want to.
Chris Dignes will probably add you to his professional network just to get the stupid email out of his inbox.