Monday, July 25, 2005

Fishing with a net, works (AKA my new favorite use of LinkedIn)

[Hey you guys at LinkedIn, Visible Path, et al. If you haven't thought of the following idea already, please send royalty checks to Thanks! -Ed.]

Though I am on record as a social software skeptic, I am also both (1) a fan of SNA, and (2) stubborn and methodical as hell. So here's what I discovered today. I had just finished assembling a long list of target firms--80 corporations I would love to be introduced to. What to do next? Believe it or not, I spent two whole days concocting strategies to turn this list into real live contacts before it occured to me, "What the hell, why don't I try LinkedIn."

So I went and typed each of my 80 target companies into LinkedIn, one by one. Only twice did I find a useful introduction; far more often I was three degrees or more from my goal--not so useful. Rats!

As I trudged through this rather tedious business, one truly interesting thing emerged. I kept seeing the same couple contacts again and again. I had discovered the "boundary spanners" who connect my world to the universe of my 80 target companies. Suddenly I knew that instead of focusing on getting introduced to each of my 80 target companies, I should go learn from these boundary spanners and open my horizons to opportunties I couldn't even begin to list.

Well, that's classic networking; but I had never thought of using LinkedIn quite like that until I just stumbled into it. And once I did stumble into it, LinkedIn helped me identify a few boundary spanners that I probably would not have guessed by myself.

Now can you guys (you know who you are) please go and automate this process? Here's what you need to do: Give me an option so when I say "Link me to industry sector X" I can see either (1) individual introductions to sector X, listed in order of degrees removed, or (2) a list of all my contacts, showing the relative frequency with which each of them connects me to the universe of sector X accounts on LinkedIn. If I am connected to someone linked to ten different people in sector X, I want to know! This is the stuff from which partnerships are born.

As they say, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." To that I add, "Introduce a man to a fisherman and he can eat for a lifetime without ever having to catch a fish." Yum!


tiffsterr said...

Hi Bruce.

Your comment about the boundary spanners is interesting but I don't think it will hold up. In my experience the type of people you are referring to are people who "collect cards." What I mean is that these people who seem to have so many valuable connections are not cultivating quality contacts in their networks but are just collecting names in order to name-drop or appear to have larger influence than they really do.

How do you plan to use Linked-In? If you expect a contact to make a quality introduction for you, you need a high quality person with a strong bond who will "vouch" for you as they introduce you to their contact. Someone who is sending out thousands of automated invitations to increase their connections on Linkin-In is not likely to provide you with this quality introduction.

If you do not need an introduction that from a trusted contact onto another trusted contact, then you could just look up your target's phone number and call them directly without an introduction and that would probably be speedier and more productive.

The real value in Linked-In is to know who our trusted associates in turn trust. Recommendations from perfect strangers are of no value.

Valdis said...

Bruce... after reading your post I was going to say, careful which fisherman you associate with... can they really catch fish, and the kind you want... fresh?

But tiffsterr said it so well, I will leave it at that.

jon said...

After we paid for our kids military summer camp we found it tough to recover! I totally agree with you!

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