[Hey you guys at LinkedIn, Visible Path, et al. If you haven't thought of the following idea already, please send royalty checks to http://link-to-results.com. 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!