LinkedIn guilt: The new social networking disease

“LinkedIn,” the CIO said. “That thing drives me nuts.”

I was in a meeting today with one of our editorial advisory boards when the above statement was made. These are not really public discussions, so I won’t mention names, but suffice it to say this is a really likeable guy who’s running a major technology operation for a well-known Canadian company. We were talking about the whole social networking thing, and whether he was really a part of it.

“I get these invites (to LinkedIn) from someone I worked with more than 10 years ago,” he went on. “I barely remember their name. And then it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, you worked at . . .” Suffice it to say he probably didn’t accept the invitation.

Another senior manager I know recently told me LinkedIn has become less of a way to keep in touch than an ongoing chore. “I constantly have CIOs and people like that asking me to ‘recommend’ them,” she said, referring to a feature on the site that allows you to become an online (and alarmingly permanent) reference of sorts. “They all want to get consulting jobs, so I’m spending all my time trying to think of these nice things to say.”

First came Facebook fatigue. Now we have LinkedIn guilt.

The whole thing reminds me of an episode from season two of The Office (U.S. version) where narcissistic boss Michael Scott eventually wearies of the toady who keeps trying to make his way into Scott’s good graces. By the time the episode ends, he offers a reflection to the camera: “I don’t like people who suck up to me just because I might be able to help them in their career,” he muses. “I want people to suck up to me because they like me.”

Maybe IT industry folk are more likely to lay on the LinkedIn guilt because they have a hard time being liked by their coworkers in the first place. If they’ve been so inundated with other projects that they couldn’t reset someone’s password or had to install an employee monitoring tool, it might be that much harder to get that LinkedIn recommendation. Or maybe, given their reputation for poor soft skills, technology professionals prefer to hide behind LinkedIn rather than asking in-person for a reference or recommendation.

Much as Wikipedia had to experience some growing pains around accuracy, LinkedIn’s recommendations feature will probably face skepticism over its sincerity. Not that I would ever hire or not hire someone based solely on their LinkedIn profile, but as a way of measuring those intangible qualities of a job candidate (especially one whose skills and role you only partially understand), nothing beats the power of peer testimonials.

Perhaps IT managers and consultants using LinkedIn should approach their profile the same way they would scale a physical network: slowly, based on what’s appropriate, and never without considering the drain it might put on other resources. In this case, those resources include the time and patience of those whose loyalty you might really need one day. Now who’s feeling the guilt?

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