LinkedIn and the power of networks

it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs
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it's not the students that keep us young, it's all the stairs

I used to think of LinkedIn as a boring but worthy social network for business contacts. But I was wrong.

Over the years it has become a critical B2B social network, with multi-million dollar deals often being done via the platform.

LinkedIn has also disrupted the recruitment business and reshaped the way people find jobs. It changed the power dynamic in recruitment by enabling the jobs to find people. Clever recruiters embraced LinkedIn early. The rest clung to their clunky old proprietary resume databases.

With the recent acquisition of Lynda.com, the reach of LinkedIn looks like growing into training and education. This is a more interesting play than MOOCs from an education perspective.

Remembering my LinkedIn story

Last night I caught up with a longstanding buddy, Des Walsh, as he visited Sydney. Des is a doyen of social media in Australia, as well as being a passionate networker and executive coach.

As we chatted I finally remembered to tell him the story of how one of his ideas helped me to get a great job.

LinkedIn ’30 day blitz’

Back in late 2012 Des contacted a diverse bunch of folks who were active on social media, noting that LinkedIn was our ‘orphan’ social network. He was right, most of us were enamoured with other sexier social media platforms. We were all members of LinkedIn, but at that time none of us were particularly active there, nor were our profiles up to date.

Des setup a social network challenge for November 2012, rounding up a diverse group to take part in a month of LinkedIn activity.

The concept was simple – “A collaborative project, in which each participant commits to take action on his/her LinkedIn presence and activity, over a 30 day period.” – 30 Day Linking Blitz.

I signed up for the blitz, and started with updating my LinkedIn profile with previous work and a decent profile picture.

The results were immediate

Almost immediately after that I was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter had been trying for almost a year to find a candidate for a role that called for a diverse mix of skills. She explained that my name had popped up in her LinkedIn search that morning.

The rest is history. I interviewed for the role at UNSW Australia, where I’ve been working happily since then. All thanks to Des and his 30 Day LinkedIn Blitz.

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Politics of Social – Social Media Week Sydney 2014

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As part of Social Media Week Sydney 2014 I was honoured to host a panel discussion about the Politics of Social.

The panel made for a lively and interesting chat – wish we could have had more time as there was much more to discuss!

Panel Members

  • Ariadne Vromen – Associate Professor, The University of Sydney
  • Alex Greenwich – Independent Member for Sydney, Parliament of NSW
  • Stilgherrian – Journalist, Commentator, Producer, Podcaster
  • Steph Harmon – Managing Editor , Junkee at The Sound Alliance

Ariadne Vromen  Alex Greenwich
Stilgherrian Steph Harmon.

Here’s the video of our discussion…

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Real time, right time – it’s all about ‘me’ – so what about Twitter?

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A recent article The Future of Mobile is Right Time Experiences by Maribel Lopez got me thinking about mobile and the future of the web.

It is an especially important topic to consider now that Twitter is seeking to further control and constrain the way that its users interact. A good outline of the issues at play here is Nick Bilton’s piece: For Twitter-Owned Apps and Sites, a Cacophony of Confusion.

At Web 2.0 Summit 2011 (video) Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, noted that he is inspired and ‘mentored’ by Apple. Any admiration for Apple and the way it does business is likely to be coupled with a desire to control the user experience.

The interesting thing to note is that control of the end user experience has never been a big part of the Twitter world. Instead their strength, and indeed a reason for their survival to date, has been a willingness to throw open their doors to a broad app ecosystem.  Further, significant innovations that have improved Twitter (e.g. hashtags) have come from the community and have been adopted by the company.

But Twitter is a company that is growing up, emerging from its startup phase and evolving into a ‘real’ business.  ‘Real’ businesses do things like consolidate infrastructure to better manage costs, and they seek to add layers of management control over the business.

This desire to control the user experience is fairly typical of a ‘real’ business.  It signifies the development of an organisation that is developing a command and control structure typical of the late twentieth century.

The problem is that end users of the platform have started to evolve beyond command and control models. We are using many different devices – PCs, tablets, smart phones – and we use them as we need and in different contexts.  We do not necessarily want the same experience across each device we use. Increasingly we are using a mobile rather than a fixed device, even in the home or office.

What we do want is the right experience in the right context.  We are hungry for a kind of ‘just right’ interaction with our favourite platforms. And we also seek to remove friction from our online interactions.  We flinch away from interactions that are scratchy, our friends say ‘come over here, it’s better and easier’, we use the power of our social networks to seek out the newest way to improve our online existence.

This means that the API revolution has arrived at just the right time to meet user needs.  And it means that businesses that resist the desire to exert absolute control over the user experience can harness a vibrant API ecosystem to power their business.

I think that consistency of user experience across multiple platforms is overrated. But I do wholeheartedly encourage consistency in APIs so as to enable rich user experiences that drive engagement on the user’s terms.

Businesses that fail to realise that the command and control world of the late twentieth century is dying risk killing their businesses.  It is already happening with the news media. It can happen with newer businesses too, such as social networks. As Mark Pesce noted we face a business environment that is “fast, frictionless, and on fire“.

Note: I had a brief chat about the recent changes to the Twitter consumer app ecosystem with Stilgherrian, Leslie Nassar, and Henare Degan on the Patch Monday podcast, one imagines it will be up on the ZDnet site in the fulness of time.

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What’s the big idea with social media? #media140

Media 140 Perth 2012
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I was lucky enough to be invited to Media 140 in Perth recently to discuss what the ‘big idea’ is with social media.

The idea was for a context setting discussion about social media and how it is changing business and society.

DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We are living through a digital revolution that is changing the world we inhabit as absolutely and as irrevocably as the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

That previous industrial revolution changed our relationship with time, with money, and with people. It created the wage labourer that we know, and the unions whom we’ve to come know encapsulated by the term ‘organised labour’. It created a society governed by the mechanical clock and the notion of work versus non-work time.

The digital revolution is on a similar scale, and this scale is based on a remarkable shift in the means of production. The digital revolution has at its roots a democratization of access to the means of communication.

EXPECTATIONS AND ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
As a result we are seeing a shift in the expectations of ordinary people about communications technology and their access to that technology. Further, we are seeing a rapid evolution of behaviour in relation to communications technology – mainly in the use of smartphones and tablets.

All of this is leading us to significant shifts in society, and it is all fuelled by innovations in communications devices. The smartphone and almost ubiquitous access to the internet have created a new baseline expectation in people that they will always be connected. I have often argued that with Twitter we are seeing the genesis of the hive mind of humanity.

The digital divide is no longer about access to technology – as my friend Mark Pesce notes, even poor fishermen in Kerala have access – it’s about your willingness or desire to be connected.

However, people are finding enormous utility in being always connected. For example, the number of ereaders in the hands of people is growing enormously, doubling since July 2011. And an example of a behavioural shift afforded by the technology is the growth in women’s erotic fiction sales. Romance novels have always been a big business globally, but a recent sales data indicates a substantial growth in sales of erotica (the so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ factor) that has been fuelled by the anonymity offered by ereaders.

As long ago as 2008 Australia mobile phone subscribers outnumber people according to ACMA data. This means that individuals have more than one device connected to the mobile phone network.

SOCIAL MEDIA, SOCIAL BUSINESS
Along with this embrace of ubiquitous mobile connectivity we have seen the growth of social media and social networking. This growth of social media is part of the landscape that makes up the digital revolution. Social media is revolutionary because it empowers the populace with access to the means of communication that were once the province of rich media barons.

This growth in social media fuelled by mobile connectivity has also changed the business landscape in important ways. There is a shift from command-control and pipeline driven businesses to social business that is focused on continuous engagement and conversations.

The kind of new business opportunities enabled by this digital revolution include:

  • the ability to compete in a new geography without even opening a local store (like Amazon);
  • the opportunity to reduce complexity for customers and remove friction from business operations (like Telstra);
  • subverting traditional models like recruitment where businesses build online talent banks of people who are interested in working with them (like Deloitte).

However, the shifts in society are not limited to business and consumers. They are also changing some things that we have always accepted. For example, we have always assumed that there is a just and valid separation between the domains of public versus private, or between business versus personal. But now those verities are being shaken by social media and social networking.

Social media is blurring the boundaries between the public, private, business, and personal. We are still working out how to negotiate this new territory. But already we see reports of people turned down for jobs because their online reputation score was too low.

We are now seeing a world where reputation is created, maintained, and mediated by online channels. There are increasing tools for measuring reputation online, such as: Kred, Klout, and Peer Index. Bouncers are even reportedly using Facebook as an identification check for entry into nightspots according to the BBC.

SOCIAL WORKPLACES
Workplaces are changing too, partly in response to the digital revolution. Open plan offices with collaboration spaces and hot desks are enabled because of wifi and portable connected devices like laptops and tablets.

SOCIAL EDUCATION
Our schools and places of education are being swept along by this digital revolution as well. With schools handing out laptops to all students and wifi in schools, libraries, and on public transport our children inhabit an always connected landscape. A teen boy said to me recently of my complaints about the poor wifi in Sydney: “but it’s just in the air, it’s everywhere”. It is a good example of the world that our young people inhabit. They live in a world where the connectivity is just ‘in the air’ around them.

The physical changes in workplaces are being reflected in schools too. They are becoming focused on collaboration rather than rote learning of facts. Students are learning how to discover, assess, and synthesize information rather than memorize facts.

WTF?
When we put together the shifting physical nature of the workplace and schools together with the blurring boundaries between public- private-business-personal, and the always connected devices in the hands of individuals many opportunities and challenges arise.

It is an exciting time to live. We are living through a revolution. The real question is will we drive the revolution or let it just happen to us?

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Authenticity online – not necessary, perhaps essential or Kitteh vs Chickin

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This talk by Bitly’s Matt LeMay at Monki Gras entitled: Kitteh vs Chickin: How What We Share is Different from What we Click is important and is really worth watching.

This talk gives us some really important insights into the changed world we now inhabit.  The world in which our passing fancies and offhand comments were written on the wind has passed into history.  Now most things that we click or share online are recorded and ready for analysis.

Matt draws out the point that our real selves – the ones  who listen to Lady Gaga or Katie Perry and then delete them from our scrobbles – are revealed by our online activities.

As Jung suggested, it might be time to embrace our shadow (or as Matt LeMay suggests, learn to be okay with being a kitteh).

I commend this video to you, it presents important concepts in a really engaging way.

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The Reputation Economy, Employees, and Privacy

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As companies embrace the notion of a reputation economy fueled by the power of social platforms this brings a new set of challenges for management and employees.

I was at the Salesforce #cloudcrowd event in Sydney recently and we were discussing this issue with guest speaker Peter Coffee.

The issue is that companies increasingly require employees to interact online on behalf of the company but using their own persona.

Upon consideration, it is not much different to offline where one meets with business contacts using a real name.  But the difference is that those meetings are mostly written on the wind.  Online interaction is forever. It is an almost permanent record of where you were, what you said, and to whom it was said.

Thus for the employee, the private conversations and meetings of the past have transformed into public online interactions, potentially geotagged and with accompanying photo.

What this is doing is tying the individual’s personal reputation very closely with that of the company in a very public and well documented way. In the past it was relatively easy (especially in a big city) to gloss over a former job and what you really did in it.

But now this will become increasingly difficult as more and more of our business interaction is transacted in public and online.

It will also become increasingly difficult for companies on several levels:

  • Firstly, they will find it more challenging to repudiate the activities and actions of employees, since these will be well documented online.
  • Secondly, they will find their public reputation increasingly tied explicitly to employee behaviour as played out in various online forums.
  • And thirdly, there is the risk that employees will use online forums to share their feelings (both positive and negative), as per the very colourful  examples of Goldman Sachs’ former employee Greg Smith Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs or Google’s James Whittaker Why I Left Google.

Problems for employees include:

Rawn Shah’s October 2011  presentation gives a nice overview of the issues involved in The Blurring of Job Loyalties, Social Collaboration and Personal Freedom.

One thing is certain, the boundaries between private citizens and their online activity as representatives of a company is starting to blur and this is likely to increase.  It also means that we individuals will increasingly be subject to ongoing and continuous surveillance from companies as well as the government.

Privacy is truly dead.

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How do we create and share value in a jobless economy?

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Jeff Jarvis sparked my thinking on this recently with his post on The Jobless Future. As Jeff so bluntly stated:

“We’re not going to have a jobless recovery. We’re going to have a jobless future.

Holding out blind hope for the magical appearance of new jobs and the reappearance of growth in the economy is a fool’s faith.”

If that is the case in the US, and we have riots on the streets in the UK, Spain, Greece, north Africa and the middle east, then things are not looking good in large portions of the world. There will likely be flow on economic and social effects around the world, especially since Richard Florida is pondering if riots could come to Canada too.

Nouriel Roubini may be right in his assertion that “Karl Marx had it right. At some point, Capitalism can destroy itself.”

The inherent instability of markets in the US and Europe mean that jobs are going to be harder to come by, especially for the less educated and the less skilled.

All of this got me thinking about what skills are really useful in this new world that is developing before our eyes? What kinds of businesses and communities will be more resilient in the face of changing economic verities? How do we need to recast our expectations and aspirations for this new world that is unfolding?

That kind of thinking led me over to John Robb’s blog and one of his recent posts, Entrepreneurs and Open Source Hardware. Perhaps we are all about to become open source entrepreneurs?

The kind of economic environment that is emerging is one where sustainable and ethical business models can come into their own. Not large scale, top-down, industrial operations. Rather there is an opportunity to develop peer-to-peer and networked organisations. Social innovation, social enterprise and ideas like collaborative consumption become significant, and a return to older ways of organising businesses – like co-operatives and mutual associations – become critical.

We also need to find ways to create and exchange value in an environment where traditional mechanisms might no longer be available to us. This means creation of new means of value exchange, or even new kinds of currencies. Reverting to gold is not really feasible, after all it’s rather heavy to tote around. Thus virtual currencies might even come to replace some of the existing ones

If you consider it unbelievable that major currencies can fail then it’s time to go read some history. Just to put it in perspective there’s a great visual post by Jeff Clark over at The Daily Reckoning that illustrates the risk rather neatly: A Thousand Pictures Is Worth One Word.

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Is 'social' the right term to use for everything online?

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There is a tendency to put the word social in front of many other words to day to describe some new use of technology. I remain uncomfortable with the way we have plonked the word ‘social’ in front of so many other things, for example; networking, media, computing, business, etc.

One reason for this discomfort is that everything that human beings do is social in some way. But that discomfort about the term aside we’ve got to call it something and that will do for the time being.

Going back to the origins of the word social we can see it comes from the Latin socius and meant companion or partner. That makes it an ideal word to use about collaborative acts or practices.

The trouble is that adding social in front of everything begins to devalue its descriptive utility. Instead it seems to become yet another piece of jargon as voiced by the shallow spruikers of the latest thing.  Using it in front of everything makes it into a joke.

I’m interested in how we keep things real. I think people need clear and simple communication. Meaningless jargon is not how we keep things real.

It makes me wonder though, is it the quality of the communicator and the truths that they speak that wipes away the feeling of jargon? Does it really all come down to trust?

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Interview with 2 of my favourite entrepreneurs @jason @garyvee

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If you’ve got time it’s worth taking some of it to watch this interview with Jason and Gary.

Jason Calacanis, himself a serial entrepreneur, is a great supporter of startups with his LAUNCH Conference.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a well known entrepreneur who built up his family business to a major player using social media and the force of his remarkable personality.

Having met both of these guys, one thing that stands out about each of them for me is that they are truth tellers. You might not like what they say, but they call it as they see it. The corollary is that they often put out a helping hand for people who are working on their own startups. Good guys, with good experience, worth listening to.

Gary raises some important issues about how social marketing is not about push. If you’re trying to sell stuff using social media then this is a crucial conversation to understand. As Gary says:

“If Content is King, then Context is God”

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