My Little LinkedIn Experiment

Hand on ComputerI hate deception. That’s why it took sidestepping my core values to create a LinkedIn connections’ list filled with mostly perfect strangers. This is not recommended, since LinkedIn advises that you only connect with individuals you know well. But after doing my research, I wonder if many of the 200 million members follow this advice.

The goal of my project was to see if I could gain 500 plus noteworthy associates. In the LinkedIn world, 500 is the magic figure, because after that your total number of colleagues isn’t visible anyway. My motive: it was entertaining. Besides, isn’t narcissistic visibility what social media is all about?

To name drop, one of my more famous connections is mega-church pastor, Rick Warren. Despite the constant media bashing he endures, I deeply respect this author of The New York Times bestseller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold more than thirty million copies. Recently, the now Christian classic was re-released in a 10th anniversary edition titled, “What on Earth Am I Here For? The Purpose Driven Life.”

By the way, most best-selling Christian authors sell in the mere thousands. Could jealousy be fueling some of that criticism? Anyway, gaining Warren as a connection was like obtaining the Boardwalk property when I was a kid playing Monopoly.

The minister was a kingpin during my little experiment which began in August 2012. Because I have gleaned a lot from reading his books, when I saw his profile picture on a friend’s connections’ list, I thought, “Why not?” With a just for fun click of the mouse and a pitiful plea to please accept my invitation, I sent the request. Let’s be honest, how could Pastor Warren turn down an invitation from a desperate follower. Besides, we have a lot of connections in common. Even if most of mine were bogusly obtained.

In reality, I would describe myself as a small market journalist and inspirational speaker from the hills of Ohio. Although I have been blessed with a few professional milestones, which I fully exploited on my LinkedIn profile. Creating an impressive profile is of paramount importance. You can make yourself stand out by shamelessly listing the bigger than life moments of your career at the top. An award that you’ve won, being featured on a TV show, etc. Even if you only held a prop it still counts. Then folks who are not sure if “you are somebody” connect to insure they stay in the LinkedIn loop.

Metaphorically stealing another’s connections is the dangerous beauty of LinkedIn. In explanation, if one of your contacts leaves their connections public, once you are connected you can send requests to their connections. Being a colleague of a colleague, is like having an instant recommendation. This is how I gained access to the hundreds of literary agents, authors, publishing house owners and editors that I am now connected to.

It was pretty easy to get them to accept my invitations, after I nabbed a couple celebrity status associates and made a few mutual connections. After decades of book proposal rejections, this part of my research became more than a test. It became a personal vendetta.  To explain, I have published several books, but that’s just the point, I self-published, or as we authors say, I “vanity-pressed” my way into becoming an author. But enough bitter ranting.

Once I hit 500 plus, the invitations starting rolling in. I think most of them are from professional people who want to look successful. In their attempt to climb the LinkedIn ladder, they think that connecting with another 500 plus person like myself, will be of some use down the road. But in my case, I highly doubt that.

Anyway, midway into my research, I sent an invitation to the wrong lady. An executive director of internal affairs for a large organization who replied back about her hesitancy to connect with someone she didn’t know. This stopped me in my tracks for a couple days, because I realized I barely knew anyone on my own list. There were those cautious individuals who initially ignored my requests, but this female director was the only one to question my motivation. Besides, those who ignored me originally, most often jumped on board when my numbers grew.

Unfortunately, some LinkedIn users don’t seem savvy enough to keep their connections’ list private. After you connect there is a privacy setting that can make sure new associations only view mutual associates. At least, I had the decency to employ this tool, so stalkers like myself wouldn’t violate my hard-earned contacts.

On another note, it’s such an honor when a LinkedIn colleague takes time to endorse you for your professional expertise. Unfortunately, when it is someone you have never met, and they send an unsolicited endorsement for your skills, it really makes you wonder. Am I going to endorse them back? No way. I do have my scruples, if loosely.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some great contacts through LinkedIn. It’s an important social media tool for professionals. My little experiment was just to prove how less than ethical individuals can misuse the site for their own promotion. Still, I had to giggle this past February when LinkedIn sent me an email congratulating me for being, “one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.”

As for social media in general, most people are simply hoping that being a visible presence on the Web will somehow give them a career advantage. And who can blame them? These remain difficult economic days, and most of us can use all the positive public relations we can get.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1

March’s Disability Awareness Month: Getting Rid of the “R” Word

R-word_header1You’ve seen the commercials. They started a couple of years ago with Special Olympics’ TV ads featuring hip-looking young people telling viewers that it’s not ok to use the “r” word. The “r” word is the derogatory term, “retard.”

During March, when we celebrate Disability Awareness Month it is important to remember that folks in our community are still trying to overcome the stigma of this offensive word. “Unfortunately, the word retard has a real life of its own… so, that’s why we needed to stop using the term,” said Esther Baldridge.

Baldridge, who is the superintendent of the Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities, believes that, “Words become stigmatized over time… it still is very, very painful for the people we serve who have that term literally applied [to them.]”

But why do people grab a word and use it as a weapon to stigmatize an already vulnerable population? “The careless comment [such as] calling someone a retard, they [people] aren’t thinking,” said the ACBDD superintendent. They think they are being cute or witty…but they need to understand how much their words hurt people who legitimately have that label [attached] to them,” explained Baldridge

For me, the task of creating awareness about the plight of the intellectually disabled is personal. Whenever, I hear someone use the insulting name, “retard,” I cringe. Immediately, I am deeply offended as the visual picture of my mid-twenties nephew comes to mind.

For many individuals with a family member who struggles with some type of disability, they can instantly relate to the angst they also feel when someone makes an ignorant remark. After all, when we replace someone who some in society erroneously view as less than, with someone that we love, the picture changes instantly.

Diverse groups including lawmakers, school systems, and developmentally delayed individuals themselves have been pushing for change and heightened awareness for several years. Public campaigns like the one found on the Internet at www.r-word.org encourages folks to pledge their support in never using the “r” word. “Spread the word to end the word. The word “retard(ed) hurts millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends,” according to the Website.

Sadly, there are individuals who take pleasure in hurting others. For example, simply googling the word, “retard” results in a plethora of Websites and available video mocking the intellectually challenged. Some of these comments and images are so vulgar in content that one wonders where these intolerant and ignorant citizens who make fun of others reside.

Yet, Esther Baldridge sincerely believes that if we are able to personalize the issue, we become more understanding and compassionate. “When you learn to know somebody on a personal basis… [you] see that person with all their strengths and deficits.”

Baldridge has spent her entire career assisting folks who are challenged by developmental delays. When I interviewed Mrs. Baldridge, her eyes seemed to shine with pride as she reminisced about the day in October of 2009, when the “MR” initials representing the words, “mental retardation” were removed from Ohio’s Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities Administration building. Those letters were even buried.

“I really didn’t know how much it would mean to the people we serve,” said the ACBDD superintendent. Legislation initiated by the DD population in Ohio and sponsored by Senator Jimmy Steward elicited the change, which has also occurred throughout the U.S.

Nobody likes being called names, and a community of our intellectually challenged citizens finally said, “enough is enough” by requesting this change. “I think we have made improvements, but we still have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us,” said Mrs. Baldridge.

As family, neighbors, and friends of those facing intellectual challenges we know that there is an r-word that these individuals would really like to hear and to have from us. That r-word is respect.

In order to achieve this goal, ACBDD has a program referred to by the acronym, A.P.P.L.E., standing for Abilities Plus Potential Leads to Excellence. This free presentation for schools, churches, civic groups or meetings can vary from 30 minutes to an all day event using dolls, videos, literature, and hands-on activities to simulate disabilities.

According to www.acbdd.org, it is through education that we learn that we are “more alike than different,” and that every individual is “unique and special.” After all, to be treated with respect is all most human beings desire of their fellow man.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelane journalist and inspirational speaker. This column originally appeared in The Lima News in March of 2011. It is dedicated to my precious nephew, Andy, who makes the world a more beautiful place.