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

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