Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Linkedin Means To Me

I joined Linkedin several years ago. I sent out some invitations to a few people I knew, turning down the option of adding everyone on my address book. If they were on my address book, why add them here again - that was my thinking. This whole thing was about connecting with long lost friends, so I searched the names of past colleagues and contacts. I did not go far, and after about three years of using the service, I had about twenty odd contacts, all of whom I was in touch anyway through other means, and actually never bothered to check the site at all.

In the meantime, there were other sites which competed for my attention. There were the chat rooms to start with. But then there was hi5, which was more for ladies I did not really know; Orkut, more for family; and Facebook, which I must admit was the most engaging. I did use [and still do] Facebook quite a bit and found many people I lost contact with, and there were quite a few friends who used the chat facility in Facebook, which was very neat. I never grew very fond of Orkut, though a number of friends in India extensively used it. May be, I was looking for a platform to exchange ideas and talk opportunities, and Orkut or Hi5 was never the right tools to do it.

I have, like many others, tried Ryze and mostly British Ecademy. I always had basic memberships and never spent a dime on any of the memberships. This was not about my seriousness in networking; I never thought it is right to pay to network. I was more out to make friends, share ideas, discuss things, may be get or give a job referral. I thought paying money to do all this will not be right. Besides, the ethos of Orkut and Facebook affected my thinking too.

However, I found the basic membership on Ryze and Ecademy very limiting. The most irritating feature of Ryze was that someone indicating that they want to Network with you, and you not being able to see who that is. The site expects you to pay for that privilege, and this is as frustrating s it could get.

I was introduced to Ecademy in a professional seminar in my local Chartered Institute of Marketing [CIM] chapter. The idea sounded neat, though not new. However, again, the costs looked unreasonable. I must admit that this is one time I flirted the idea of actually paying up, but was discouraged by how much it actually costs. Besides, I conferred with a friend who used the site more regularly and was a paying member. It was not very productive for him to maintain the membership - he was trying to sell enterprise services and most of the contacts he was coming up with were SME - and I did not see any value for me either joining up.

But then, something changed in life. I must admit that there is a certain fatigue which is catching up with me now. So much travel must be responsible for the physical tiredness. My life is in a complete disarray, because I am hardly living in any one place for more than two or three days at a stretch. And, however much I try, the hard times do not allow me to stop and take a break and organize my life a bit. Besides, I am, down in my genes, long term - many a time I shall rather not do a deal if I don't think it is sustainable long term. This is often a cause of conflict, as many others will not take the trouble of weighing in the risks and responsibilities that cash on the table necessarily brings. And, all of this together have started telling me that I need a change.

Which, essentially, meant that I should go out and look for a job. But then I did not want to leave my job tomorrow. I felt responsible and wanted to sort out what we are doing, and leave a business in good shape. So, I needed a bit of time - six to nine months was more like it - to sort everything out, put in place a sustainable strategy and a new set of people, partner and products.

Besides, the question of job search is more complicated than just being a long term issue. It is also about where I shall be and what I shall do. I thought I have a lot of choices at this time. I am flexible about the location, first of all. I have spent five years in London, and I would love to spend a few years now in a different city, possibly in a different country. I have done international business development for last few years, but I also have a love for technology, a degree in marketing and exposure to e-learning. Also, I have always been a closet entrepreneur and too independent to spend my life trying to fit into corporate bureaucracy; but then I did not save enough so far to launch my entrepreneurial career, and my chances of raising capital in this market was as slim as ever. I almost needed someone to sit down with me and tell me what I should do next.

This is almost the same time that I understood the potential of Linkedin. I joined a group discussing e-Learning issues and became friends with a few people. Better still, we started exchanging our reading lists and I got a few people visiting this blog. I got some advise which I needed, and eventually we connected up. I realized that Linkedin is not just about finding lost contacts; it is a place to make friends. It is far more relaxed in terms of people contacting each other without paying. It is also far more lively in terms of groups and discussions, compared to some of the other business networking sites. Yes, of course, there are paid facilities and services, but they are smartly put in the context, so that you can choose to pay when you need it, and most people, including me, actually never need to pay.

So, I spend most of my non-working time on Linkedin these days. I found what I needed, a community of friends who are all accomplished and helpful, who can give me valuable ideas and leads about what I should do next and where I should live. Some of them will even go that extra mile to facilitate what I wish to do. This is community as coach, and it is so much more valuable than just one person telling me what to do. This is a completely new way of looking for a job - not like calling up a recruiter and feeling depressed when they treat you like an object, but being in the company of friends where someday you turn up to say, I am looking for something new and do you know any opportunity which I can fit into.

So, I love Linkedin. Yes, indeed - over all the other things. That's where most of my time goes now a days. I don't spend money on Linkedin - did not feel the need - but I am now up to 1200 contacts from all over the world and loving it. I have helped other people find opportunities, connected up with interesting people, found business opportunities and friends. It is time that I see you there too.

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