The value of your network

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How do you manage your professional network? I have an account at both Viadeo (which I rarely use) and LinkedIn (which I use much more than Facebook). I always wondered how some people managed to get to over 500 connections so quickly. I personally reached that number less than a year ago and I have been on the workplace for over 13 years.

I soon realized that many people will accept anyone into their LinkedIn network, or even use adding to the network as a means to establish potential contacts. Yet most of the time they have never even crossed a single email. I realized this when I was searching for a job abroad. I used LinkedIn to find second degree contacts to which I could get introduced. I quickly realized that many of the people returned in search results were not real contacts. I couldn’t be really introduced to them because my LinkedIn contact didn’t know that person.

I believe that having people on your network that you don’t know reduces the value of your network. Not only can you make your real contacts loose time as it happened to me. You also introduce noise for yourself: people you don’t know changing jobs, etc… If you want to see what an unknown person is up to, you can use the “follow” functionality in LinkedIn. That person is not a contact.

I’ll go even further. How many times have you been endorsed for a skill that you don’t have? Or how many times have you been endorsed for a skill you have, but the person endorsing you couldn’t really assess if you have it or not? If my mother or my high school friend endorse me for Scrum, that says nothing about my knowledge of Scrum. Whereas, if Jeff Sutherland himself endorsed me… now that’s something! Actually, if Jeff had endorsed only a dozen of people of Scrum it would be much better for me than if Jeff had endorsed ten thousand. Endorsements also suffer from inflation.

I can’t wait until LinkedIn implements a proper reputation algorithm. This would be a similar algorithm to the infamous PageRank. There are so many interesting things that could be done with LinkedIn’s data. For example, give a reputation on someone’s knowledge on a specific subject; estimate the value of someone’s network; establish whether someone is a hyper-connector; etc…

My question is, have you been too sloppy with your network? How valuable are you as a contact? How valuable are your contacts? Networking is not about collecting electronic business cards on LinkedIn or the like. It’s about establishing meaningful relationships with colleagues. That’s what brings value. In order to get a sense how real networking is done, I recommend you read “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi.

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