Before social networking applications exploded online, I used my personal data assistant. When the first Palm Pilot came out I began tracking my network. Everyone that was a part of my life eventually found his or her way into my contacts list. And when I entered someone in the address book, I used the note field to capture key thoughts about the individual (e.g., when and where I met them, a notable fact about them or their interests, family members, etc.). Later as a consultant I kept track of what company they were at and the project details so that I could easily search for them in the future (I’m terrible with remembering names, but can for some reason remember the facts in the Note field).
Today, I use LinkedIn to keep track of my professional network. I’ve found it to be a powerful tool to keep abreast of where people are working and what they’ve done in their career. It’s also great for uncovering relationships you may not be aware of. Yet, it still misses some of the key items I think are essential to becoming a truly useful tool to support the memory.
1.) Ability to link to folks you don’t want to
2.) Relationship mapping
Ability to link to folks you don’t want to…
While I have a lot of people linked to me, I am very diligent about protecting the integrity of my network. Myspace became a disaster in my mind when everyone started collecting friends as a hobby versus really showing their network. Facebook has been better about not becoming the same, but eventually when the purpose is to be cool and popular, people start collecting. My goals with LinkedIn have been to only include people I feel I know well and would be comfortable acting as a reference. This however leaves a number of folks off my list, and thus LinkedIn becomes only part of the story, and my contacts list remains the master. It’s not that I know that many people I don’t like, but there are always folks that you are more of an acquaintance to and would not feel comfortable asking them to be a character reference to you and vice a versa. So, having the ability to keep track of these folks on your list, but differentiate them as not being “linked”, would be great.
With this more limited link, I’d want to keep track of what my relationship is with them. In sales and consulting, it’s important to be able to quickly understand a social network in a company. There are many formal methodologies for mapping these networks to identify whom the influencers are and whom they influence. With these you can identify who you need to focus your relationship building. Having this feature would be great to keep track of your whole network, but imagine if it was all exposed. I think LinkedIn could setup a continuum in their linking that better illustrates the relationship. Part of this exists when you say whether or not they were a colleague, friend or college friend for example, but wouldn’t it be great if you could also just indicate that they were an acquaintance or someone that you “know well”. I think this would also inspire us to focus more on our network and improving the relationships we have, as there would be an incentive to improving our relationship map with others.
And finally, I want to keep track of the little details that help me remember why I’m linked to this person in the first place. Recently in my job searching, I found that there was a person in my network that had a lot of connections at a company I’d like to work at, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who this lady was. She was in my network, so I must know her well enough to trust her, but nothing was coming to mind. Worse yet, when I searched my contacts and my whole computer I had no mention of this person’s name. Finally, after going through her whole network to look for a pattern of how I may know her it dawned on me that she changed her name with marriage! If only I had the note field and could have just read my note entered when we met. The good news is that LinkedIn has added this feature in the “Address Book” functionality that is in beta. This should be made more accessible though and brought to the front. Or, even better would be to have Plaxo like functionality that could import and sync all my contacts notes.
In my current job hunting efforts I have found ones network to be the only successful way of getting the interviews at the places you truly want to be a part of. People like to hire people they know or that are recommended by people they trust. That’s human nature. LinkedIn does a great job of facilitating this, but with some additional key features, could become even more powerful to all of us. It may even improve how we all nurture our network.