I’ve been following some of the arguments recently about the professional use of social networking tools, particularly the debate over Facebook vs. LinkedIn–a discussion accelerated by Jeff Pulver’s that he’s abandoning LinkedIn to focus only on Facebook. Given that Facebook has only recently made the jump from college social site to wide open networking, that’s either a prescient move or grandstanding. But the debate is worth discussing.
LinkedIn is what some people refer to as “Resume 2.0”. It’s a professional site designed to help users build their contact network. It’s not designed as a social networking site, though the market seems to be pulling in that direction. One thing that I think helped pull it that way is the prominent display of the number of people in your LinkedIn network. Early on, I was very selective in building my network, confining my contacts to people I know and endorse. LinkedIn functioned primarily as a web-based contact manager and a resource to check people out before a business meeting.
But recently–especially after launching MotiveLab–the notion of being a social media strategist and only having 100 people in my LinkedIn network became untenable. What? You’re in social media and you don’t have 500+ next to your name? How can we take you seriously? Suddenly the social imperative becomes the number of contacts, and the drive to find and add contacts begins. Unfortunately, LinkedIn isn’t really designed as a social mixer, though that’s changing with new functionality like the Q&A section.
Facebook is a very different experience. It’s all about the interaction and engagement, and the connection not only with friends and contacts, but with what they’re up to. You can see whose wall they’re writing on, groups they’ve joined and friends they’ve added, which can rapidly broaden your horizons. Facebook is also a much more open technology, with API’s available for programmers to create their own Facebook plugins.
But Facebook is not really ready for prime time as a business tool. The groups are great, but clunky to use–there’s no RSS feed for groups!!!–and the process for connecting with friends often seems to lead into a black hole of a user interface. There’s very little focus on the profile, which means you don’t get nearly as much insight into who you’re dealing with, though it tends to be much less formal and maybe a little more human.
For these reasons, a number of commentators say leave the two separate. Keep your professional contact network in one place, and your social network in another. But I think the synergies are obvious. Business is now inherently social, and the social network tools of Facebook would add a great layer of interaction to a site like LinkedIn. If you could somehow keep a separate social and business network, that might be nice for some users, but no necessary to me in an increasingly wide-open and public world.
Will Facebook buy LinkedIn, as some people suggest? I find it hard to believe Facebook–riding high with the hype of a 1B spurned offer from Yahoo!–would see the value, which is something of a shame. LinkedIn excels at precisely what Facebook lacks, a tightly programmed user experience that works. That’s what college-essay-help.org experience do- put fears to rest