LinkedIn recently announced that it had reached a milestone - 150 million users world-wide. I can remember very clearly announcing to the delegates in my first workshop in 2008 that LinkedIn just couldn't be ignored anymore because it had reached 35 million users!
I think its fair to say that LinkedIn is now mainstream, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find someone who is not on LinkedIn and the growth doesn't seem to be easing at 1 million new users every week.
Size most certainly does matter to LinkedIn but my question is more directed at you - a LinkedIn user and the size of your network on LinkedIn.
When I first started training people (in those early days the majority of my sessions were aimed at Recruiters) I would extol the virtues of large networks. The more people you connected with, the more people you could see and be seen by and with less than 50 million users it was the only way to gain any useful visibility.
As LinkedIn has grown it has become apparent to me that large networks are becoming less and less necessary and the inherent problems associated with large networks are more of an issue.
If we accept that LinkedIn is mainstream these days then we can usually find (and be found) by the right people without the need to connect to masses of random people. By focussing on only connecting to relevant people we build highly effective networks and ensure that our home page is not cluttered with irrelevant updates and others won't judge us negatively by who we connect to.
Smaller (although not small), highly targeted networks allow you to engage and communicate more effectively with your connections and this is surely the whole point of networking online.
For Recruiters this may be a hard pill to swallow, searching LinkedIn using keywords and complex boolean strings to find random unknown profiles is fundamentally how many use LinkedIn. Connecting with thousands and joining 50 groups allows them to find candidates for the vacancies their clients have given them with tight, difficult to find criteria.
This however is a now pointless exercise, clients are increasingly finding that they can just do this themselves and LinkedIn will also happily sell them a searching tool that will give them far greater access to profiles than any individual network could compete with with.
Recruiters need to wake up and smell the coffee, the days of charging clients for your sourcing skills are numbered. You can't compete against a mainstream network that allows your client complete access to every profile, not unless you are prepared to do something radically different.
The solution of course is not new, it is in fact the way recruitment used to be before the internet came along.
LinkedIn should be used as a networking tool, not a search tool. Build a smaller, relevant network and communicate with your connections, get to know them, ask them to introduce you to more people - network online and offline until you drop. The harder you work at it, the more people you know and the more you know about them - the more you will have to offer your clients. Believe it or not this is what LinkedIn is designed for and also how the majority of people use it.
Leave your clients to their LinkedIn corporate Recruiter accounts and boolean searches, let their internal recruiters build a shortlist of apparently suitable but random candidates with the right keywords and then deliver your killer candidate who gets the job. This candidate is not ideal on paper but the client is prepared to see them because they are part of your network, they know you and trust your word that this individual is suitable. The candidate you have selected (also from your network) is chosen because they have the right characteristics to succeed, its not something that is obvious to all (especially those internal recruiters) but you have got to know them and you have used your excellent interpersonal and judgement skills to select them……This is what recruitment is about and your client is happy to pay for it.
As is the case with so many things in life, size merely masks the real issue...........its what you do with your network that counts, not how big it is!
I would love to hear your views on this. I will also be chairing a discussion at TruLondon5 in London next Wednesday on this very subject.