Guest post from Michael Blumfield a member of the King Fish content team. You can find his site here.
I stand before you today to present the case against LinkedIn for acts of deception, manipulation, and general ickiness that undermine its status in the vanguard of the marketing revolution.
As you are well aware from countless stories in forward-looking publications such as Fast Company, Wired and Disney Kids Magazine, we are in the midst of a fundamental reordering of our communications structure. No longer are we, the people, subject to the will of unseen powers. We are now the agents of power. We have access to virtually unlimited information. We have channels of sharing our views to as wide an audience as we choose (as long as that audience shares our appreciation for Justin Bieber and Katy Perry).
A new order has emerged. Transparency is the law. Content is king. Unfounded claims will be torn asunder by an army of commentators, some of whom can actually spell.
At the dawn of our revolution, LinkedIn was there, standing proud, eager and willing to help make connections among the people. It launched before Facebook, before Twitter, before the iPhone, even —in the dim and distant time known as 2003.
Comrades, you remember those early, heady days – days when you felt anything was possible. Days when you thought if you could get your second-cousin’s third-level connection to accept your invitation, you were just a few clicks away from setting up a lunch with the CEO of a company you were targeting.
Such visions, and other less grandiose notions of how LinkedIn could serve as a tool of business, are under threat – by LinkedIn itself! Allow me to present just two recent examples from personal experience:
The Elite 10% Club Falsity – Just this morning I awoke to learn I had achieved a special status. I was, according to LinkedIn, among the top 10% of all LinkedIn users whose profiles had been scanned by others. In other words, without my awareness, it turns out I am very popular. VERY popular. With 200 million users worldwide, I am more popular than 180 million other users.
After a 20-minute personal rendition of “We Are the Champions” that echoed throughout my neighborhood as I walked my dog (who seemed particularly eager to return home, for some reason), it dawned on me that perhaps I was not so special after all. I mean, I did have close to 9 people look at my profile in the past week, but is that really so extraordinary? I did some checking. Apparently, people who literally have HUNDREDS of people looking at their profile every day did NOT get an invitation from LinkedIn to put a Top 10% Gold Star on their site! In other words, I had been manipulated in a fashion no different than the people who publish the Who’s Who series of books – a shameless play to my vanity! This is not just old-school marketing. This is from a time when the school was in a cave and the “blackboard” was festooned with drawings of wooly mammoths and mastodons!
The You’re-Great-At-Email Skill Skewer – A few months ago, I received a notice that a connection of mine had praised my ability at email marketing. Which was strange, given that 1) I don’t particularly think of email marketing as an extraordinary talent of mine and 2) the endorser has never worked with me or even met me. Then I got more and more people saying I was good at email marketing – not the 14 other things I listed as among my skills. Just emailing.
Shortly thereafter, I saw how this had come to be. LinkedIn – bloody counterrevolutionary organization that it is – had “suggested” to these folks that I was Mr. Email Marketing, didn’t they agree? I was invited to endorse similar skills of folks I knew --- all of whom were ending up with as lopsided a set of endorsements as mine. So now when I have lunch with that CEO, all he’s going to want to talk about is how come everybody assumes the only thing I’m any good at is emailing?
But alas, comrades, I cannot allow the only defendant in this case to be a faceless corporation that is driven by profit and a desire to please shareholders. No, comrades, I must point the finger at you and me.
The I’ll-Sleep-With-Anybody-Who-Asks Factor – In those early days, I valiantly turned away people who sought a connection if I didn’t know them. I naively believed in the premise of LinkedIn – that I could share my group of connections with others who had a separate group of connections. I might have had only 43 people in my listings, but dammit, those were 43 people I knew well! If you wanted an introduction to any of them, I’d be happy to help.
Pretty soon, I began to look a bit pathetic with my 43 connections. Friends of mine were showing 250, 300, 400, even 500+ connections. Wow, I thought, they’re really special folks to know so many people! One time, an actual connection of mine – a guy with 500+ connections – listed on LinkedIn the name of a person very high up at a company that I wanted to do some work with. I called up my friend and asked what the guy was like. “Oh, hmm, let me see,” he said. “I think I met him at a party once. I can’t tell you much more than that.”
I should have stopped right there and sworn I would never follow my friend along this path to the Land of Make-Believe Connections. But I didn’t. I accepted invitations from people I kinda sorta remembered just to bump up that total number of connections. I accepted invitations from folks who would tell the world how great I was at email marketing, even though we had never met.
Once the wheel of karma rolled over me and squished out most of my self-worth, I decided to put an end to it. For a couple of weeks now, I’ve not responded to invitations to connect from people I don’t know. I’ve ignored suggestions to connect with others I barely know. I’ve even deleted a few people whom I couldn’t say anything more about than my friend with the 500+ connections who thought maybe he met that guy at a party.
And so, comrades, I turn over the next phase of this trial to you. Will you continue my line of prosecution of LinkedIn? Will you rise to its defense?