There is a debate about LinkedIn’s utility in the face of apparently growing numbers of lawyers joining and maintaining profiles on the service on Lexblog and Home Office Lawyer. This debate comes at a good time for me because I have been ruminating on LinkedIn’s value to me as a business networking tool the last week or so. My first thought is to ditch my free, personal account armbands and swim out into the deeper and potentially more rewarding paid, business account waters. At the same time I do want to see clear potential for value.
I’ve started thinking about upgrading my account from a free personal account to a paid business account. The business accounts offer quite a bit more than the personal account. My question to myself is whether I am using LinkedIn enough to justify the $19.95 per month (or even the $199.50 per year). What I would really like to see is a post or discussion about the value of a business account and what difference it makes to a user. Do I need to be a power user to benefit from a business account? Is the correct question even whether I am using it enough to justify the upgrade? Should it be more about upgrading and reaping the rewards?
In that time I didn’t receive any comments on my blog and received 5 responses on LinkedIn (not counting further interaction when I responded to the initial responses). That already says something about LinkedIn’s value to me as a networking/information/knowledge tool. If one of the goals of a service like LinkedIn and tools like blogs is to facilitate a conversation then LinkedIn is already ahead of the game. To add to this, I think it is fair to say that my blog has more traffic than my LinkedIn profile and this only enhances my LinkedIn profile’s value from this perspective. Of course there are a range of dynamics which impact on my rough analysis so it is hardly bulletproof.
Image: lawyers by Wrote licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license
Anyway, I am really curious about how I can make the most of LinkedIn and how I can use it to meaningfully expand my business network. I am not talking about adding a list of names (although I have done that to a degree) but rather how I can add a list of names to my list of connections and still have some meaningful interaction with those people, whether it be some form of work or just getting to know that person a little bit better.
A couple of the people who responded to my question on LinkedIn said that for $19.95, it is worth upgrading to the business account and trying it out. The one big benefit that I can see is that it is a lot easier for people to contact me if I have a business account because of the InMail feature.
I am still a little nonplussed with a model that charges for the privilege of contacting another member I am not connected to although I am beginning to understand the value of not being freely contactable by everyone (thinking about Facebook and the regular message/invite/ninja-pirate hybrid app inundation I experience on Facebook). I have been a bit of an idiot when I have thought about the value of a paid account and this is reflected in the previous sentence. Limiting direct contact to paying members must, in part, deter Facebook-style floods of inane messages. What is probably more valuable is the ability to contact someone directly (whether you are the premium subscriber looking to make contact with a potential business partner/customer for the first time or you would like to contact a premium subscriber directly for similar reasons). Making this possible through a paid service at least means that you, as the paid subscriber, are serious about making meaningful contacts and that already enhances the value of the service all around, don’t you think? The value of a paid account beyond this seems to be to make LinkedIn a more comprehensive research tool and that could come in handy too if the results are better than results from a free account search. I am already using LinkedIn as a research tool when I encounter someone new or I am looking to contact someone new. The one little thing holding me back from taking the leap is the fact that I can’t simply downgrade to a personal account from a business account by selecting the option in my account settings. I have to email customer service to downgrade. That doesn’t sound too bad except I mailed customer service with a couple queries about the upgrade a couple days ago and haven’t received a response yet. How long would I have to wait to downgrade from a paid service to the free service before customer service agents act on my request and, consequentially, how long would I have to wait before LinkedIn stops charging me?
Leaving slow response times aside I am still pretty keen to explore LinkedIn some more and develop the habit of using it more and more. There are already a number of South Africans using LinkedIn (there are in excess of 19 000 people in my extended network in Johannesburg alone)
I ran a search on the number of people who are in South Africa and who have listed “Legal Services” or “Legal Practice” as their industry type and came up with about 500 people in my network (as I understand it, my network includes people up to 3 degrees away from me). I was quite pleased to see I am at the top of that list but who’s counting anyway. I am connected to the first 10 people or so already on that list. There is definitely a user base in South Africa already even if many of the profiles on LinkedIn are not maintained. This translates into enough potential to merit using the service. I think I agree with Maxwell Kennerly that LinkedIn’s value is not readily quantifiable either in money terms or any other measure that amounts to a return on investment in the service. As with many social networking tools, the value is a little fuzzy and yet it quite clearly exists (although you may still need to work for it).
Just the same it would be great if someone from LinkedIn’s customer service department responded to my query …