One of the features of LinkedIn is “People You May Know.” It’s a rotating roster of people that appears on your page when you log in and whom you’re invited to “link” to or “follow.” I’m not sure how these people are selected. Is it random? Do they pay for it? Or are they just the most successful “linkers” in the system? But 99 percent of them are people I don’t know.
The flip side to that is that for the 1 percent I recognize, I can usually telephone or email them if I want to talk with them. We already know each other. There would be little to no advantage to linking to them on LinkedIn. I have to conclude that the feature is meant for people who collect other people, for whatever purpose. A numbers game, maybe? Link up with 500 people and maybe one of them will buy something from you? And that 500 number isn’t made up, either; I’ve seen people who have that many links in their chain, and there may be others with more for all I know.
Back in school – way back – when I was a business major in New York, we were obsessed with “contacts.” There was even one instructor who made it part of his course to meet with each student at a downtown restaurant to demonstrate the art of the business lunch. It was tacit admission that you weren’t going anywhere, especially in advertising, in New York, unless you could schmooze with people. But good grief! The most ambitious among us would have at best a handful of contacts. Only later, once in business, would any of the group develop the fabled Rolodex that marked the connected player, and I don’t think there was room for 500 of those little cards on any Rolodex I ever saw. How did we get by?
Like good people, who can be promoted to their level of incompetence (the Peter Principle) a good idea can be extended beyond its practical limits and become a caricature of itself. I read recently that LinkedIn has 277 million members and counting; in theory you can link to all of them if you want. That may make having only 500 seem reasonable, but it’s not, unless you’re General Motors, and not many of the people I see on LinkedIn make it into that size category. In fact, an awful lot are one-man or -woman entrepreneurial entities (aka freelancers in many cases, as in mine). If it’s an active relationship, there wouldn’t be time for anything else but exchanging messages; and if it’s not active, what’s the point? bragging rights for “most links”? Just one more of these newfangled inventions I use but don’t understand.