The Risks of Using LinkedIn


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In general, I write about the upside of using LinkedIn as a marketing, networking, and sales productivity tool. But there are certain realities of using LinkedIn that all users should keep in mind. Things can happen on LinkedIn, and if they happen to you, it can hurt.

You Grant LinkedIn an Open-ended License

There is the obvious risk inherent in granting LinkedIn a license to more or less use your input in any way they see fit. My personal opinion is that it's not as bad as it sounds. For the most part, I think LinkedIn wants to use everything you input as data points that can be aggregated and parsed, and, in turn, used to generate revenue. If LinkedIn got too carried away and started alarming their users, they could risk losing them, or, just as bad, losing their participation in things like groups. Less participation means less time on the site, and less advertising and other revenue for LinkedIn.

The takeaway here? Read what you've agreed to with LinkedIn. Most people don’t.

LinkedIn Can Add, Change, and Delete Functionality

LinkedIn is constantly trying to do two things: Get more users and get more money out of each user. To this end, they are constantly introducing new features and trying new ideas. When features don’t prove to be that interesting to users, or a feature gets a little long in the tooth, LinkedIn may alter it or retire it altogether. So, to paraphrase Spock in the Wrath of Khan, the needs of the LinkedIn many outweigh the needs of you. If LinkedIn waters down your favorite feature, too bad.

My favorite LinkedIn feature used to be Signal. I could search LinkedIn for any user’s activity. I could see which individual users were sharing my updates. I could search everyone on LinkedIn’s updates by keyword. It was hugely powerful. LinkedIn dropped it as a feature last year. C’est la vie.

The takeaway here? Change is continual for social networks. No one wants to be the next MySpace. Accept that LinkedIn will make changes and some you won’t like.

When LinkedIn Makes Changes Your Data May Suffer

A couple of years ago, LinkedIn had a book review feature. You could review books, see others’ reviews, comment on them, and follow people to see what books they were reading. It was great for a book nut like me, and also a great way to meet all kinds of people on LinkedIn. Well, LinkedIn apparently thought less of it than I did and away it went. And all my book reviews and lists went with it.

The same happened with “Answers.” I know a lot of people that had poured huge amounts of time into “Answers” so that they could establish themselves as go-to resources on different topics. “Answers” is gone, along with all the discussions in that forum.

Ironically, all my book reviews and all those answers are probably stored away on LinkedIn servers somewhere, where, because of our agreement with LinkedIn, LinkedIn can use them in any way they wish until the end of time.

The takeaway here: Don’t put data or information on LinkedIn with the idea that it will always be there. This is particularly something to be aware of if you use LinkedIn’s ability to keep notes on people’s profiles.

You Can Become Persona Non Grata

LinkedIn can put on restrictions as a result of having too many people complain that they don’t know you when you invite them to connect. One of the options when responding to an invite to connect is to say “I Don’t Know” the person who sent the invite. This is known as being “IDK’ed” and too many IDK’s will get you restricted to only inviting people whose e-mail address you have already.

The takeaway here? Be careful who you invite to connect. That person you invited to connect that you worked with 12 years ago may not remember you after all.

All these bad possible things that can happen to you on LinkedIn can be summed up this way: LinkedIn does not owe you anything. They are catering to 300 million users, not just you. LinkedIn will make decisions you don’t like. LinkedIn will have policies you don’t really agree with. Your job is to weigh these possible downsides against the benefits you receive from using LinkedIn.Bruce Johnston is a sales consultant specializing in social media and especially LinkedIn. He has over 25 years experience in high-tech sales and management. He can be reached at brucej@practicalsmm.com or through his profile on LinkedIn.

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