(This is the first of a series of posts on interesting people I have encountered)
The value of LinkedIn is evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. A few heavy users lead the way, discovering new ways to use it, and the rest of us straggle behind them. Gary Pines, Harding & Company’s strongest advocate for using the network, suggested we interview one of these leaders to gain some insight into its future direction.
Konstantinos Kasekas, a recruiter for Hudson and an author of the blog, www.beyond.jobs, has been a heavy user for three years and has over 8,500 1st contacts (over 16 million total). Always operating at high energy levels, he becomes so joyous talking about LinkedIn that it sweeps everyone within earshot along. He kindly agreed to be interviewed:
Q: You can’t possibly have relationships with 8,500 people. Why collect so many contacts?
Kasekas: Because it makes the key decision maker visible to me, making part of my job as a “Lead Generator”, significantly easier. In the past, the identity of the decision maker was obscure, protected behind a veil of corporate privacy. Now that paradigm has been obliterated. Due to the site’s depth and breadth, on LinkedIn I can conduct a specialized key word search and identify key decision makers immediately. For example, Lululemon Athletica is a global clothing manufacturer, with a strict “No Names” policy. If you call into their HR department and ask to speak to a Recruiter, or Director of HR (key decision makers in our line of work), you will immediately be turned down by the Operator and be forwarded to a general mailbox where you can leave a message. However, a quick search in my linkedin network, gives me a short cut around this process. The importance of “Size” is critical here, since a linkedIn search is limited to my “network” of contacts, defined as “my immediate contacts, their contacts, and their contacts’ contacts. So Ford, if you conducted the same search at Lululemon, you would likely get different results than I, simply because my network is larger than yours. Simple economies of scale. The larger my network, the more I get to see.
Q: Once you identify the person you want to meet, do you ask your mutual contact for an introduction?
Kasekas: Usually not. Usually I don’t know that person either, so I go directly after the person I want to meet. There are a number of tactics to get to them but they don’t involve LinkedIn.
Q: That’s it? It’s just a big directory?
Kasekas: No, but don’t underestimate the directory value. Identifying key decision makers in a company, a process that used to take several phone calls or varying degrees of research, can now be done in mere seconds.
Q: How else do you get value from LinkedIn that people with fewer contacts might not?
Kasekas: Recently, I had the VP of Global Talent Management at a Fortune 500 company contact me from Paris, through LinkedIn even though she, herself, only had ten contacts on LinkedIn. If my network was smaller, she wouldn’t have found me on the site, and more importantly wouldn’t have found me as attractive. A well connected professional with a large “rolodex” is generally viewed as a key strength in consulting. This could lead to global relationship.
Increased visibility both ways is what it’s all about. That’s all that counts. It’s very difficult to gain trust on the internet, so why bother? Go for maximize visibility and work on trust through other means.
Q: So, how does one get 8,500 contacts?
Kasekas: I am a “super-user”. This does not mean I am super, but that I have more than 5,000 1st contacts. This group of users represents the top 98th percentile of LinkedIn members. Unlike other members, super-users focus on one thing; growing our networks indefinitely. It is more a mindset than anything else, as all my resources are either dedicated to using LinkedIn, or how to use LinkedIn to enhance my professional goals. There are email addicts, and blackberry addicts; I am a self proclaimed LinkedIn addict. I check my LinkedIn account at least ten times per day to see if I’ve received an invitation to connect.
Like most super-users, I am an open-networker, which means that I accept all invitations. I invite everyone I interview or call on to join my LinkedIn network. My linkedin profile is listed in my signature file of my email. I write about using LinkedIn on my blog, and host multiple LinkedIn-centric discussion groups on and off of LinkedIn.com. While traffic varies, I try to add at least 100 new contacts per week to my account.
Another great tool for access to the greater LinkedIn network, is the use of the “LinkedIn Groups”. LinkedIn allows you to join 50 groups at a time, I am a member of 50 groups at all times. Every few weeks, I remove myself from five-to-ten groups and join new ones, to ensure that I am being exposed to a diversity of interests and backgrounds. I answer questions that are relevant to my industry to raise awareness of my subject matter expertise, and end every answer with an invitation to send me an invitation. LinkedIn only allows you to send out 3,000 invitations to connect, a ceiling I hit over a year ago, so such creative ways are necessary to maintain my steady network growth on the site.
Q: What are its principal limitations?
Kasekas: A common misconception is that LinkedIn is the new alternative to networking. The belief is that by sitting in front of your computer all day, you can build a solid network of strong relationships that will replace traditional networking. As a LinkedIn-addict I am the first to yell out that this is not the case. LinkedIn is not, and will never be a replacement to traditional networking. It is a tool to help facilitate networking, but nothing more.
Trust does not come cheap, and building trust via inmails and emails, is extremely difficult. I could do more to build trust over a ten minute telephone conversation, or a fifteen-minute coffee than I can do through months or even years of email correspondence. So, our perception of LinkedIn as an end, versus a means is a key limitation of the site.
Once we overcome this perception, the tool, itself, does have another major limitation. While it is an excellent tool for identifying key decision makers, the effectiveness of the site is limited to the size of your network. LinkedIn only allows you to “see” the names of the people within your network and their contacts twice removed (your first contacts, their friends/contacts and their contacts’ friends). So, for example, if your 1st contacts, or their friends were not connected to Barack Obama directly, you would not be able to find the name of the President of the United States, via LinkedIn. So, on LinkedIn size does matter.
A superuser grows his LinkedIn network exponentially as a means of building your total contact list, and then picking and choosing whom connect with, within that larger group later on.
The rest of this interview will be published in a later post.