LinkedIn lessons to avoid Pauline Kingi's fate

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Social media and marketing expert Anna Connell has some tips on using LinkedIn that could have saved Pauline Kingi and the Government an awful lot of drama.

In an odd turn of events following Pauline Kingi’s resignation as head of the inquiry into Wally Haumaha's appointment as deputy police commissioner, we’re in the midst of a national conversation about LinkedIn endorsements.

LinkedIn activity doesn’t make headlines often. You’re far more likely to hear about someone coming a cropper professionally because of things they’ve said on the more volatile and exposed platforms like Twitter or personal social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, where people often mistakenly believe their activity is only visible to their friends.

Only time will tell whether the resignation was the sole result of Kingi having endorsed Haumaha for 23 skills on LinkedIn.

If that is the case, I’d argue we’ve gone to a dark place in terms of what we punish people for and need to apply a more pragmatic lens to people’s social media history. However, until more is revealed about how close her ties are to Haumaha and whether Chris Bishop’s online detective work was the tip of the iceberg or spurious political mischief making, many will be left wondering about their own social media activity – past and present, and the impact it may have on their careers.

I have spent years training CEOs, executives and workforces on how to use social media professionally in a couple of roles and I am constantly struck by how little people understand about how the network functions and more importantly, why it operates the way it does.

LinkedIn has done a very good job of selling both the fundamental importance of having a professional presence online and the benefits of being there for professional advancement. Like all social media platforms, rock stars, gurus, mavericks and influencers have risen to further perpetuate the idea that it’s a place you need to be to get ahead.

Making money from recruiters

But again, like all social media platforms, it is layered with complexity that can make it difficult to understand. It is particularly notorious for bombarding you with emails and ongoing options to add more stuff to your profile. It can be hard to work out what’s essential and what’s online detritus.

Linkedin makes about 65 percent of its revenue selling its Talent Solutions products. These are the tools used by recruiters to find, develop and headhunt talent. It makes another 18 percent of its revenue selling ads. The remaining comes from selling premium memberships. Just like Facebook, our value to them is our attention and our data.

No endorsement for endorsements

When it comes to endorsements, I’d argue that unlike many of LinkedIn’s core tools, the value we derive through giving and receiving them is limited and the way they serve them to you makes them a bit meaningless.

LinkedIn uses a lot of basic principles of gamification – supposedly rewarding people for activity in order to get them to keep coming back because they need you to do that to keep selling your eyeballs, information and activity data to advertisers and recruiters.

To be endorsed for something you have to listed it as a skill and they are constantly reminding you or making suggestions as to what those skills might be. Adding one to your profile can be a very simple and perhaps, thoughtless click of a button.

Endorsing people for those skills is done in exactly the same way. You are asked ‘Would you like to endorse Anna for digital marketing, social media training and 23 other skills?’ And many people who see no harm in clicking a button to do something that seems quite nice, do just that with very little thought.

Is that really a new job?

It also has default settings that unless you reset yourself, mean it can send you up to 30 different types of emails and 5 subsets of notifications. Many of these emails contain messages urging you to do things like endorse people or say congrats on the new job. It even prepares those messages for you to send at the click of a button. I’ve had so many messages from people saying ‘Congrats on the new job’ when it’s pretty clear from what I’ve posted that it’s not a new job but a volunteer position or board appointment.

LinkedIn arguably has a much higher value than other social media networks as it offers services that can ultimately result in employment. Trust in what people say and do there is high – we take what’s on people’s profiles as gospel truth. You have to use your real name and list real places you’ve worked. But it also kills so much of its utility by burying it under the constant urgings to partake in trivial activity.

Painfully trivial

Because we trust the platform, we often do what it tells us to. If you’re a rookie, it’s easy to be convinced by LinkedIn’s steady stream of communications that all of that stuff is vital. And yet here we are, somewhat ironically, observing a situation where someone’s career has been dented by doing something that is arguably quite trivial and of little value to users.

Without knowing the explicit details, I’d guess Dr Kingi was probably served a suggestion to recommend Haumaha for those 23 skills and like a lot of people, did without giving it much thought.

And I guess that’s the lesson. If it’s not something you wouldn’t do in real life with purpose and thought, like publicly and openly endorse someone for something, don’t do it online. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it online. If it’s not natural for you to be loud and opinionated about things, don’t feel pressured to do that.

It’s perfectly ok to just have a tidy LinkedIn profile and to visit occasionally to see what people have been up to and perhaps throw them a like if it’s good news. If you’re a power user deriving lots of value from it, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give endorsements there – honestly, the only real value they provide users is a bit of a boost in search rankings. If you want to meaningfully recommend someone, write them a recommendation. Don’t let the platform tell you what to do.

I have a pretty simple rule for using LinkedIn successfully – take control and be purposeful. Google the basics or get trained on them, understand the rules of engagement and behave like you would in real life.

Finally, visit your settings and review the tab that says ‘Communications’ and turn off all the emails that aren’t essential. The power is yours.

  • Anna Connell is a digital creative and strategist at advertising and marketing company Bettle and Associates. She writes a fortnightly column for newsroom.co.nz and commentates on social media, digital news, diversity and gender equality for various media including Radio Live and Radio New Zealand. She is also a board member of the Auckland Writers Festival and Waikato Rugby.