I’ve been a LinkedIn user since its early beta days, and while I was initially intrigued by it (at the time, I was working for a CRM company and was mostly looking for competitive info) it took a couple years for LinkedIn to be a useful tool for me: ironically, after leaving said CRM company, I had occasion to use LinkedIn to broaden my network, reach out to old colleagues, and start to try and leverage my connections to find a new position.
For those that don’t know, LinkedIn is a twist on corporate networking: tell LinkedIn who you know, and if they agree to be linked to you, you start to form a network of connections. Basic info about each individual – title, past positions, etc. – is mapped, so that you can search for people by company, role, or name. When I search the network, I can see not only those people in my network, but their connections (and their connections’ connections), so I can figure out a route to get to someone at DEF Corp. When I find the person I want, I initiate a request, which starts with one of my connections, and then (assuming each connection agrees to forward the request along) on through the chain until it gets to its destination. You can see my profile here.
Over the last couple years, I’ve only periodically checked in with LinkedIn. I get the occasional request to forward a request, which I almost always do. More ofthen than not, I’m happy to help a friend out as they try to connect with someone (or help one of their friends do the same). In the four years I’ve been a member, it’s never been intrusive. (And while the occasional invites to link up from people I don’t know can create an awkward situation, I’ve found I’m less and less concerned about being honest: if I don’t know you, I’m not going to make you part of my network.)
It’s after my most recent swing through LinkedIn this week that it’s finally become an indispensable business tool. It’s the Outlook Toolbar that takes LinkedIn from a “nice to have” to a “need to have”. It’s that good.
In the past day, here’s what LinkedIn has done for me:
- Scrubbed my contacts. Unlike spam-enabling tools like Plaxo (which send emails to all of your contacts asking them to update your contact info), LinkedIn centralizes the process. If any of my contacts are using LinkedIn, LinkedIn will compare the info it has on file with my contacts folder. If there’s a discrepancy (perhaps someone got a promotion? Changed jobs?), LinkedIn flags it and gives me a one-click option to update the contact record. Of the 1,000 contacts in my folder, over 200 had updates to apply.
- Collected new contacts. LinkedIn looked at the tens of thousands of emails in my inbox, outbox and archived Outlook files to determine who I correspond with most frequently, and then matched that list against its own list of known individuals. Where there are matches, I’m given the option to create contacts based on the LinkedIn data, and also invited to link to that individual in LinkedIn, establishing a relationship for purposes of building my network through LinkedIn.
- Added a profile button to all messages. Now every email I receive has a button that will give me that individual’s LinkedIn profile (displayed in Outlook, I don’t even have to go to a browser to see it). In my role in business development at FeedBurner, I get a ton of messages from people I don’t know – and this makes it much easier to figure out who I’m talking to.
- Created a “keep in touch” feature in Outlook. As I correspond with people who are VIPs, LinkedIn gives me an ability to flag the contact as someone I should periodically touch base with. If more than 60 days go by without a contact, LinkedIn adds a reminder to drop that person a note. For relationship management, that’s a great feature.
- Determined which emails need a response. I haven’t looked at this in much detail, but it appears to be watching my inbox looking for messages that haven’t been responded to; this morning it flagged an email that came in Tuesday morning (the day after my laptop died) that I’d missed… again, when you’re trying to juggle a lot of relationships, this is a great way to ensure you don’t drop a ball.
This is all presented in a convenient LinkedIn Dashboard, which gives you a window into your relationships, suggesting relationships you have but that aren’t mapped by LinkedIn, identifying people who need contact, flagging messages that require a reply, and highlighting contact info that’s changed since you last updated your contacts.
I’ve had this installed for just a day, and I can already tell that it will dramatically enhance my use of Outlook, make me more effective at managing relationships, and help me get more value out of LinkedIn. What a remarkable update to an already useful service.