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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been two months since my last posting on this blog. My shame is palpable. I’ve been loyal to my blog for about 10 years. Why the lapse? Well, I confess, I have been having impure thoughts and I’ve been seeing another. A temptress. Yes, I’ve been led astray!

The truth is, as an experiment, I’ve recently turned my attention to the alluring and sexy offer to “Publish a Post”, which as many of you may know is the third of three options that LinkedIn offers users on its Home screen.

The first of these choices, “Share an Update” creates a timeline feed which old-school LinkedInners* might say brings the site a bit closer to FaceBook. Maybe so, but most of the content I see there seems to keep to the original work-career-networking direction of the site. True, this means there’s an inordinate amount of self product or company promotion, but ’twas ever thus.

The second choice on the home page is to “upload a photo”. This does feel more millennial and looks like an invitation to share one’s (business?) lunch, or (office?) wild-night out, or (team-building?) Grand Canyon pic, or (cheesy and miss-attributed) Ghandhi/Einstein/Twain quotes rather than anything else.

The third one, however, is more intriguing. A Post, on LinkedIn, is something like a one-off blog entry. Now that the LI groups have declined in both purpose and point, this is probably the strongest area on LinkedIn to serve as a platform for Thought Leadership. You should probably check out what you see then you click on “Pulse” (in the “Interests” drop-down menu on the home page), and if you click on  the word Pulse when you get there, you can tailor the feed to follow people or topics that interest you.  While there, you could model some of the more rampant influencers in LinkedIn and start to think of your own content.

Both sites – WordPress and  Linkedin – offer you access to analytics and stats on how many people are reading what you have written. The dashboard for WordPress is quite detailed but focuses more on where in the world your readers are, which is less interesting than who. LinkedIn, to its credit, gives you some data on who has ‘liked’ and who (if anyone…) has ‘shared’, and when. In my case and so far in the experiment, the LinkedIn posts seem to reach more people, and you can embed a video, while WordPress allows much more creativity in design, layout and links.

But I needed to explain to the blog my guilt. Absolution follows.

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* another confession, I just made that term up. In fact, I’ve made up more such terms than you’ve had Link Dinners. LIers could be another one, but I don’t think it would catch on)

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Subject: Group Announcement – A total mystery [160317-005516]

This was the subject line on my message (see “Message #1, below) sent to the Linkedin Group help center this week. What was my total mystery? Well, something and nothing, really. I had written an announcement for all members of one of the Henley groups I run, sharing a bit of information/updates and a request to take part in a short survey on Graduate attributes.

In the old LinkedIn Group area, this would be sent to everyone in the group via email (unless they had opted not to receive such up-dates) and posted as a discussion. But under LinkedIn’s improved group area (notice I have ironically resisted putting quotation marks around the word improved. A sort of double irony, if you like) it is LinkedIn that decides how many of the group should get it. Since I never received my own announcement to the group I’m the owner of via email, I wanted to find out who did.

So I wrote to them to ask. Surely they would know.

Little did I know I’d be entering the Twilight zone…. below is the short exchange I’ve so far had with Ravi. He has what at first sight seems useful job title, but I failed to find the specialism useful. See what you think.

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Message# 1 (sent by me)

Member (03/17/2016 10:39 CST)

Issue Type: Groups

Subject: Group Announcement – A total mystery

Your Question: I’m the group owner for “Henley Business School – post-experience”. We have almost 9,000 members. I have just written and sent an announcement. So far, so normal.

Then you’ve made it weird.

I get a message telling me you (LinkedIn) have decided which members will get this as an email. Who? Who not? Why? How would you know? How do I know who? Huh!?? Since I have not received my own announcement as email, I conclude that LinkedIn thinks the group owner is not interested in their own announcement! So, please let me know how many of my group were sent this message. Please, please, please do not include in your reply a stock message along the lines of “we’ve passed this great feedback on to the team developing this part”, as no-one thinks this about LinkedIn any more. Sadly.

Thanks, Chris Dalton

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Message #2 (the reply)

“LinkedIn Response (03/18/2016 06:50 CST)

Hi Chris,

Thank you for reaching out to me.

When an Group announcement is sent, it will be sent to all the members on the Groups. We do not sent it to specific members.

Can you please send us the email you have received from us regarding the announcement.

I look forward to hearing your response in order to further assist you.

Ravi

Consumer Support Specialist”

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I have to say here that I wasn’t really expecting them to fix the issue, just re-assure me who was emailed, and why. What was their rationale? I had drawn a blank there, but Ravi’s answer had also drawn a little bit of ire. I know that this isn’t completely reasonable as I’m writing to someone who is employed at a non-decision-making level of the company, BUT this is an online, technical organisation, one with a reputation built on building reputation. So…

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Message #3 (my reply)

Member (03/18/2016 09:10 CST)

Hi Ravi,

Thanks for the response, which I’m going to have to say I don’t fully understand – for the following reasons:

It didn’t answer my question (which was, by the way, who in my group were emailed the announcement I made?)

According to your own web site, not everyone in the group is sent the announcement. I know this partly because I haven’t received it via email, and partly because there is a message reading:

“You sent an announcement. You can send another one
in 6 days.

You sent “Newsletter from Henley Business School – post-experience,” Mar 17, 2016. We’ve figured out which members of the group are most likely to open and be interested in announcements like this, and sent it just to them.
The announcement was emailed to 7,764 group members.”

From this I would deduce that you DO send it to specific members, and not to the whole group. Which is annoying. “We’ve figured out…” How?

Chris

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Message #4 (the template reply, which prompted this post)

LinkedIn Response (03/19/2016 01:22 CST)

“Hi Chris,

I’ve sent your information to our product team for consideration. When many of our members ask for the same improvement, they try their best to get it done. However, due to the large number of suggestions they receive, they usually don’t provide a timeline.

In the future, you can send suggestions to us by clicking any  “Feedback” link on the right side of your homepage. This will send your comments directly to the appropriate team. You can also keep up with the latest product news and enhancements on our official blog, http://blog.linkedin.com, and check https://members.linkedin.com/we-heard-you for additional feature updates and fixes.. It’s our way of keeping you informed on all the exciting work we’re doing behind the scenes.

Again, we appreciate the feedback and believe that together we can create great products for everyone!

Regards,

Ravi

Consumer Support Specialist

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I have to note that LinkedIn is not devoid of a sense of irony, as they have included in their stock responses suitably placed “inverted commas” around the work Feedback.

I give up!

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With more than 400 million registered members worldwide (over 19 million of whom are based in the UK), LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking web-site. Quite a success story for a California company set up in 2003. It now operates in 24 languages and in over 200 countries – which is basically just saying “we’re on the internet…”

The company employed 500 full-time staff in 2010 but now has 9,200 employees, which hints at a story of rapid expansion. LinkedIn had an IPO in 2011, and year-on-year revenues (growing at 37%) for Q3 in 2015 were $780 million, the majority of which comes from what the company somewhat enigmatically calls “talent solutions” (this may mean charges made to headhunters, recruiters and search companies). This stat is the best indication of the real reason why everyone is on LinkedIn; to further career prospects via personal branding and network reach. And there is no doubt that LinkedIn has always been on to something in that regard.

LinkedIn has not liked to be too gimmicky. I think this actually endeared it to the baby-boomers and Generation Xs that were its primary users in the early years. Against MySpace and Facebook, LinkedIn felt reassuringly un-trendy. Generally, it has remained quite conservative in what it innovates or in what it changes. One feature of the site which has been around for a long time has been the Groups function. There are over 2 million groups on LinkedIn, and Business Schools in particular made good use of them as a constantly and self-refreshing database of contacts, as well as a forum for discussion and announcement. It was all working OK. Then, over the summer, the company made some low-key announcements about some radical changes it wanted to introduce to that groups area.  In August, the company announced that “the Groups team has been working on some really exciting new improvements that will change Groups dramatically.”  They weren’t kidding about the drama.

In October this roll-out reached the UK, and pretty much flattened every group owner’s enthusiasm for the Groups function. None of the changes made added up to anything better than what was there before. The new User Interface (UI) removed all ability to get an overview of what was going on in any of the groups you are a member of. It also removed the useful quick overview of any admin needing doing for group owners and managers. Existing groups were re-labelled as “Private and unlisted” as default, so no-one could search for them and new members were only by invitation. The only alternative was “Standard”, which can be searched for, but which (unbelievably) allows existing members to admit new members. For an alumni group, this is not healthy and also allows spammers to work their way into the groups. Then, the character limit for new comments or discussions was reduced from 4,000 to 1,000, presumably to suit a more mobile use of LinkedIn for Groups (perhaps they are looking to accommodate more Generation Ys or millennials?), so people can not expand on their thoughts as much.

I’ve no doubt that the Groups function on LinkedIn needs looking at. There are too many small or redundant groups, and quite a few that are too big for any member to make an impact within (no use being the 543rd comment in a discussion thread), but LinkedIn’s changes, and the strange way they’ve gone about it, have infuriated the community of moderators. Postings to the discussion threads in the official LinkedIn Moderator Groups have been pretty unanimous in voicing (in 1,000 characters or fewer) the frustration, and a lot of owners are openly asking each other for good tips on where else they can take their online groups for hosting.

It’s too early to say whether this is going to damage LinkedIn other than in terms of the small dent in its groups reputation. The site is now so enormous that few people/managers can afford to ignore it completely as a showcase, and it remains a good avenue to find and keep up with colleagues and potential network contacts, but they have managed to take much of the fun out of running groups. The Henley post-experience group had 8 sub-groups, all of which are now stand-alone spaces. I doubt these smaller groups will survive with any life in them, as a new member now has the task to hunt down and join each in turn, and spend most of their day clicking and scrolling to find them and see whether anything new is happening (which, when it turns out it is not, results in them not even bothering to check).

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Someone recently asked this question on one of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of and it has prompted some thoughts to post in response. This, it turns out, has been in common with a host of other group members (incredible how some discussion threads quickly generate comments on LinkedIn while others flounder). With a few notable exceptions, however, many of those answers seem to me either fail to clarify or succeed in making matters even more muddled. But then, other people might well say the same of mine.

So, with additional embellishment here is my answer:

“1. Education in the specific sense of organised, social process (as opposed to euphemism for a more folksy ‘lessons learnt from whatever life throws at us’) is a categorical term, and therefore is a collective word to characterise a whole set of activities. As such, there is always a wider societal purpose that first frames the category, such as Dewey’s explicit 20th century notions of democracy or the implicit requirement for standardised knowledge and skills to meet a rapidly growing need for labour force in the 19th Century that preceded that.  In other words, the categorisation of education is itself categorised by historical context and reproduced by those taking part in it. The growth of public education has surely enabled many social and technical innovations, but not all frames have been positive ones and the topic, seen this way, will forever be unfinished and contested because society and science are themselves subject to change over time.

The modern purpose of Education is, or should be, emancipation – measured usually in terms of increased levels of freedom from control, or increased levels of freedom to choose. For many reasons, this is not often achieved but is remarkable for what can be achieved when it works. Ideally, as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, education ought to be tailored to the potential of each individual, and informed by each person’s innate creativity. My own view is that the ultimate goal of emancipation in education should be to achieve “freedom from comparison”. That last part is not so easy to explain, so it may be a thread I need to develop in future blog postings.

2. Training is the term used for another category of activities, this time those designed to facilitate or demonstrate a given change in behaviour. The change may also be the potential for behaviour.

Training can be highly useful as a means of preparing people to undertake particular tasks and highly destructive if the motives behind the required change in behaviour are hidden or perverse. Training, like education (and coaching, for that matter), needs its own set of contexts to make any sense.

3. Coaching is the term used for a category of overt activities, tools, intentions etc. employed by one person to facilitate another person or group of persons in getting ‘unstuck’ by using certain presuppositions, such as that – aside from the presence of the coach – the coachees already have all the resources they need.

People are welcome to throw in their own ‘2 cents’.

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A day or so ago I received an email (pasted at the end of the post below) from LinkedIn with the subject line “Sharing on LinkedIn and Twitter”. It appears to be the sort of mass message sent out to all users, so no doubt many others have also read it. That message is a straightforward one, to the effect Twitter has removed the possibility to share a Tweet automatically with the status screen on LinkedIn. What caught my eye, though, was the following sentence in the email:

“Twitter recently evolved its strategy and this will result in a change to the way Tweets appear in third-party applications.”

The odd thing for me was not the substantive change in policy. This is probably being endlessly debated elsewhere online and probbaly just as easily explained in economic terms, as Twitter wants to show potential investors that potential advertisers can best reach Twitter users by advertising on Twitter, not on LinkedIn. What caught my attention was the use of the phrase ‘Twitter evolved its strategy’.

What does that mean? Is it a synonym for ‘change’, used to make a less than palatable shift in direction seem like progress? Or do they really think that a company evolves strategy?

If it’s the latter, then I think they are in error. The fallacy is in two parts, the first being the idea that an organisation cannot evolve anything, even itself. Develop, build, adjust, construct a strategy, perhaps these words could describe the efforts of an organisation to make small changes to either its environment or to itself. But that is not evolution.  Evolution is a process that is transcendent of individual entities, and one that is not purposive in the sense the writer of the email almost certainly meant. The second part of the mistake, to my mind, is the idea that the unit of survival in evolution is the individual (regardless of whether the unit in question is an organisation, part of an organisation such as its strategy, or an organism). Nor is the unit of survival the population, or species, or industry. Rather, the unit of survival is the niche, the ecology – in short, the organism and (not in) its environment. In this sense, Twitter cannot evolve a strategy, a strategy changes or doesn’t change in line with external conditions and internal limits which are visible only over a long period and not really from the perspective of the individual that is living in the present.

It could be argued that this is nit-picking on my part.  But my point is not simply meant to be a pedantic response to choice of wording. It is exemplary of the metaphor applied by people to the world – one of control, ownership and possession. I don’t think this is a useful line of thinking – more like one which (like 99% of all species that have ever lived on earth) is prone to extinction through ignorance of the balance between a thing and its environment.

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I was contacted by a journalist who is writing a piece for a national newspaper on the use of social media by business and management students in their job search. It’s an interesting and very current topic, I guess, but is it true that managers have moved online in their career development?

My answer(s):

moved online? Yes.

Online to sell themsleves overtly? Only partly, and then mostly only because that appears to be what everyone else is doing, or what everyone else says everyone else is doing; following the crowd (not necessarily a bad thing). In summary here is how I see it:

1.       To an extent, there is still a digital divide according to age in the use of social media by Business and management students.

2.       Younger users of Social Media can navigate the myriad emergent means of communication with ease, and may use these as their primary way of keeping in touch with others, finding information or just “getting things done”. Any boundaries between these different platforms are what these users are looking to break down, and the fluid nature of the virtual self and identity is embraced.

3.       Older users (which covers most of those who are undertaking an MBA, particularly in Europe) are still predominantly and primarily using email to communicate the important stuff. They like LinkedIn because they are reasonably comfortable with the idea of transferring their (probably over-long) paper chronological resumes onto the site. Although many managers are fascinated by what technology can do for their productivity, with regard to protecting their self-identities, boundaries between different platforms are what they are seeking to put up, not dissolve.

4.       LinkedIn itself is seen by most mid-career MBAs as a way of building potentially useful networks of people they already know or already have common ground with (this is reinforced by the sense of community that Business Schools try to create). These contacts are often seen as being part of establishing credibility in their identity in their current job environment. They may appreciate that LinkedIn is also a shop-window, and that the hype says that many companies now recruit there, but this is not usually the main reason they are there. A benefit of social media has they appreciate rather more is the way in which interesting content can be shared and made accessible (e.g. links to magazine articles, papers etc.).

5.       The types of jobs Henley MBAs are moving into are often not those recruited by answering job ads, online or not. However, the ability to connect with head-hunters in a more direct route is interesting and it’s possible that they will use Social Media for this more in the future. LinkedIn has emerged as the place to do this, I would say (much more so than Facebook).

6.       A lot of older people feel that Twitter is a great answer to a question no-one has asked. This may be changing slowly, but see points 2 and 3 above.

7.       My advice for anyone looking to use social media to boost their career prospects?

a.       Golden rule: always give something before you expect to get something back.

b.      Be consistent and ethical in your online presence – there is no doubt that others that don’t know you will be able to join the dots fairly easily, and the resulting picture is what your “brand”looks like to them. You can be one thing on Facebook, another on your blog and a third on LinkedIn, but you will not be using the interconnectivity of the web these days to your advantage.

c.       Be open to new ideas. Try Twitter, start a blog. Don’t be discouraged. Follow others that you admire and learn from them.

Someone finding a job (other than as a blogger) on the strength of their blog is, I’d say, possible but very rare. It’s more likely, in situations where there is some competitive for a position, that a person can demonstrate enough “savvy” via their various online activities to avoid being eliminated in an early round.


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