Social networking is no longer the Next Big Thing; it’s now as much part of our Web experience as search engines.
Previously considered the province of kids who wanted to keep up with class gossip, social networking services are being co-opted by grownups who are examining ways to use them both within and outside of their places of employment.
At least one social networking site, LinkedIn, has been vying for an adult usership since its introduction in 2003. LinkedIn allows users to create and maintain a list of their professional contacts (and friends as well); the purpose is to be able to network to have access to your contacts’ contacts, and in that way further your professional outlook.
You want to find a job? A new sales opportunity? Information about a client? Here’s a way to do that.
LinkedIn has remained remarkably stable in its services. It has made some concessions to Web 2.0 expectations by adding a job board as well as areas where you can find recommendations for service providers or answers to questions. It also offers premium services that allow users to access more information and the ability to contact second- or third-degree contacts (in other words, friends of friends of friends).
However, it has not swerved from its original mission: to be a business-only service rather than a more generalized social networking site.
There are few other sites that are as focused as LinkedIn, but at least one has moved from being only for socializing to being a business tool as well. Facebook began in 2004 as a site for college students — i.e., people with university e-mail addresses — to socialize online, and was only opened to the general public in 2006.
Since then, it has rivaled MySpace as the place to hang out, but it has also attracted an increasingly adult audience who want to use it as a means to discuss their professions rather than their latest crushes.
Facebook has a much wider range of services than LinkedIn — mainly because of the large number of third-party applications that people can install and use — and so it is a more flexible medium of communication. It may also be an advantage to companies to use a service that employees are probably already familiar with.
However, the use of Facebook as a means for business networking has been controversial . Companies that want to use Facebook to keep their increasingly mobile employees in touch are concerned — not without reason — that all those games, social groups and quizzes (“Can you name the Muppet characters?”) can distract people from actually doing work.
So which is actually better for professional use, by both companies and employees (and would-be employees): LinkedIn with its focused approach, or Facebook with its multitude of applications?
To check this out, we came up with six familiar business scenarios and asked two of our writers to solve them: one by using Facebook, and one by using LinkedIn. Sometimes it was clear which service could do the job better, but sometimes it was difficult, or impossible, to choose a winner.
It turned out, in fact, that there is no absolute winner; both Facebook and LinkedIn excel in different scenarios. It all depends on what you need to do.
Which would you choose? Check out our six business scenarios, and see what you think. You may decide to pick one over the other, or may simply decide to join both.
— Barbara Krasnoff
1. Look for a job without your boss knowing
You’ve just about had it. You work 10 hours a day, you make about two-thirds of what your best friend makes doing the same job at a different company, and you are close to murdering the client who can’t grasp the difference between a browser and an operating system.
It’s time to find another gig, but although you know that networking around the Web is a good way to go, you don’t want your boss (who is, unfortunately, not a total dweeb) to find out before you give notice.
Ready to head for the door but don’t want your boss to know you’re eying the exit? Facebook makes it relatively easy to look for work. To be sure that your boss won’t find out that you’re looking, though, it’s a good idea to create a new Facebook identity before going on your job hunt, and use that identity as you search.
After you do that, head to the Facebook Marketplace and click on Jobs. When I checked, there were 1,262 available, and believe it or not, many were real jobs, not work-at-home come-ons promising US$4,000 a month for working in your pajamas.
The more than two dozen Systems/Network/IT jobs, for example, appeared to be the real thing. And there were 80 Software/QA/DBA job postings, 71 Web development and design jobs, and various other ones, such as in customer support and sales.
Also worth trying is the Jobster Career Network Facebook app. It ties directly into the Jobster job-finding site. Tell it what kinds of jobs you’re looking for, and it e-mails you about relevant ones. You can also browse through jobs via the app. The application also lists all of your friends by the company they work for, and lets you ask them questions about the company, either individually or en masse.
An important note: When you add this application, make sure to uncheck the boxes next to “Put a box in my profile,” “Place a link in my left-hand navigation,” “Publish stories in my News Feed and Mini-Feed” and “Place a link below the profile picture on any profile.” That way, if your boss somehow manages to find your profile, he won’t know you’re hunting for a job. — Preston Gralla
LinkedIn features a formal job search area where you can search posted jobs by keywords, business sector, location ? the usual parameters you can use on a job search site. The search results are sorted into two areas.
One labeled Web just replicates the listings on SimplyHired.com . The one labeled LinkedIn Jobs represents the added value here: These are jobs posted by other LinkedIn members, with those posted by people in your network at the top of the list. Click on a listing title to get the full job description.
From the full listing, click the Apply Now button to bring up a form with a space for writing a cover letter and an option for uploading your resume. But since this is LinkedIn, you might as well take a more personal approach if you can.
LinkedIn displays numbers next to members’ names to tell you how closely you’re connected to them — a “1” means they’re a direct connection (basically, somebody you know), a “2” means one of your direct connections is also a direct connection of theirs and a “3” means you know somebody who knows somebody who knows them.
If the job poster is in your network at any degree of separation, you’ll see a Request Referral button underneath the Apply Now button. Click that, and LinkedIn will bring up a list of your connections who are also connected to the job poster. (Of course, if the poster is a direct connection of yours, you can skip this whole step and just contact them yourself.)
Choose one, and you’ll get a contact form with an automatically generated message to the poster explaining that you’ve asked a connection to send him a recommendation, and a second message to your contact explaining that you’re applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. You can add to or personalize either of the messages as you like.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily know the intermediate people between your connection and the job poster. If you don’t want your boss to find out you’re looking, you need to use those messages to ask your connection and the job poster to keep your search confidential. It would be embarrassing if your referral ended up going through your boss without your knowing it!
2. Find information about a job you’re interviewing for
Out of the blue, you’ve gotten a call from a headhunter about a new job that could be your dream assignment — higher salary, more responsibility and the chance to do something really creative.
But it’s a company you’ve never heard of, and none of your friends know anyone who works there. And since it’s not a publicly traded company, there isn’t a lot to go on. It would be great if you could get some inside information before you make any decisions.
None of your real-life friends may know anything about the company, but how about your virtual friends on Facebook? Tap their collective knowledge. Install the My Questions application and then use it to ask for information about the company, or to find out if anyone knows someone who works there.
The question will be displayed on your friends’ Profile pages, and you’ll be able to instantly get their answers.
You can also check to see whether there’s a Facebook network of the company’s employees. Click Networks at the top of your Profile page, choose Browse All Networks and click the Workplaces tab. You’ll find an alphabetical listing of all Facebook’s workplace networks.
Most workplace networks are open only to employees, so you probably won’t be able to join. But you can find out who works there and how to get in touch with them. Preston Gralla
LinkedIn’s ability to help you here depends on whether there are any other members who work at your desired company. If the job is posted on LinkedIn, the entry will have a box labeled Inside Connections if someone in your extended network works there.
Click on the link, and it’ll bring up those names. If they’re two or three degrees of separation from you, you can bring up their profile and go through an introduction process similar to the referral process described before.
If the job isn’t posted on LinkedIn, you can still do a people search by company name and find out if there’s anyone on LinkedIn in your extended network who works there. You can then get their names and pursue an introduction.
You’ll also get the names of people at the company who are on LinkedIn but not in your network. But in this case, you don’t see their name, just their title. You can’t see their full profile or contact them unless you spring for at least a Business account at $20 a month.
(There’s also a Business Plus account at $50 a month and a Pro account at $200 a month.) With a paid account, you can send the unnamed contact an InMail, which is a way of contacting them without knowing who they are.
On the other hand, if you can then find the name that goes with the title (for example, via the company’s own Web site), you can search for them that way, bring up their entire public profile and use the introduction feature to send a more personal message. — Jake Widman
3. Find a contract worker for a three-month Web project
It’s just really bad timing. One of your best Web designers decided to have a baby, and her due date is two days before the team has to start working on a new look for the site. She’s already given you some good ideas to work on, but she’s taking the next three months off and you’re going to need a temporary replacement.
You don’t have the time or the inclination to start dealing with HR, since they wouldn’t know a good Web designer if it bit them in the ankle, so you’re going to try to find one through your network.
First, follow the same advice as for looking for a job, and head to the same places — except when you go there, follow the steps for those who have jobs to offer, rather than someone looking for a job.
After that, there’s another Facebook app that should help. Try the Application Developer Services application. It lists developers, their expertise, what kind of work they’re looking for and sometimes the rates they charge as well.
You can also do targeted searches by expertise ? everything from AJAX through XML. — Preston Gralla
If this hiring is totally aboveboard — in other words, your HR department has approved it and you’re going to properly handle all the paperwork — you can certainly post it on LinkedIn.
The form for posting a job opening contains no surprises: it’s got the boxes for company name, job title and job description, plus pop-up menus for specifying industry sector, experience level, job function and job type (contract, temporary and so on).
If someone then applies to you through the LinkedIn posting, the application will include a list of people in your network who have worked in the same place(s) as your applicant. You can then request references from your connections, the same way you would pursue introductions in the other direction.
Mind you, it costs $195 to post a job on LinkedIn for 30 days; posting a job on Craigslist, by contrast, costs $75 in the San Francisco Bay Area and $25 elsewhere. You’ll have to decide if the ability to get references is worth that much to you. (In the Bay Area, you can shout “Web designer wanted” out your window and have 50 resumes by lunchtime.) — Jake Widman
4. Solicit ideas and discussion from team members
This is it: You’ve been given your first really big project — a new way to encourage active interaction by your company’s subscription base. It’s been approved and budgeted by “the powers that be,” and you really, really want this to succeed.
You’ve mapped out your initial schedule, you’ve chosen your team members, and you’re ready to go. The next step? Use your new team to generate some solid, imaginative ideas on ways to get subscribers interested.
This is the kind of thing that Facebook was created for — bringing together groups of people to discuss, debate and share information online. To create your own group, just click Groups on your Profile page and then on the page that appears click the Create a New Group button and follow the instructions.
Make sure to make the group private, so that the only people who can join are people you invite. Once you create the group, invite everyone on your team to join. You’ll then all have access to your private discussion boards, lists of upcoming meetings, message posting, shared photos and videos, and more. — Preston Gralla
LinkedIn doesn’t have much to offer for this kind of team communication. It does offer Groups, but it’s just a way of improving the efficiency of using LinkedIn’s other features: You can limit your searches to members of a group you belong to, join or start a group of people with the same interests or backgrounds (such as fellow alumni), and other similar tasks.
The site’s FAQ spells it out: “LinkedIn Groups is designed specifically for the individual and not as a groupwide communications tool. Therefore, there is no way for an individual user to send broadcast messages to all members of the group.”
Once you are a part of a Group, though, all the members are in your Contacts list. When you send a message via LinkedIn, you can address it to multiple contacts, just as you can in a regular e-mail program. But there aren’t many advantages to that — you can’t create a mailing list, and your contacts are just going to get an e-mail from LinkedIn with the contents of the message anyway.
Using the site doesn’t add any efficiencies to the communication process.
5. Get feedback on a nasty IT problem from peers outside your company
You’re pretty good at what you do, but even pretty good sometimes doesn’t cut it. You’ve got a new employee — unfortunately, somebody high up in the food chain — whose snazzy new Vista notebook will not play with the company’s Wi-Fi network, no matter how much you tweak, re-install and curse.
Your temptation is to simply swap out notebooks, but that would be admitting defeat, and the new hire is smart enough to realize it. So it’s time to get some answers from outside the company — without giving away any company secrets, of course.
Facebook was created for students looking to do things such as vote on who’s hot and who’s not, so it’s not exactly designed for tracking down IT woes. Your best bet here is with the shotgun approach: Send out several loads of buckshot and hope something hits the target.
That primarily means installing the My Questions application and blasting your question out to your list of friends in the hope that someone might have a solution. You can also leave private Facebook messages for your contacts who you think might help as well.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t get an answer.
Facebook doesn’t appear to have made major inroads with the IT crowd. However, there’s a Facebook group you can join that might help. The Association of Information Technology Professionals has several hundred members who might have answers for you. — Preston Gralla
The usefulness of LinkedIn for this task depends on how willing you are to let other people know that you haven’t been able to answer the question. You can certainly try to get answers the hard way, which would be to use the various search functions to find people you think might be able to answer it, get an introduction if necessary and ask for help. But is there an easier way?
Yes, LinkedIn has an Answers area where you can post a question to your network and even categorize it by subject area, such as Technology or Law and Legal. Anyone can answer, and the answers are posted like comments to a blog, so everyone can see everyone else’s answers and comment or expand on them.
You can find questions on the site about everything from career advice to opinions about software to what people thought about the Super Bowl. (That last is categorized Staffing and Recruiting — go figure.) Posting a question would be an effective way to solicit answers to this kind of technical problem.
There is a danger in this approach, though. If you make the question visible to everyone in your network, there’s no way to ensure your supervisors won’t see it. If they’re working at your company, there’s a good chance they’re already in your extended network, even if you’re not aware of it. And LinkedIn operates with real names, so they’ll know the question is coming from you.
On the other hand, you can limit the question’s visibility to only those connections you specify. The downside here is that you’re getting answers from a lot fewer people. But by posting the question on LinkedIn, you’re still reaping the brainstorming benefits of your respondents’ ability to comment on others’ answers. — Jake Widman
6. Keep track of former associates
It’s been 10 years since you left your first job, and while you’re pretty happy where you are, you can’t help remembering how much you enjoyed working and hanging out with the other staffers there.
You wonder what’s happening with the old gang, how many of them are still at that company or have moved on. And anyway, it’s not a bad idea to keep contact with people in your field who could give you a recommendation if you need one.
This is why Facebook exists — not just to contact people you frequently talk to, but to catch up with old friends and associates. Tracking down old associates is about as easy as it gets. You can have Facebook scour through your Outlook, Thunderbird, Outlook Express or other e-mail software contacts, as well as contacts from your Web-based mail (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and many others) and from AOL Instant Messenger.
Once you’ve assembled all your contacts, you can send friend invitations to your contacts who are on Facebook. To do it, choose Friends –> Invite Friends from the top of the Facebook screen and follow directions.
In addition, you can search for individual contacts on Facebook by typing names into the Search box. Even better, you can look through your friends’ list of friends. After all, it’s likely that there are plenty of people you’ve forgotten that you’d like to be in touch with, and here’s the best way to find them.
Click on the names of each of your friends, and browse through their list of friends. When you see someone you want to be in touch with, click the Add to Friends link, and an invitation will be send to that person. Once you’ve invited a friend and they’ve accepted your invitation, you’ll know what they’re up to (as long as they update their Facebook Profiles, of course).
One more possibility: Look through all of the existing Facebook Networks for any former organizations for which you’ve worked by clicking Networks –> Join a Network, or Networks –> Browse All Networks.
One word of warning: In many instances, you’ll need an e-mail address from the workplace if you want to join the network. However, there is a work-around. You can see the list of people on the network, even if you can’t join it. Find your former company’s network and click it.
Then click Find Coworkers, and on the page that appears, don’t type in a name, but instead leave the name blank and click Search for Coworkers. You’ll then see a list of all the people in the network. When you see someone with whom you want to be in touch, click Add to Friends.
Oh, and by the way, if you’re a LinkedIn member, you can find people you know from LinkedIn and invite them to be friends on Facebook if they’re Facebook members. Go to the LinkedIn app , install it, follow the instructions, and you’ll be ready to go. — Preston Gralla
This is an area where LinkedIn shines. If you’re looking for an old friend, you can always search for them by name and, if you find them, send a quick note and/or an invitation to join your network.
It’s even easier to find your colleagues from a former job or friends from school. You can click on either the Classmates or the Colleagues link to bring up a page with a list of the schools or companies in your profile. Once on that page, you can choose See All to find everyone on LinkedIn who was at the school or company the same time as you, or Find New to see who’s joined since the last time you checked.
The search isn’t foolproof. While working on this article, I searched for people who worked at Publish magazine when I was there and got hits for a guy who worked at Publish-Industry GmbH and a woman who worked at Publish-Ability.
But I also found 15 people I had worked with, invited eight of them to join my network and so far three of them have accepted my invitation. And since I am now no more than two degrees of separation from everyone in their networks, there’s no telling how many new connections I have. — Jake Widman