A True Forerunner to LinkedIn

Group around a table looking at laptop

Don Teff, * mentor, trusted colleague, and good friend of mine, published an extremely prescient paper in 2002 on e-commerce as an emerging new business model. Titled “Linking – A New Concept for Career and Business Success” he showed how the Internet, e-commerce and virtual groups play an increasing role in business. He also pointed out that the traditional notions of networking and contact development (aka direct contact) as used in job search can be used in building an effective e-commerce business, but with limited effect.

For Don, networking can be awkward for people – especially introverts – who reach out to others for information that may be helpful in building their businesses, and it is often a one-way road where they seek information but have little or nothing to share in return. In addition, contact development requires people to narrow their focus on specific organizations, and people within those organizations, who can be helpful to them. However, this approach narrows the range of contacts, and as we know, job search is a numbers game!

In an effort to combine these two approaches to meeting people who can be helpful in establishing one’s e-commerce business, he introduced the concept linking. For example, to be successful in this new environment where information is communicated at “lightning speed,” businesses need to create alliances with others who can be helpful to them. Linking does this by creating a sustainable network (what Don refers to as an “alliance” or “virtual team”) where people support one another on an ongoing basis.

Sound all too familiar? When the social media site LinkedIn made its debut in May, 2003 it quickly became a means by which people with similar careers and interests connected with one another to share information. You could say LinkedIn became the virtual equivalent to networking and contact development. LinkedIn also distinguishes between degrees of contacts. Your first degree contacts those closest to you (whom I like to refer to as your “trusted advisors”) but who may be connected to someone you don’t know (a second or third degree contact) and who can also offer helpful information.

(Please refer to my blog on “How Do You Measure the Probability of Getting a Job Offer? You Identify the Person with the Most Influence in Hiring You,” where I further discuss networking.)

Sounds strikingly familiar to Don’s concept of linking. His concepts of using linking to form “alliances” in creating a “virtual team” to help achieve one’s business goals can be easily applied to job search and advancing one’s career. If we think about the real benefit of LinkedIn, it’s about developing relationships (i.e., alliances) with other people of similar interests and passions. These contacts can then support each another in building a business or advancing one’s career.

Unfortunately, LinkedIn increasingly is being used as a major job board where companies pay to post their jobs (where LinkedIn makes its real money) and its members who apply for those jobs. Using LinkedIn to simply look for job leads is really the antithesis of what Don meant by creating alliances to share information, thereby being helpful to people in building a business, and I dare say, in finding a job.

In his paper Don also talks about “peer group alliances.” In this manner, once people connect with one another to create an alliance the next logical step is to build a group of alliances where people of similar interests can share ideas. Again, sounds strikingly familiar to forming groups on LinkedIn. But for these groups to be effective, the members must support each other and be willing to share what one of my clients referred to as “competitive intelligence.” They also must be willing to share business or career related opportunities.

Since Don wrote his paper 15 years ago the Internet has spawned numerous social media sites, virtual groups, and e-commerce businesses, so his prognosis and recommendations for building successful networks (alliances) hold true today as they did back then. He further noted that those in job search, or looking to build a business in today’s virtual environment will need to be creative and strategic in their use of technology in building relationships, which means going beyond the traditional approaches to networking.

As I read, and re-read, Don’s paper I couldn’t help thinking how much of his work might have been floating around in the collective unconscious of the founding members of LinkedIn. I am reminded of what a professor of mine told me years back, that technology is just another word for doing familiar things in a different way. With this in mind, use LinkedIn as a valuable social networking tool, especially one that builds trust, adds value to the relationship, and builds those ever important alliances. Don’s concepts were certainly ahead of the curve in an emerging new world of social media!

*For more than 25 years, Don Teff served the corporate marketplace with Human Resource consulting, specializing in outplacement counseling and executive coaching.

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