Is there any use of LinkedIn for development professionals?

When it comes to the meta-level of LinkedIn networking discourse analysis Ann Friedman’s recent essay ‘All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go’ from The Baffler pretty much nails the issue:
The networking site burrows its way into users’ inboxes with updates spinning the gossamer dream of successful and frictionless advancement up the career ladder. Just add one crucial contact who’s only a few degrees removed from you (...), or update your skill set in a more market-friendly fashion, and one of the site’s 187 million or so users will pluck you from a stalled career and offer professional redemption.
There are many annoying LinkedIn features, the 'news feed' with its empty business-lingo and pseudo insider career tips being probably the worst-Ann Friedman just puts in more beautiful language:
And in the same circular fashion, the point of encouraging users to connect and follow and exchange points of view on LinkedIn is to marshal those users behind the simple, world-conquering faith in networked connectivity. The thoughts that lead the LinkedIn experience, in other words, are usually subtle advertisements for the LinkedIn experience. Or not-so-subtle come-ons: one post promises to help people answer the question “What should I do with my life?” in three steps—by using LinkedIn.
Job recommendations that somehow contain the word ‘development’, but have nothing to do with international development whatsoever only receive a cold shrug from me by now.
And as much as I can see that the whole ‘endorsement’ thing creating clicks and traffic for the network, it is pretty much useless and devoid professional value. Plus, the number of friends who actually found work let alone a job through LinkedIn must be close to 0.
So non-members and other critics need not be reading on: Neither do you have to be on LinkedIn nor is there much use for development professionals and the aid industry…or is there?

I think that the development/NGO/philanthropy sphere on LinkedIn is relatively small and also does not really fit into Friedman’s reflections that center around (North American?) corporate business models-even though you may argue that the differences evaporate and ‘you should get an MBA to work in development’ (or maybe not...).

In the end I started a complicated project of critical, exploratory self-inspection and ask myself the question of how I have actually used LinkedIn as a professional networking tool.
Four things emerged from this self-reflexive project:

1. LinkedIn is actually one of the best address books I have had. It is surprisingly accurate in keeping up with people’s professional and personal moves and I remember more than one occasion when I was looking for a contact in city A or organization B and it worked.

2. In some groups, there are actually interesting discussions going on with people that I would not ‘meet’ otherwise.
It is a bit difficult to capture the essence of what I really mean here…anyway, on more than one occasion I felt that my time spent reading a discussion was actually useful.

3. The more you give-the more you receive?
To be honest, I do not really know whether that is true. It could be that I am too deep inside the Matrix already or that I want to believe that this is true despite lack of empirical evidence. I do have a feeling that regular updates, the odd introduction and actively engaging with old and new contacts generates some kind of win-win, but I also work professionally in development communications (see my next point)

4. It is part of development communications-and that is (part of) my job.
Like most other social media activities, virtual networking or even real-life groups, poverty will not be eradicated through LinkedIn. There. I said it ;)! I just wish that LinkedIn would be less pretentious and be more, say, Huffington Post about their contributions and less life-coachy Deepak Chopra about work and life.

So any final words of wisdom? It’s complicated. With some critical distance, realistic expectations and a little bit of effort my third most favorite social network (after Facebook and Twitter) is working for me and at some point in the future I should really write a paper on the discourse and linguistics of the LinkedIn news feed…

But it is possible that I get it wrong and by engaging with LinkedIn I have become a very small cog in the new world of virtual development and that despite my best efforts for critical research have participated in a sophisticated form of motivational clicktivism:

Nowadays the gospel of motivationalism is so universal that Americans don’t even recognize that we live in a golden age of positive thinking. At a time when user-generated content is king and the economy is in the doldrums, there have never been so many aspiring Carnegies with so many outlets permitting them to push their own particular brand of techno-futurism, business essentialism, or practical optimism. In this sense, LinkedIn is much more a thought-following enterprise than a thought-leading one.
But maybe you have encountered very different experiences with LinkedIn and want to share them in the comment section below?


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