LinkedIn is potentially a very valuable resource for both individuals and companies. It allows users to tap into the combined knowledge of the community, find mutual contacts to introduce them to the people they want to meet and to build their profile and develop relationships with key influencers in both their own and their clients industries or in the fields in which they want to work.
Unfortunately potential is often not realised. Most people do not take the time to understand just how effective LinkedIn can be in helping them achieve their objectives. Instead they treat it in the same way as any other new technology, by applying the same tired and lame practices.
Despite its tremendous growth in popularity over the last five years LinkedIn is in danger of being sunk by spam.
As the owner of a group on LinkedIn I have to waste a frustrating amount of time moderating spam posts in the discussion forum. The spam will range from completely unrelated posts dumped in the forum in the hope of selling someone's products or services, to blog links and event invitations shared with no comment or attempt at discussion.
Often you will find that the blogs and invitations are duplicated across a number of different LinkedIn groups. That sends a very simple message to me - the person (or robot) posting them does not care at all about what other people in the forum have to say or in entering discussions, they simply want to broadcast. They are using LinkedIn as an advertising forum.
But how effective is this approach? Look at most discussions in LinkedIn groups and you see real engagement where the poster has reached out and asked for opinions. Share your latest blog by all means, if relevant to the membership and focus of the group, but don't just link dump, ask for other people's experiences and viewpoints. Where a link has been posted with no comment to frame it, there tend to be very few comments or 'likes'.
Link dumping in groups is one thing, LinkedIn users can choose to ignore such activity, annoying as it is. Much more dangerous to people's willingness to engage with LinkedIn is the rise, particularly prevalent over recent months, in spam messages.
I now receive several general messages a week direct to my LinkedIn inbox. People inviting me to events, asking me to sponsor them, telling me about their latest product or service. I say inviting, asking and telling me but that is being generous. The messages are scattergun, sent to the originator's entire LinkedIn network and, sometimes and somehow, even to people to whom they are not directly connected.
Why am I sharing this? Sure, I'm no great fan of receiving spam messages. My inbox is full enough as it is. But the problem this causes, or reflects, goes deeper.
The more that people abuse LinkedIn the less likely they are to explore its true potential. As a result, the less likely it is that they will benefit from membership of the network. In addition, the more that people receive what they perceive to be spam, the less inclined they will be to engage with LinkedIn, the more likely that they ignore other messages through the site and the less effective the network will become.
Any network is only as strong as the community of which it is constituted. For LinkedIn to reach the heights its functionality promises, that community needs to stop spamming and remember the Golden Rule of Social Networking - Engage don't Broadcast.
Follow Andy Lopata on Twitter: www.twitter.com/andylopata