Are You Building Professional Relationships or a Publishing Platform?

By Dennis McDonald in Alexandria, Virginia

Years ago when I first joined Linkedin I started receiving connection requests from people I’d never met before. Some were recruiters, some were fellow IT management consultants, and some were people I would probably never meet in a million years.

I posted questions about this on various forums and received the sage (I thought) advice, “Go ahead. By accepting connection requests from people you don’t know, you extend the reach of your network. You’ll be able to meet and communicate with a lot more people that way.”

I accepted that advice and started accepting Linkedin connection requests from everyone — even the people with thousands of connections who seemed to do nothing but networking for a living. 

I soon found out that such links, while expanding my Linkedin “reach,” didn’t really help me when it came to making serious connections one or two links away. Inevitably such communications languished. I ended up doing more research outside Linkedin for email addresses. Several times I even researched the question “Does X really know Y,” since I didn’t want to commit an important professional communication to a weakly formed link.

These days my use of Linkedin is much more targeted. It’s one of many different networking tools I use and, interestingly enough, I now view Linkedin as more important than ever since it has maintained its focus on business and professional relationships.

I bring up this experience since I see something similar happening with Twitter. DJ Francis started to get at this in his recent blog post Why I’m Qwitting You On Twitter where he states in his explanation why he is “unfollowing” people on the microblogging service Twitter,

By keeping my interactions meaningful, I can create more friendships and that will probably result in more tweets for the community at large. Which means I can provide more relevant content for you (which is the goal for me anyway).

I know there are technologies that can help me sort and organize tweets, but I’ve still only got one pair of eyeballs. I’m not interested in Tweetdeck or anything like that - maybe I’m stuck in my ways. But I do know you deserve someone who can give you the attention you deserve. And it ain’t me, babe.

And that’s why, in order to stay sane, I’ve gotta qwit you.

Francis seems to have found the same thing about Twitter that I found out about Linkedin. You can use it as the basis for building an ever expanding network — that you can then use for a variety of purposes — or you can use it as the basis for building or maintaining a group of relationships.

Some people who use Twitter as a way to build a large network have learned how to use their network as a distribution system for professional publishing. Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble are prime examples. They have refined the art of managing large networks of people and regularly provide information that many thousands of people find useful. Their networks are, in some ways, focused publishing platforms.

Where this gets sticky, as we found recently when social media guru Chris Brogan published a blog post about a sponsored department store shopping spree, is that advertisers realize the value of what I call the “trusted celebrity.” Advertisers are willing to pay for these trusted celebrities to broadcast their message to these existing networks. Old time radio and TV celebrities such as the late Arthur Godfrey would fit right in to the idea of making money this way.

If you’re a professional starting out to build and interact with online networks based on professional relationships and interests, I recommend you consider what you hope to do with the networks you build. Are you building professional relationships, or are you building a publishing platform?

This is not really an “either/or” question since tools such as blogs — and Twitter — can support both goals. But I think the question is worth considering.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D., a management consultant whose email address is ddmcd@yahoo.com.


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Reader Comments (7)

Your blog raises questions that are both interesting and important. Beyond the relationship/publishing dichotomy you note is another alternative, namely, using your network as a source of information or data you may in turn market.

Linkedin, for example, now offers a polling tool that allows you to contact everyone in your network to get their opinion on some issue. Admittedly its use is limited - you can only ask one question per poll. But the issue it raises is whether it's necessarily a good idea to commercialize what probably started as a personal relationship ("Since you are a person I trust, I wanted to invite you to join my network on LinkedIn").

I don't know what the answer is, but you raise an issue that I expect will increase in visibility as the potential to monetize social networks grows.
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Kilbourne
Larry - I don't think there is an "answer" per se . People create relationships, online and offline, for many different reasons. Some reasons are altruistic, others are purely commercial. Some are both. That's not going to change. - Dennis
December 16, 2008 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald
Hello Dennis,

I'm glad you read my post. I think you're totally correct: people need to go into any social network with an idea of what they hope to get out of it. Having an online strategy is required for online marketing and likely other professions as well.

It's interesting - I see particular social networks being used in very particular ways. In casual conversation amongst friends, I have found that Facebook is largely kept sacred - no unknowns, no marketers (perhaps avoiding the fate of MySpace). LinkedIn for business relations. Etc, etc.

And you make a good point about blogs creating this community as well. Cheers.
December 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Francis
This is a great post. I believe that some of the confusion about how to best use tools is due to the way that software is being designed/created today. Companies like Google pioneered the method of throwing things out in Beta. While I am sure Google does some strategy, they rely on the live feedback from their users to determine what works and what doesn't work. They continue to build around the things that do

This is a bit frustrating for early adopters because many of the tools will be difficult to use. However, it does have the benefit of allowing different user groups including ones that the creator never imagined using the tools in different ways. You may have found a way that LinkedIn works for you. There may be other people that use it in a different way to great effect.

Personally, I am still in the evaluation phase. My blog has value to me just as a personal diary. If people interact with the contact and a dialog ensues, all the better. I also realize that it is a digital footprint which will help people evaluate me. If they can get a better sense of who I am, the way I think, and the types of topics I consider; all the better.

As for Twitter, I think that a year from now the ways available for us to take advantage of micro-streaming will be quite different.

Keep up the great thoughts. Since we are both DC area, I hope we can connect in-person.
December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSwan
Swan - you make a very good point: different people can use the same tool in many different ways.

For a different perspective on how modern software development practices can impact opportunities for innovation, see my post "How Can Collaboration Systems and Social Media Complement Agile Project Management?" located here:


Thanks for the comment!

- Dennis
December 19, 2008 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald
My experience has been that Facebook swarms with marketers just as Linkedin swarms with recruiters. As you suggest, your personal strategy will determine whether such factors contribute or detract from your online experience.

In my case, I use Facebook very little not because it's constantly being used for promotional purposes but because of its confusing functionality.

- Dennis
December 19, 2008 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald
That such an interesting post & good sharing. People create relationships, online and offline, for many different reasons.
January 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJames Harmison

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