A couple of weeks ago I blogged that I was skeptical about the value of LinkedIn.
Having discovered that it allows you to ask your connections for recommendations, I asked my 61 if they would be willing to write one for me.
After two weeks the results are in.
22 people wrote me a recommendation. Most within 48 hours.
3 said they thought LinkedIn recommendations were inauthentic, because they were frequently 'traded' for mutual recommendations.
1 said they would but hadn't figured out what to say.
1 said they thought that this kind of test undermined the credibility of social networks and that we needed to protect the quality of information we put into services like LinkedIn and Twitter. I disagreed. I think the best test of every social medium is whether we can make it meaningless. Those that survive will be the most valuable.
And 1 said they would be happy to give me a recommendation even though they had just realized I was a different Charles Day than the one they had been looking for. There's another one?
28 responses out of 61 is 46%. A pretty remarkable redemption rate.
But the recommendations themselves were so extraordinary and heartfelt that it made me certain they were the result of the personal nature of those relationships. Not the result of LinkedIn's particular value.
I wonder in fact, how many more I might have received had I asked each of the 61 people directly for a recommendation. No fewer, I suspect.
And do they encourage anyone to pick up the phone and seek me out who might otherwise not have done so? Not so far.
Both Twitter and Facebook provide me with something I would not otherwise have without them - and the information is presented in a simple and distinctive interface. LinkedIn's is confusing and distracting. And provides little reason to sift through it.
Except for one thing. As Fred Wilson pointed out on his blog a couple of days later.
"LinkedIn is a terrific place to find talent and to find references. When I want to check someone out, I invite them to connect to me on LinkedIn, I find who we know in common, and that is my reference list. Charlie O'Donnell taught me these LinkedIn tricks about five years ago and I use them all the time".
That made me think about LinkedIn from an entirely different perspective. And has suddenly made it valuable. It's an organic address book and reference check. One that is entirely self-updating.
But Fred's advice contains more than that. In fact, it contains the key to all social media.
The word 'invite.'
If your first interest in social media is what you stand to gain, the answer will be not much more than you could get by asking the same people personally.
But if first you think about what you can give, then social media starts to work for you in an entirely different way.
The proof of which lies in the fact you are reading this.
My gift to you.
Which you just returned in kind.