The Problem with LinkedIn

I’ve never been a huge fan of LinkedIn, but I do get some utility from the occupationally focused social network. Granted, most of that utility comes in from remembering the months and years I started or ended a given job. Sometimes I’ll look up a new hire because their name is familiar. Other than that, I find most of the posts to be banal if not outright boring. Most of them are reposts of reposts where someone saw that someone else reposted an article and then the first someone reposts the repost of an article. And the article offers nothing of interest because I’m a librarian, not a businessman. There are already too many people trying to apply business-based philosophy to library service which, last I checked, was meant to be free.

But the biggest failing of LinkedIn lies in their ability to connect you to others in your field for “opportunities.” What those opportunities are, well use your imagination because they could be anything! New jobs! New projects! Advance knowledge! Valuable intelligence! Who knows? It could be anything!

It could even be an aggravated annoyance, as it so often is for me. As it happens, those opportunities are for someone else and that opportunity is you.

This last week I got a call from a hotel chain that I often frequent. I was a little confused because I didn’t have any upcoming trips where I’d need this hotel but I answered the call anyway. I admit, that was an unforced error, but I thought they might be calling about a previous stay.

No, they wanted to sell me on a trip to Las Vegas, at a deep discount.

I have no love for Vegas. I’m not a gambler, but I might go to watch a show or watch the people on Fremont. But honestly, if I’m in Vegas, you can bet that I’m there because I have to be there. Since we’re talking about Las Vegas, it’s a good wager that I’m standing in Las Vegas because I have no other choice. I’m not going to Vegas, I don’t even care if it’s free. (Throw in a free Penn & Teller show and I’ll consider it.)

Then the lady who called said something that absolutely identified where this call originated. She’s not working for this hotel chain, and she gave that away when she asked one question. She was trying to keep me on the phone by asking easy to answer, small talk questions that do nothing but extend the conversation and the likelihood I might buy something.

“So how’s the weather out there in Riverside?”

I don’t live in Riverside, CA. I’ve never lived in Riverside, CA. I’ve probably spent, all told, one full week in Riverside, CA. There is only one thing that connects me to Riverside and that’s my job, because they have a main office in Riverside. And there’s really only one way that someone makes the connection between me, my job, and Riverside; and then they make the wrong assumption:

LinkedIn.

She assumed that, because I work for a company in Riverside, I must live there or spend a great deal of time there. I’ve worked remote since day one of my job. The only reason I went to Riverside was to meet some co-workers, have an orientation, and pick up my laptop. As soon as she asked the question, I knew where she got her information.

About two months ago, I literally had to fend off Slack. Not the app, because I use Slack almost every day, but the people who work for the company that makes the app. Someone from Slack kept reaching out via email asking for “a few minutes of my time” so we could talk about how to make Slack work better within the company. I ignored the first two emails, then I specifically logged into our spam filter to make sure I never saw another one again. After that, this guy reached out to me on LinkedIn, asking to join My Network, as LinkedIn calls it. I never responded and still haven’t. His request remains in my Invitations screen.

The week after that, they called me. They rang my phone. They absolutely knew they could help my company succeed and do more thanks to the miracle of Slack. I explained my position to the man on the other end of the call, my position being that I’m not in charge of Slack at the company. I’m not in charge of anything at the company. All I do is make the ILS do things, write SQL, run data, and help libraries do library things. His voice changed, and confusion set in. He thought I was an Administrator with a capital A.

And I am. I’m a Integrated Library Systems Administrator. Just like it says on LinkedIn.

The only thing that takes orders from me… is a computer system. I don’t have any decision making authority to speak of. Hell, I can’t even buy things for the computer system. So now, I know that I’ve gotten at least two marketing calls, multiple emails, and a LinkedIn connection request with all of that originating from LinkedIn. Hilarious, since LinkedIn is almost 100% read-only for me. I popped into my work email and took a hard look at my unsolicited email and the outright spam. I can’t pinpoint a number for certain, but I think at least 60% of that spam is originating from LinkedIn.

And then one day I saw this meme:

A meme comic using Gravity Falls as the basis. A character holds a paper that bears the LinkedIn logo and reads "You appeared in 78 searches this week." The character says "Woah." In the next panel we see the character looking up from the paper and smiling. He says "This is worthless!"

It inspired me to go look at those searches, because I get the same nonsense as everyone else. LinkedIn proudly boasts that I appeared in 30 – 60 searches per week. Odd, because I’m not looking for a new job, don’t want a new job, and nothing on my profile says I’m looking for a new job. I always brushed off those search stats because, frankly, I don’t care. But let’s have a look at those stats, just once… for science.

Screenshot from my LinkedIn searches stats. 20% were Salespersons while Sales Specialist, Founder, Business Strategists, and Executive Directors each show a 6.7% figure.

Obviously these stats are almost certainly fudged. And if they’re fudged, then they’re wrong. And if they’re wrong, then they’re useless. But let’s pretend they’re at least a representative notion with a whiff of truth. First things first, I’m a librarian. Specifically I’m a systems librarian specializing in integrated library systems and databases. I write SQL, analyze data, provide context, fix problems, and try to help libraries do cool things.

Not a single stat here has anything to do with libraries except, possibly, the Executive Director. I grant that some libraries call their Director an “Executive Director.” But that’s me handing over a favour to LinkedIn. The rest of the people searching for me are sales people. That’s it. The Business Strategists are the people sending me emails for free webinars about strategies that will take my company to “the next level,” whatever that may be. I’m convinced that those who fall under “Founder” are people who founded their own LinkedIn based sales company. All that aside, when you combine the percentages of Salespersons, Sales Specialists, and Business Strategists searching for me on LinkedIn, you get just over a third. A third of the people searching up my profile want me to buy something… when I’m not authorized to buy anything. But they don’t know that because they’re so far removed from what I do, they have no understanding of what my position entails.

LinkedIn has nothing to do with connecting workers or occupations. That’s a side hustle. That’s the carnival barker who lures you to come inside the LinkedIn tent to watch the LinkedIn show. And as you sit down to take part in the show, another person, who doesn’t even work for LinkedIn is wandering the aisles with hundreds of others just like them. And all of them are trying to sell you something you don’t want. LinkedIn is nothing more than a sales platform and a lead generator.

Don’t fool yourself thinking otherwise.