In my work to help clinicians get into medical writing, I often encourage them to use LinkedIn. The benefits of this platform include networking, searching for jobs, and establishing an online presence. However, I’m finding myself more and more frustrated with LinkedIn these days, and although it’s particularly important for nonclinical career seekers, I worry that the overuse of connections is hampering its utility. Let’s discuss.

When was the last time you used LinkedIn to actually make the most of your connections? It used to be that if you wanted to connect with someone, you could see your mutual connections and ask one of them for an introduction. Example: “I’d really like to connect with some fellow physician writers. Let’s see if there are any in Heather’s LinkedIn network; I’m sure she wouldn’t mind making an introduction.” See how nice that is? I can ask Heather to introduce me to someone in her network that she actually knows. Then, maybe one day down the road, I can return the favor for her. Easy peasy. But nowadays, few people actually use it this way. People have gone rogue with their networking attempts. I’ve seen people with over 1000 connections, which doesn’t seem helpful to me. It’s a professional networking site, not a popularity contest. Have you ever looked at your LinkedIn connections and thought, “Wait a minute, I don’t know who that person is or what they do…” If so, that validates my concern.

Take-away: Aim for quality, not quantity.

Next, LinkedIn connection requests seem to be quite random (at least in my experience). Occasionally, I will receive a quick note from a requester as to why they’d like to connect with me. THANK YOU. This makes sense. Thank you for reminding me where we met or explaining that you’d like to learn more about my area of expertise. But in most cases, I receive requests from total strangers with no introduction. What’s the point? Why do you want to connect with me? Please help me understand. Do you really think that one day I’ll hit up a LinkedIn connection to take advantage of his services as a DJ (real example)? Am I likely to use an unknown LinkedIn connection in the unlikely event I need a limo driver (also real)? I tend to presume that most of these folks have an ulterior motive (I’m looking at you, sales people and financial advisors). I get so many random connection requests, it baffles me. These are people I’ve never met before and likely never will, considering our geographic locations and very different career paths. I used to check out the profile and send a quick message if I didn’t know the person. “Hi Mr X, thanks for your request to connect. Could you please remind me where we’ve met?” But even that seems futile at this point. So now I just let the requests pile up. Shoot me a message if you think you can convince me otherwise.

Take-away: If you want to connect with someone on LinkedIn, first ask yourself why. Then, if it still makes sense to you, send a note along with your invitation to introduce yourself and explain. Your connections will thank you.

We need to rethink how we’re using LinkedIn. Unless you’re looking for a job, it’s just not very useful anymore. It seems to me that we’ve lost sight of why we’re connecting with one another. I realize that it’s probably too late to go back to when connections actually meant something. So what’s next? If LinkedIn is MySpace, what’s the next Facebook? Whatever it is, I just hope we can use it for its intended purpose.

How do you use LinkedIn?