Using LinkedIn

Who Has the AnswerAnother feature of LinkedIn has gone by the wayside. LinkedIn Answers, oft-touted as a destination for users seeking to advance a thought leadership platform, receive an objective viewpoint on a specific business challenge or commiserate with their fellow LinkedIn citizens on any number of nagging concerns, was retired on January 31, 2013. Given the systematic restructuring of the LinkedIn site, the move should come as no surprise. It does, however, spell dismay for a great many people who depended on the forum for crowdsourcing, peer advisory and the gleaning of business intelligence.

The demise of LinkedIn Answers supports the progressive strategy of LinkedIn toward a more engagement-driven platform, one that emphasizes meaningful one-on-one interactions and more focused problem solving. Although I did not frequent it regularly, I found Answers to serve a purpose and, on more than one occasion, found it to be extremely helpful. I was more of a question asker than an answerer. In the end, I must confess, it felt like a closed community, one in which the same folks were jumping on questions as soon as they hit the board, seemingly more interested in vying for the “Best answer” distinction rather than shedding light. Some responses were on-topic; others were vague, diffuse and offered no value.

With the plug pulled on LinkedIn Answers, contingency plans will emerge to pick up the slack. Those who participated in the forum regularly will miss it, I’m sure. They will have to find alternative vehicles through which to ask a question, arrive at a consensus on an issue or voice their subject matter expertise. Sadly, one of the byproducts of its removal will be the virtual landfill of content in the listings generated by Google searches that can no longer be accessed. Click on those links and you’ll be ushered to LinkedIn’s outgoing letter to its users explaining their decision to pull Answers. No archives to peruse. Gone.

So where do we get our questions answered?

The LinkedIn Interactive Space

Community outreach on LinkedIn now shifts to Polls, group discussions or via status updates, with hints that future enhancements are planned. Although great for assessing trends and quantifying data, asking a poll will not supplant the value that can be gained from reviewing detailed explanations. I see limited conversation taking place on status updates. On a home page already rife with noise, there is some liking, commenting and sharing, but many users defer from engaging authentically so as not to ruffle feathers, or for fear that something they say may be taken out of context. Additionally, the shelf life of a status update is very short and the post will ultimately be displaced out of conscious awareness and fall off the activity log. At the time of this writing, the groups stand as the best option through which to cull the information you seek and gain emotional intelligence from your interactions. Deepening your exploration of the LinkedIn groups is a logical move. The hope is that group members will undertake more genuine knowledge searches and actually pose questions unhinged from self-promotion in the group milieu.

Organic LinkedIn Network Searches

Whether you realize it or not, through your LinkedIn work, you have amassed a treasure trove of professional resources, many of which you may not be aware. Even if Answers was still a viable option, the time has come to tap the collective knowledge of your direct LinkedIn connections. The focus, as it should be, is on strengthening relationships. Perform an internal audit of your LinkedIn network and isolate those who can address a specific issue, either now or down the road. The sample size will drive the value of the return. You can submit the question en masse and retrieve several different viewpoints, or tailor the information request to a select few. In either case, frame the inquiry as a preface to a meaningful business conversation. If these folks can’t help you, they will surely point you in the direction of someone who can. Such is the essence of social networking, lest we forget that is why we are on a site like LinkedIn in the first place.

Real World Discussion

In today’s crazy-busy world, getting to know someone beyond a superficial level takes time and energy. If you are gliding from person-to-person at a networking event, only concerned with distributing your quota of business cards, then your efforts won’t translate into much. The more focused you are during the exchange, the greater the opportunity to position yourself as a trusted and valued asset. Keep mental files on the people you meet. They may provide you with the insights you need someday. Also remember that intelligence gathering is a two-way street. You have specialized knowledge that can solve problems for others, don’t you? Let people you meet know what your sweet spots are so that when the connection on LinkedIn occurs, and the need for your intellectual property arises, you will get their questions answered and, in so doing, move the relationship forward.

Parting Thoughts: If you were a devotee of LinkedIn Answers, whether as an inquirer, reporter or both, the volley of problem-solving dialog that you once enjoyed shifts to within your tribe. This movement is opportunity-directed as it will give more people (some who never knew LinkedIn Answers even existed in the first place) a chance to provide facts and fixes and demonstrate their subject matter expertise. With Answers now a piece of LinkedIn history, I will take a page out of my own playbook and access my network for professional insights and sagacious advice. I predict that we will see heightened interactions and more emotionally-charged questions in the LinkedIn groups. I’m very interested to see what new channels emerge on LinkedIn through which we can simultaneously pool knowledge, scaffold a thought leadership platform and build enduring business relationships.