Changing the World Through LinkedIn and Collaborative Online Tools

Shortly before the devastating recession of 2008 began, I accepted invitations from two business associates to join LinkedIn—the social media tool designed to help business colleagues stay in touch with each other and with those who might be able to provide job and other business opportunities. As the recession deepened in 2009 and my work and flow of income diminished to a trickle, I became more committed to staying in touch with a variety of colleagues and potential clients through updates I posted on LinkedIn—which, at the time, was the only social media tool I was exploring and using.

My posts on that account—generally no more than five each week, and sometimes none at all because I didn’t post anything unless I thought it would be of interest or use to those in my slowly growing LinkedIn network—were always very focused. I would share links to articles and other resources my colleagues and prospective clients might not otherwise see. I posted brief (Twitter-length) updates documenting the efforts I was making with colleagues on a board of directors engaged in what was ultimately a successful effort to help a struggling chapter of what was then ASTD (the American Society for Training and Development) and later became ATD (the Association for Talent Development) survive and once again begin to thrive. I occasionally posted summaries of what I was learning and doing as a volunteer in the marketing department of the Asian Art Museum here in San Francisco. There were also posts leading to articles and other resources I was devouring while completing work on my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree through an online program at the University of North Texas.

About halfway through 2009—a period of time when my income had dwindled to a trickle and prospects for new contract work were non-existent—I started hearing comments from friends and colleagues who, with the words “You seem to be everywhere these days,” made me realize I still very much had a presence in my business communities even though I wasn’t seeing much in the way of cash flow or new contract work. Curious about the disparity between the reality of my situation and the comments I was hearing, I started asking people to define what “being everywhere” meant to them. The unanticipated answer, of course, was that those LinkedIn posts about the volunteer work I was doing to support major local community groups and the consistent sharing of resources my friends and business colleagues valued left them with the (incorrect) impression that I was weathering the recession well.

Recognizing the value of being actively, positively present on LinkedIn and continuing to contribute to my various overlapping and increasingly well-integrated communities—business, volunteer, learning, and social—helped me to focus even more on remaining engaged at a time when engagement felt almost completely futile. I spent at least an hour each week looking for ways to make my own LinkedIn account a valuable resource to anyone who spent time looking at it—beefing up sections with links to articles I was writing; reviews of books of interest to those to whom I was connected in LinkedIn; and links to slide decks others could use or adapt in their own work.

The combination of remaining tremendously active as a community volunteer throughout 2009, completing work on that MLIS degree, and sharing highlights of what I was doing led, unexpectedly, to an entirely new (paid) business opportunity in early 2010: becoming part of a team of trainers who, for six months, traveled throughout Northern California helping hospice workers learn to use software on mobile devices to more efficiently serve their patients. This, in turn, led to projects that introduced me to collaborative social media tools including Yammer and, more recently, Slack (Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) and Trello—tools designed to facilitate blended conversations that help bring projects to fruition.

In thinking about how LinkedIn can be an important, productive, and often-overlooked element in our toolkits to foster positive social change, I keep returning to the idea that LinkedIn as well as Yammer, Slack, and many other social media collaboration/project-management tools are seen primarily as business resources—tools that can be and occasionally are used by activists, but seldom seem to be to the full extent possible. A fabulous comprehensive paper written in 2012 by Andrew M. Calkins and published in 2013 as a Julie Belle White-Newman MAOL Leadership Award winner at St. Catherine University, “LinkedIn: Key Principles and Best Practices for Online Networking  Advocacy by Nonprofit Organizations,” leads me to believe that little has changed over the past six years in terms of LinkedIn making the transition from being a potentially rewarding resource to becoming a resource widely used by those committed to fostering positive change in their communities.

With a bit of creativity and effort, I suspect we can better take advantage of the potential of LinkedIn, combined with many other social media collaboration/project-management tools, to better reach and engage members of our professional/business communities into our efforts to help change the world.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the ninth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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