Due to the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites, many professionals are not aware of the benefits that can be derived from joining professional networking sites. This post will provide some insight on this matter and briefly discuss it from a Caribbean context.
In recent years, considerable attention has been given to social networks, especially Facebook and to a lesser extent, MySpace. In an earlier post, Facebook: the good, the bad and the ugly, we highlighted some of the benefits of that network, which included reconnecting with long lost friends and alleviating the isolation many people feel. However, social networks are no longer limited to free-for-all ventures where members struggle to find persons with similar interests. There has been a growing trend towards developing networking sites around common interests from which all members can benefit. At the top of that list is LinkedIn, a business-oriented networking site launched in 2003.
In addition to LinkedIn there are other widely use professional networking sites, such as Xing, Plaxo and Viadeo, but LinkedIn is the largest, with over 100 million members as at March 2011. One of the key benefits of LinkedIn and similar sites, unlike general social networking sites, is that they have been specifically designed and have features well suited to the needs of business professionals. For example:
- using a member’s resumé as his/her profile, which can be made searchable and accessible to other members, and can be indexed by search engines
- establishing and identifying different categories of business contacts
- allowing jobs to be posted on the site, and
- allowing members to join groups where more intensive networking around a common field or interest can occur.
Benefits of professional networking sites
The benefits that can be derived by subscribing to professional networking sites are truly a function of today’s work environment. First, people are changing jobs more frequently than before. For example, in the United States workers are staying less than five years in a position (US Bureau of Labour Statistics). Second, an increasing number of people are choosing to be self-employed, which means that (to an appreciable extent) the survival of their business depends on the sales that can be generated. Third, due to the competitive nature of most industries, businesses are keen to maximise efficiency and productivity. They are continually on the lookout for high performance workers and external resources that can help them to streamline their operations and increase their profitability. Under these circumstances professional networking websites are an invaluable tool that facilitates a person’s continual professional advancement. Key ways this occurs are as follows:
Encourages networking. The benefits that can result from using LinkedIn and other professional networking sites all stem from members connecting to each other. The more people a user can connect to or interact with, the greater the opportunities to which he/she can be exposed. In the real world, as in the virtual world, relationship building is a crucial component in marketing oneself and/or one’s business.
Establishes a new job forum. A considerable number of jobs are being advertised on professional networking sites. LinkedIn is reported to have surpassed bulletin boards and dedicated job sites as the most widely used resource for posting and searching for job vacancies. It is therefore a key resource for recruiters and head hunters, but also for the rest of the site’s membership, many of who are constantly looking for new and better opportunities.
Increases potential to secure new work/sales/contracts. Through networking and participation in the groups that are of interest, there are a number of opportunities to secure new sales or additional work which is continually being advertised. Additionally, persons frequently publish notices for help or assistance, which others can follow up on, and conversely services are advertised. Again, in an environment with up to 100 million members, there are countless opportunities to connect with others and establish a staring point for further business.
Benefits to the Caribbean
Working professionals in the Caribbean are well placed to benefit from LinkedIn and other professional networking sites. For many of us, especially those in the service or manufacturing industries, we are constantly looking to break into larger markets. Conversely, through such sites, people can be exposed to new or different products or services that they might not otherwise have been aware of, and new business relationships can be forged. Further, for those who intend to emigrate or relocate, relationships can be built to facilitate, or in anticipation of, such changes.
Ultimately, professional networking sites allow Caribbean professional to widen their exposure and sphere of influence. Since most countries of the world are represented on LinkedIn, for example, Caribbean members can broaden their reach in regional and international markets at a little or no cost. However, to reap the benefits available, one must join a network and put some effort into developing a presence on the site.