Up at 5AM: The 5AM Solutions Blog

Confessions of a LinkedIn Junkie: Social Networking in the World of Biotech

Posted on Thu, Mar 03, 2011 @ 01:22 PM

I tweet infrequently, I dabble in Facebook, but LinkedIn is a habit. My addiction started soon after receiving my first invite to connect more than seven years ago. On more than one evening I’ve stayed up way too late looking up past colleagues and classmates, seeing where their career has taken them and uncovering mutual acquaintances. Not long ago I even wrote a Firefox extension to help enter my publications into my profile. And since I’m coming clean, I’m sure the day that my connections surpasses that magical number 500 (at which point LinkedIn gives up counting and simply reports 500+), I’ll throw a small, self-congratulatory party – at least in my head.

Before my family and colleagues stage an intervention, let me make the case for why LinkedIn isn’t a habit that needs breaking, but a valuable tool for the biotech professional. First and foremost, in a field where some people seem to change jobs faster than they change their socks, LinkedIn is now my dynamic and up to date address book to keep in contact with old colleagues. Second, LinkedIn is my online resume and professional presence, important when you’re trying to bring in new clients or land a job. Finally, my professional network is a resource that I can tap for referrals and answers to technical questions. That same network serves as a highly targeted audience to which I can promote interesting tidbits like this blog post… or perhaps something of real value.

LinkedIn is just one service in an ever increasing arsenal of social networking tools – including Twitter and Facebook – that are available to biotech professionals. LinkedIn wasn’t built specifically for researchers/scientists, however, and it’s been very interesting to see sites like Labmeeting, Nature Network and the now defunct SciLink (to name just a few) tailor their services to this niche. These sites bring some nice features to the table, for example allowing scientists to share and collaborate on research. With the addition of Groups and more recently Publications, however, LinkedIn has come a long way in becoming a more useful tool for biotechnologists. Still on my wish list is a deeper and more sophisticated integration of publication data (e.g. creating a parallel network of co-authorship and integration with tools like Mendeley and CiteULike) as well as a richer network model where you can identify folks in your social graph by relations such as “boss”, “co-worker”, “advisor”, etc.

Having had the linking habit for this long, I’ve started to develop some rules of thumb to get the most out of LinkedIn that I thought I would share:

  • Tend Your Profile: I once heard Auren Hoffman (RapLeaf CEO and networking guru) say LinkedIn was the way to put your cv online without ticking off your employer. That may be the case, but let’s face it – unless your resume shows up in one of those “how not to write a cv” books, your LinkedIn profile is bound to be seen by a lot more folks than your resume. Keep it polished and current.
  • Tend Your Network: What you can do with your network of contacts depends not only on the number of connections you have but the quality of those connections. My rule here comes from dear old Mom – don’t link with strangers. On the flip side, connect soon after meeting while the encounter is still fresh on both minds.
  • Be a Groupie: So Groups on LinkedIn are a bit hit or miss. Some are just another avenue for spam, but others can bring together folks with common interests. The good Groups have given me interesting tips or links and others I belong to simply to show a little bit more about my interests and background.
  • Watch Your Tells: In poker, a “tell” is a subtle sign that a player makers revealing something about her hand. In LinkedIn, a tell is an action that unintentionally reveals something (secret) about a person or company. When a “random” person suddenly links with multiple folks from a company, they’re probably interviewing there. When you notice that all your friends at Acme Co. have started updating their profiles, things at Acme are likely not going well. If you’re interviewing, working with clients or are just sensitive about public image, think about what information your actions might be giving away.
  • Pay it Forward / Random Acts of Recommendation: When someone asks for a referral or introduction, I usually go out of my way to make it happen. I enjoying helping folks make connections and I know that someday I’ll be the one asking. As for recommendations on LinkedIn, I don’t care for being asked for them but I do like giving them to folks that rock without warning or mercy. This is something I need to do more.
As you can see, my addiction is probably not going away any time soon, but if you want to join my support group, I’d love to hear your stories. How are you using social networking for your job?


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