Part of our job is to play Social Media Guru for our clients. As such, we watch LinkedIn closely — this is the top professional social networking tool and an important tool for many of our professional services clients. LinkedIn often tinkers with its existing features and provides new functionality frequently. (They also take stuff away, witness the recent folding of LinkedIn Answers, and less recent loss of their events function.)
Now, a new LinkedIn feature introduces new abilities that we think some of our larger corporate clients may need to carefully consider at a senior management level. Recently, LinkedIn announced a new extension/increased functionality within LinkedIn Contacts.
As a very basic level, this feature allows users to connect all of their contacts from within other applications and other email clients, including Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, Evernote, (and other more personal tech tools) to LinkedIn, and download these contacts and manage them all through LinkedIn. It adds Facebook-like features (birthdays, etc.) but also allows you to log within LinkedIn all the communications made to an individual. i.e. it is more like a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool than ever before. The invitations to this new service are being dribbled out. If your people have not yet received the notification of the service, they can sign up on the waiting list on the site.
• For the first time, all the instructions for accessing and uploading contacts to LinkedIn from other services are in one place, and have been made as easy as possible. (You could actually do a lot of this uploading and downloading previously if you knew where to look.)
• The tracking of communications with an individual is impressive — really, it is a CRM and you can see your communication broken out by individual contacts.
• Now companies have the ability to access (if employees are engaged appropriately) even more of their employees’ professional networks. How often have you heard that someone has a terrific network? And they are a favored candidate for a job, especially business development roles.
Negative or Potentially Problematic: some of the implications are as of yet unclear but we want to raise a flag on a couple of potentially problematic areas. Do companies need new policies and procedures, and employment agreements in place with this new capability in mind?
• From a corporate point of view, we think there is reason to be concerned about the ability of the departing employee to easily walk out the door with an unrivaled database of client and prospect data. Suddenly there is a consolidation of information in a cloud-based database the company has no way to access.
• What if the employer is paying for Premium LinkedIn accounts? Who owns those contacts? It’s the employee’s network but those connections may be company clients and prospects.
• How should employers engage the networks of their employees with this new “mingling” in mind? If I use my Gmail or Yahoo mail for my personal email, is it appropriate for my employer to ask me to connect these mail accounts to a LinkedIn account so they have access to my sister-in-law, cousins and neighbors?
LinkedIn is an important tool — but as it grows we need to watch how it is used inside organizations and make sure our corporate social media policies and best practices reflect new features and functionality.