Chuck Brooks and I exchanged several emails recently and decided to share them with our colleagues who might like to join in the conversation.
Graham Plaster: Chuck, let’s talk about the role of LinkedIn for the national security sector. What are some of your thoughts?
Chuck Brooks : Graham, the emergence of LinkedIn as a global informational network certainly has implications for those in the national security field. There are several areas that stand out to me:
1) The posts and the issue specific groups have contributed significantly to being able to access instant news and quality analysis (although you have to distill) by a variety of SME LinkedIn members on events and policy;
2) For business & competitive intelligence, it serves as a unique open platform because of the detailed profiles of senior executives in both industry and the public sector;
3) For specialized positions in the IC, homeland Security and Defense communities, it is a valuable recruiting tool;
4) A drawback is that while it is a terrific showcase of talent and leaders, it has also attracted scammers, criminals, and the eyes of adversarial intelligence elements seeking to exploit. What are your perspectives on the topic?
Graham Plaster: Chuck, totally agree on your take. LinkedIn has facilitated a new generation of business networking and meets a tremendous market demand. Nevertheless, I think there are many things that could be improved to serve the general working public as well as the defense and intelligence communities. LinkedIn is already working to improve on the democratization of SME content, which is a curse and a blessing at the same time. We are drowning in content, and the default setting for business content skews towards feel-good personal coaching. This is why LinkedIn partnered with Lynda.com, which has done such an excellent job at curating pragmatic, vocational content. TIC aims to aggregate that kind of content for the defense and intelligence communities. But I believe this is where the value is across all social media platforms – in “curation”. As for the openness of LinkedIn, I would have to add that its API is woefully locked down. There could be so much utility (and perhaps, I admit, vulnerability) in opening up the API for more innovation on top of the LinkedIn graph. Additionally (and I posed this question directly to one of the LinkedIn Founders recently), why wouldn’t they want to convert LinkedIn into a full-fledged marketplace where we could buy and sell services to each other? I think it could be a game changer for LI by empowering more than just networking. As a recruiting tool, LinkedIn is great. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people I meet have no clue how to leverage the free features on LI that are most helpful. We need process innovation. LinkedIn allows us to think and act differently when it comes to networking. As we adapt to these tools it is always important to remember that people are people, and our relationships are intrinsically valuable even without any commercial purpose.
Chuck Brooks: Graham, I concur with you on the Lynda acquisition. You are right that the value of social media platforms is in “curation”. This directly pertains to national security, intel, law enforcement, and and homeland security professionals who can derive insights and value from open source data on these platforms. Moreover, the posting of informed content by SMEs both inside and outside of government has increased exponentially in recent years on the LinkedIn platform and will continue to grow. It is all about building networks and deriving worth from shared information and analysis. You are also right, the more openness that LinkedIn pursues as a platform, the more vulnerable it will become. I know they are making a strong investment in cyber security and have some of the best and brightest minds involved, hopefully this can mitigate some of the risk. As we delve further and further in a digital economy, the notion of converting LinkedIn into a full-fledged marketplace makes sense. They already have the data and membership to make that jump. LinkedIn has already changed the networking paradigm. It has moved the parameters of communication into an agile and dedicated form for business and professional purposes. I agree that is how we adapt to using LinkedIn (and other social media platforms) is mostly up to the user. I have already found it immensely valuable in building professional relationships as well as reconnecting with old colleagues and friends. I am looking forward to the next generation of technologies (i.e. artificial Intelligence, virtual reality) and applications that will impact social media platforms. I think we all are going to be in for an interesting ride.
Graham Plaster: Here’s a question for you. Given our defense backgrounds and heavy involvement with LinkedIn, what are 3 improvements or changes you would recommend for LinkedIn to implement? Here are mine:
1) Open up the API enough that 3rd party marketplaces (like oursTheIntelligenceCommunity.com) can convert a professional network into a virtual place for finding immediate work
2) Innovate aggressively around continuous monitoring for identity verification and trust
3) Rework the UX to delight the community.
Chuck Brooks: Graham, all great suggestions. I would also like to see an expansion to the number of groups members can belong, and a return to messaging function with a BCC capability. Those two elements can help satisfy user experience by allowing more outreach and by stimulate direct engagement. The desired qualities of any social media platform are best exemplified by ease of communication and especially security. The ongoing goal of delighted digital community is a valuable one for LinkedIn and all its members!
Graham Plaster: Here’s another question for you: how do you see online social networking competing with or enhancing real world networking; and how do you ensure that your contacts don’t become commodities?
Chuck Brooks: I see digital networking as a complimentary for in-person networking. It allows you to continually update your priority connections and share items of interest. Because of logistics (often complicated by DC traffic) it is difficult at times to attend events, meetings, etc. as you may have planned. The ability to send an “In-mail” or text someone is advantageous for those circumstances. It is hard to protect personal contacts from being commoditized by others. In my case I think the sheer volume of connections I maintain on social media accompanied with my visibility is a deterrent. What are your perspectives on those digital era issues?
Graham Plaster: I totally agree that digital tools help us to overcome time and distance barriers to both personal and professional networks. It is amazing that I can now attend a family reunion and see someone I haven’t seen in years, but know what their kids said from a Facebook post yesterday. Likewise, for the savvy LinkedIn user, one can attend a networking Happy Hour in the city and follow it up with a LinkedIn connection via Evernote or other business card scanning apps that integrate well with LinkedIn. It’s the merger of digital and real world social networking. When done right, it just makes more sense. When done badly, it is at best awkward and at worst creepy. But that is how we learn how to use new technology – through trial and error, adapting our culture to the technology and the technology to our culture as we move along. For those that do sensitive work there is an imperative to be even more careful, but I would caution against complete abstinence from all social media. After a while it is possible to fall far enough out of step with mainstream technological culture that you have a digital divide which can translate into professional knowledge gaps.