In all likelihood, any one of the many Linked-In books can tell the reader how to create a profile, establish a network and make the most of the site’s functionality. But none of them describe how Reid Hoffman — presumably the ultimate power user — takes advantage of his own creation.
Just as a talented author doesn’t need StoryWeaver, Dramatica Pro or, for that matter, Microsoft Word, to write a compelling novel, a diligent networker doesn’t need LinkedIn to maintain a contact base. It just makes the job easier. By his own and others’ accounts, Hoffman was always a good people person, but he said he finds ways to reach out with LinkedIn that would be awkward or time-consuming without it.
“One vector for how I use these tools is, our brains don’t work like computers,” Hoffman said. “Say I’ve got some interesting ideas about how education should be reformulated, and I wonder who I should talk to about them, I’ll do a search on LinkedIn. I do that for everything from my projects to projects helping other people. One of the reasons you search LinkedIn is you don’t know which of your 100 connections knows the right person. You’re not going to call all of them.”
The theory of small gifts
One of the ironies of the Internet era is that while contact information for a Reid Hoffman, a Joi Ito or a Steve Jobs is now readily available, gaining access to such people is not easy. Indeed, without a mutual reference, it may be completely impossible. Hoffman said LinkedIn helps seekers find points of common interest or colleagues in common, while also helping the sought-after individual filter the barrage of requests for his or her attention to identify those people who truly have something of interest or merit.
“Opportunities are created by positive, warm connections with other people,” Hoffman said. “You do small things for people that are really valuable to them, and they remember it. Even if they forget, you’re still creating value. Take introductions. You have to apply some intelligence, but when both people thank you for being introduced, you’ve increased your karma with both,” he said. “That’s key to how you build a set of relationships for living in a networked world. What LinkedIn does is make that easy; it takes me in aggregate maybe three minutes for each introduction.”
Establishing a network presence
“A second theme to my LinkedIn use is — and this is part of the ‘how do you live and work in a networked world’ — is to establish a good brand and footprint in my network,” Hoffman said. “I pay attention to how my profile is established. It should communicate ‘this is why you want me as an investor; these are the kinds of things I’m interested in.’ Then I can use my network as a filter to sort out who are the ones I want to spend time with. It’s all about establishing a presence, in order to build the right relationships and attract the right business opportunities.”
Proactive problem solving
“The third vector is a set of proactive uses,” Hoffman said. “How do I solve a problem? How do I get to the right person to solve that problem? Almost all of these problems are solved by connecting with the relevant person — someone with knowledge and expertise, with access to resources. All of these what, where and how come through a who when it’s in the arena of how business is done,” he said. “You get a competitive advantage based on how well you know how to do that.”
While these connections can be narrow cast, like finding the right person and messaging him or her a single question, Hoffman often taps the collective knowledge of his broader network. Recently, in a query on LinkedIn Answers, he asked: Other than tax code and availability of technical talent, what are the considerations I should look at when opening a European headquarters? “We ended up in London, even though it’s expensive,” he said, “because the common language and availability of plane flights were compelling reasons to locate there.”
Blending the for-profit and nonprofit worlds
Hoffman said LinkedIn also helps him lev-erage his position in the for-profit world to benefit his interests in the nonprofit world, where he sits on several boards. He tells the story of how Danny Rimer, managing partner of Index Ventures’ London office, became intrigued with the micro-finance organization KIVA and asked the president and co-founder, Premel Shaw, if he would speak to a gathering of chief executives that Index was planning.
“Premel did what he should do, which is to think, ‘I don’t know this guy,’ and say, ‘I can only do it if you fly me business class and you donate $250,000 to KIVA.’ ” Hoffman said. “Danny said, ‘I can’t do that.’ But he went on LinkedIn, typed in KIVA and saw that I was on the board and sent me a message. I said: ‘Let’s get on the phone. I can tell him that you guys are great people and your CEOs will be great people to know, but you still have to make some kind of donation because he’s flying away from a full-time executive position.’ I suggested $50,000; in my view that’s reasonable. Ultimately, Premel was the keynoter. That’s the kind of thing I can do by being in both for- and nonprofit. That’s why you blend them.”