What’s New on LinkedIn, Part 3: Follows

On its best days, social media makes the world a little smaller, giving us access to people we otherwise might never connect with.  Now, LinkedIn is giving its members the chance to glean a little wisdom from some “thought leaders” in business, government, technology, and other fields by “following” them.

As stalker-ish as it may sound, “following” is nothing new. If you’re familiar with Twitter, in fact, you know that to “follow” someone simply means that you’re interested in what they have to say, and you want to be notified when they say it. Following is not unique to Twitter, either: in fact, LinkedIn has allowed us to follow other users for some time, providing access to certain user activity even without a direct connection. The feature hasn’t been heavily promoted, however, and was therefore relatively unknown.

The new aspect of follows, then, is more about LinkedIn’s partnership with what it calls “150 of the most influential thought leaders” among its members–people like Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington, and others. Some of LinkedIn’s very own “celebrities” are featured as well, including CEO Jeff Weiner and founder Reid Hoffman.  LinkedIn promises that the content it will share from these luminaries will include “longer form and original posts from influencers with videos, photos, and Slideshare presentations.” Because we all need more to read.

In truth, I think this is a nice addition and a decent complement to LinkedIn today, since both filter content for the user based on predetermined preferences. However, I don’t think it’s a very important change, given that LinkedIn’s real power is getting us one step closer to those we already know. While I would love to build a substantive relationship with someone like Richard Branson–and while not likely, it could happen if I comment on one of his articles–my time is probably better spent with the people already in my network with whom I have the chance to be a resource, or who can be a resource to me. This is another example of how, as I like to say, potential is the enemy of likely.

What’s the bottom line? I believe following thought leaders on LinkedIn is more a matter of style than substance. It provides the illusion of special access to some pretty hard to access people, but it really isn’t all that valuable in the end. All we’re accessing are the ideas they feel comfortable sharing to a mass audience–ideas like the ones they’re probably sharing just as readily elsewhere.

For the record, as of this morning, I’ve somewhat randomly chosen to follow Branson, Weiner, Hoffman, Deep Nishar (also of LinkedIn), Gary Vaynerchuk, Jason Fried, Ryan Holmes, and Pete Cashmore. Are you following anyone? If not, why? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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