LinkedIn, sometimes called the "Facebook for business," is a social networking site that allows you to post your resume, work experiences, skills, and more on a free profile. But LinkedIn is more than a static profile page—this site lets you form connections, like Facebook friends, with people you know or work with. From there, LinkedIn also "links" you to your connections' connections, quickly creating a massive network of people that you are connected to by one, two, or three degrees of separation. I'll give you an example: on my LinkedIn account, I only have a meager 48 connections; however, if you count all of my connections' first connections, I have 2,400 people. And if you count all of those connections' connections too, then I have 265,800 people in my network.

The idea is that if someone two or three degrees away is looking for a contractor or employee in a given field, I can talk to the person that we are both connected to and be "introduced" to that person, potentially forming a mutually beneficial business relationship.

Additionally, LinkedIn offers Groups, which let you join associations with like-minded individuals related to a variety of demographics—industry of employment, age, race, geographic area, etc. Through this, you can meet additional individuals and, ultimately, encounter additional business opportunities.

As you can imagine, LinkedIn is quite lucrative for recruiters and consultants—anyone who needs to interact with a large variety of individuals. But, for someone who isn't looking for contract work and is satisfied with his or her current employment, is LinkedIn worth the effort? That's the question I posed on Twitter, and here are the responses I got.

LinkedIn Connects You to Recruiters
Of the responses I received, two IT pros mentioned that they have been solicited by recruiters while on LinkedIn. (As one reader put it, being on LinkedIn can feel like being in the proverbial "meat locker.") And it wasn't the result of active questions and presence on LinkedIn; rather, simply having a passive presence on LinkedIn with your employment information listed is enough to receive notices from recruiters.

But what if you don't have any interest in leaving your job? Well, even so, keeping abreast of who's hiring, what skills employers are looking for, and what the going salary for a given position in a given region is are all valuable when negotiating pay and promotion with your current employer, or when weighing whether you want to stay with your current employer.

Two of the best things about LinkedIn are (1) you don't have to worry about your employer becoming suspicious that you might leave your current position, as they might if you posted a profile on Monster.com, and (2) that you can be fairly passive on LinkedIn, only stopping by every few months to update your information, and still receive many of the benefits. As one reader put it: "I think it's good from an employee standpoint and from a recruiter standpoint. It may sound terrible, but there is only one person looking out for our best interests."

Communication Limitations
As another reader and I discussed, LinkedIn can be quite frustrating because of the poor communication tools in it. Whereas Twitter and Facebook allow you to watch conversations between friends, family members, and colleagues, LinkedIn uses a fairly outdated model. (As much as I hate buzzwords, it would fall under the "Web 1.0" model). LinkedIn lets you send private messages to other users (like an email), and it lets you pose general questions to all of the site's users or just your connections (like a discussion board). And that's pretty much the extent of its communication capabilities. (As one Windows IT Pro editor mentioned, if Facebook had the option to also have a business account, it might render LinkedIn completely obsolete, since Facebook has such superior communication tools.)

"The functionality \[in LinkedIn\] is such that you cannot approach people. This just does not work in the long run!" noted one user on Twitter, and I have to agree. The way LinkedIn works right now, you need to find connections through other means before you can reap the rewards, which is fine, but that hardly makes LinkedIn a one stop shop for business social networking.

Takeaways for IT Pros, Advice for Employers
While LinkedIn is not the social media tool for business that its often purported to be, it does have value as a fairly low-maintenance way to keep your name and information out in the ether for recruiters, friends, and potential employers to see. My advice would be to start an account as soon as you can, and build up as many valuable connections as you can. Change happens quick, and you might find yourself no longer with your current employer (by your choice or not), so it's best to build connections now and avoid an awkward approach later.

And if you're interested in doing more in-depth networking, I recommend attending industry-related tradeshows or establishing a Twitter presence. Twitter allows you to start interesting conversations, gauge industry buzz, and connect with individuals who have a strong presence in your market.

Finally, a note to employers wondering what they can do to keep their employees from being poached by recruiters on LinkedIn: create an atmosphere in your organization where employees feel comfortable enough to honestly voice their concerns and frustrations with management. If you can do this, your employees won't feel the need to find other opportunities behind your back. They'll be open and transparent about their career plans, allowing you the opportunity to fight for the staff you really want to keep and seek replacements for others proactively, so you aren't caught with your pants down. Who knows, maybe LinkedIn is the place to seek those candidates?

Want to chime in with your own thoughts and observations about LinkedIn? Send me an email or tweet.

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