A few days ago I saw a blog post where someone was expressing their dissatisfaction with the business networking site LinkedIn.

I’ve come to one conclusion – LinkedIn is worthless to me.

Alright, so blunt cynicism aside, I’ve not found very many benefits from the site. It seems like you connect with people who barely know you and in turn, barely want to help. The most I’ve received is, “I’ll keep my eye out for you.” This is the same type of help I can get from a stranger sitting next to me on the bus.

The problem, it struck me, was the “people who barely know you” bit. And then I was reminded of an old saying that I’ve known for years (originally attributed to the relationship between Microsoft Project and the art of Project Management): social networks are to the art of networking what Microsoft Word is to the art of writing a novel.

We have all of these incredible tools available to us, but unless you are using them in the context of some sort of strategy you’re not managing, feeding and nurturing a network of people – you’re just collecting names on a web page. You might as well be trading football stickers or stamps.

I’ve of no doubt that social networks enable us to sustain networks far greater than the limits of our own cognitive ability. I’m certain that they enable us to connect and engage with people in ways previously unimaginable, finding people of like mind or of diverse interest.

But what social networks can’t do is feed and tend that network, helping it to grow so that you can give to it and receive from it. The tools might act as a conduit on occasion, but they won’t do it for you. They’re no replacement for hard work, empathy and paying forward.

They’re just a tool.

Don’t expect magic from them.

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