When I read that shares of the business networking company LinkedIn plunged by 20 per cent, I felt quietly cheered. I’m so pleased about it, in fact, that I’m thinking of sending all their connections an email inviting them to congratulate it. Inappropriate? Maybe, but no more so than the one they sent my contacts a few weeks ago ordering them to congratulate me on my ‘two-year work anniversary’. I don’t know about you but I’m not one for marking the start of each new contract with a bottle of bubbly and a table in a restaurant so I was initially confused, and then embarrassed, by the flurry of emails from colleagues who’d been bullied into patting me on the back.
And that’s just one of the many problems I have with LinkedIn. It isn’t just the creepiest social networking site out there, it's also the most bumbling; prone to putting its foot in it, leaving you professionally discomfited. It asks friends working in entirely different fields to endorse your skills, invites your gynecologist to ‘connect’ with you, stalks you each time you update your CV and then tells your boss you’re looking for a new job. For a ‘professional networking’ site to continuously strike a tone that is somewhere between Mr Burns and Mr Bean is, frankly, something of a problem.
Looking back, the warning signs were there from the start because I’m not even sure how I actually joined it. All I know is that the recruitment process was so stealthily under-hand that it was like being love bombed by one of those cults that accost lonely students at tube stations. By the time you realize you’re a member you’re so fully immersed, you’re taking part in weekly bible meetings at McDonalds in Leicester Square. Once I’d accidentally joined, I started to get invitations to connect with people I’d never heard of who worked in completely different professions. Slightly baffled, I’d check these people out on the site and, as I did, familiar names would pop into my eye-line. Before I knew it. I’d passed a distracting hour perusing the job histories of people I vaguely knew. So far, so social network.
And then it got creepy. I’d get emails from people who were ‘accepting my invitation to connect’ with them. Invitations I had no idea I’d sent. Mortified, I’d realize that a casual nose at my son’s teacher’s profile had somehow morphed into an invitation from me. And yet I was fairly sure I hadn’t gone into my emails, found their names and pressed send, which is something I tend to do in these situations. I’d go on to the site to try and rectify matters and find myself sucked into another vortex of stalker’s delights. So, like any confused cult member that has started to feel controlled, I began to back off.
Which is when LinkedIn stepped it up a gear. Suddenly I was finding myself ‘love bombed’ at every opportunity. I was being ‘endorsed’ for skills by everyone I knew and plenty that I didn’t. One endorser was 20 years less experienced than me and had only met me once, when I’d interviewed him for a job. Which, he didn’t get because he wasn’t up to it. Friends who work in teaching were endorsing me for my broadcast journalism skills, something they had no idea about and which they could only have been harassed into doing.
Every day, I’d be bombarded with emails telling me that people were looking at my profile, which left me feeling stalked. Why was a colleague in my company reading my CV? Did they think I wasn’t up to the job and wanted to know how I’d got it? If you think I sound overly suspicious, you’d be right. One of the hallmarks of a cult, after all, is to nurture paranoid thinking and LinkedIn is particularly good at this.
It was clearly time to leave. If only I knew how. I was momentarily uplifted to discover that googling ‘leaving Linked In’ yields one hundred and 43m results. However, it transpires that leaving the network is like to trying to get out of a maze, while wearing a blindfold. There are so many twists and turns in the process that you quickly become paralysed by fear that you’ll do the wrong thing. One wrong turn and you'll be inviting the milkman to connect, endorsing your boss and stalking your best friend’s husband.
So for now I’m reduced to keeping it at arm's length, like a pungent nappy that I’m not sure how to dispose of. And every time that I hear of a little dip in their fortunes, I rejoice a little.