Feds Warm Up To LinkedIn

Government IT managers have been cautious about using LinkedIn, but odds are activity will soon rise due to federal travel restrictions and greater comfort with the platform.
LinkedIn Tips: 10 Ways To Do More
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LinkedIn Tips: 10 Ways To Do More
Since mid-2010, I have witnessed a steady increase in the number of managers in federal government, from senior executives to line managers and others, joining and making greater use of LinkedIn. When I see these people at various networking events, I often ask them questions like: How are you using LinkedIn? How are you benefiting from it? Does it connect you with industry? Do you use it for research? Are you active in discussion groups?

While my research is far from scientific, their responses in recent months indicate a few trends worth noting.

First, all federal agencies are now represented on LinkedIn in very significant numbers. If you need to find individuals in a particular function, this could be a good place to find them.

Second, once you find them, in all likelihood, they may be open to connecting, provided you offer a reason for them to connect. So reach out.

Third, they don't like product or service announcements on LinkedIn any more than they do via email. Position yourself and your company as a legitimate supplier, even as a thought leader (if you are one) but remember that LinkedIn is not a sales platform.

[ Not getting the connections you want? See LinkedIn Tips: 5 Ways To Strengthen Your Profile. ]

Fourth, while many do not participate in groups, all of them join groups. The more active you are in a positive way in groups (posting or commenting on pertinent articles, for example), the higher you become on the radar of everyone in that group.

Fifth, only a few of those I surveyed indicated they were doing research on products, services or companies.

Feds continue to join LinkedIn in strong numbers. As they become more comfortable with the platform, the more active they are likely to become. Their time spent on LinkedIn seems to be minimal, but regular.

I'm also finding the more senior the federal LinkedIn user, the more likely it is that LinkedIn is used for visibility to both industry and recruiters.

At the same time, federal managers still seem to regard LinkedIn with caution. While there is growing comfort with LinkedIn as a resource, many still seem to maintain an arm's-length relation with LinkedIn.

Typically, their comfort level has less to do with their job function than how long they have been on LinkedIn. Their comfort also seems to correspond to their agencies' social media policies and guidelines. Some agencies' policies are tighter than others.

Typical of the responses I heard was: "We don't have a policy specific to LinkedIn, but we do have a social media policy that covers a bunch of sites, which would include LinkedIn as well as Facebook, Twitter, etc. It only covers official use of those sites."

Other agency policies allow limited personal use of those sites. So, as one federal user told me, "If I access my own LinkedIn page, that's personal use. But the people who maintain our official department LinkedIn page or Facebook account are using those sites for official use, and are covered by the social media policy.

Feds are not supposed to show favoritism to any vendors and most are especially cautious when it comes to participating in discussions that might show some bias.

One senior exec perhaps summed it best about how feds are engaging their peers via LinkedIn when he said, "I would not ask anything [on LinkedIn] that I wouldn't ask openly."

What I see out of all this, having watched feds on LinkedIn since mid-2007, when their presence was very limited, is a growing comfort with LinkedIn, but still a reluctance to be a fully participating member.

I anticipate activity growing slowly, but constantly, over the coming year. But if federal employees' ability to attend industry events remains hobbled due to continuing travel and budget restrictions, I wouldn't be surprised to see growing numbers of key feds turning to LinkedIn, leading to an increase in activity levels as well.