Year Ahead

Looking for LinkedIn's next tipping point

computer and network

LinkedIn has become an integral part of the government landscape because of its ability to help people connect, bond through like-minded communities of interest and manage ever-expanding personal networks. But the use of LinkedIn has not been a smooth road in the business-to-government community.

LinkedIn began in May 2003, nearly a year before Facebook, but was largely ignored by our market for several years until some critical mass occurred. Around mid-2008, more contractors were finding their way onto LinkedIn, but the feds were still not there. In part, that was due to the restrictions agencies had on employees' involvement in social networks and in part because there was not yet a significant reason to participate.

The first tipping point for B2G on LinkedIn occurred in late 2010 and early 2011. Reasons included the relaxation of social networking rules by federal agencies and the overall rise in the network's use by the B2G community. The buzz helped drive more people -- feds and contractors -- to the platform.

I have several hundred federal connections on LinkedIn, and I have monitored the activity level for a couple years. Recently I asked about 20 of my federal connections how they were using the platform.

Much of their activity is passive: watching rather than participating in group discussions, accepting connections but not often reaching out, having a profile but not always filling it out completely.

I am seeing some uptick in activity, and perhaps 2014 will be the second tipping point for LinkedIn in terms of feds not just joining but actively engaging.

Given the current restrictions on travel and event attendance, feds understand that they, too, need a way to connect with industry. LinkedIn provides an ideal platform to do so.

There are nearly 1.9 million groups on LinkedIn -- of those, 10,460 have something to do with government. Hundreds of groups deal with some aspect of government contracting. And then there are the various specialty groups, including those for virtually every professional association, tech topics, facilities, energy management, transportation -- all the areas where feds have some responsibility.

As feds become acclimated to LinkedIn, the comfort level will go up and the activity will occur. That is a win-win for feds and contractors.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 14, 2014

It is not that we do not want to participate it is that if you talk about your work or what you thinik sometimes get turned around as bad attitude, when you are only trying to make a difference in how things are handled in your business.

Mon, Jan 13, 2014 Kitty Wooley

I'm just not seeing 2014 as a breakout year for active participation by federal employees and contractors on LinkedIn, although the goal of better government might well be served if that were to occur. Why not? Because most have not participated actively anywhere else, even in internal social networks with very low stakes, up to this point. My observation has been that learned helplessness, unspoken cultural norms within some agencies (see Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for further insight) and the legacy of having operated in silos still overrides growing individual comfort and proficiency with social tools, even one such as LinkedIn that has so much potential to advance both individual and organizational agendas. Further, it seems unlikely that contractor workforces will be comfortable in participating much more than their federal partners. I look for incremental progress and very cautious participation again this year.

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