Are You Linkedin?

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If you’re not on Linkedin, you should be. Although this social-networking site for business professionals has been around since 2003, its new facelift—which debuted in late February—has the potential to change the way retail executives network, hire and interact with colleagues.

Linkedin, based in Mountain View, Calif., is growing rapidly and now boasts a user-base of 19 million professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries. The site allows registered users to add contact details of people they know and trust in business to their “connections” list.

But last year, Linkedin started to feel the heat from popular social-networking sites such as Facebook that embraced extensive profile-personalization and digital rich widget applications. Now, nearly a year later, executives can post information on what projects they’re working on, what they are reading and what conferences they are attending. It is then broadcast to all connections in their network and encourages colleagues to write comments, post feedback or give advice.

Similar to Facebook’s news feed, Linkedin shows a list of news updates on a member’s homepage that shares what’s going on in their network, including which of their colleagues have accepted new positions or who has joined Linkedin online community groups such as “Retail Management” and “Retail Industry Experts.”

Although these changes took a bit too long to debut against the backdrop of the ever-changing and growing Web world, the result was worth the wait. The new site features easier navigation, more control of accounts and settings, and an innovative series of personalized widgets and tools that keep members updated on what’s going on in their network. (Widgets are small interactive applications, ranging from games to news alerts, that can be downloaded onto host sites such as Facebook or iGoogle.)

The first application is the Answers module, which showcases what questions their specific network is asking. For example, if a member works in retail construction, a series of questions and answers from these professionals will appear in a box on their homepage. Members can see the questions and begin a dialogue with others through a message board-like platform or through one-on-one messaging. This feature in itself has the ability to bring retailers, vendors and consultants together as never before.

Another widget, The People module, showcases the contacts members can make through their network, similar to the “friend of a friend” concept. This can effectively introduce more people to others in the industry.

The Jobs widget highlights open positions and opportunities in a member’s network.

In addition to introducing the several new features that could truly foster a change in retail networking, the site also worked out some of its basic kinks. In the past, inbox messages moved quickly off the homepage, making it more difficult for members to remember to reply to messages. Now, the site highlights a user’s most recent actions.

Another new feature is the introduction of a mobile version of its Web service, available in six languages. This allows colleagues to stay in touch wirelessly when out on the road or even connect on a conference floor.

Although the revamped Linkedin is vastly improved, it still has some catching up to do to with rivals such as Facebook. But Linkedin is finally learning how to interact like Gen Y, and it could get them—and the retail community—ahead in the long run.

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