I had an interesting conversation with a CIO a few weeks ago who claimed that sites like LinkedIn were his absolute worst nightmare.  His perspective was that if he joined sites like these, and used them in any sort of semi-serious way, he’d subject himself to bombardment by even MORE harassing calls and networking requests from IT vendors than he receives already.  As it stands now, in fact, he said he’s gone so far as to have two sets of business cards printed up — one that he gives out to vendors at conferences and trade shows, containing a “bogus” e-mail address, and then he has another “real” card that he shares with more legitimate, trusted parties.

This brings up an interesting point.  Might the whole concept of networking (including participating in social networking technology) actually be more of a hindrance than a help to those folks who are truly in the “A player” executive ranks?  And who don’t feel they face any likelihood of needing to look for a job in the near future?

Who knows.  Perhaps the answer actually could be yes.  Perhaps I’m so used to spending my days with out-of-work professionals, most of whom are frantically seeking to rebuild and expand their networks, that I automatically assume everybody and their brother needs to be networking like a fiend out there — and cultivating as much “social capital” as they can in order to achieve their business/career goals.  Maybe some people really can afford to ignore sites like LinkedIn and to confine all of their networking activity, instead, to a closely-held set of “analog” relationships.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe this is a short-sighted and outdated view that ignores how things have changed out there in today’s business world.  After all, while I’d never say it directly to the gentleman in question, my own observation has been that there’s a much finer line than ever before between being a bulletproof rock star in your field — and being yet another successful executive who struts into the office one day and becomes “shocked” to learn his or her position is being eliminated.

So I certainly don’t pretend to know the answer, especially for this one individual.  Again, it was a very brief conversation.  Perhaps there was more to the story or this CIO truly can afford to bypass the social media world entirely, due to hundreds of high-quality relationships he’s cultivated through other means.  And yet, I still believe a compromise of some sort must be possible.  If nothing else, I told him that he might want to poke around in the “Settings” menu of LinkedIn to explore the many different ways he could configure the site for improved privacy, which would diminish his chances of becoming a big flashing target for thousands of vendors trying to sell him something.  No method would be 100% foolproof, but he could configure his settings, for example, to only allow invitations from people who already know his e-mail address or who are on a pre-approved list of e-mail addresses he sets up.  He could also uncheck the box saying he’s open to introductions related to business deals — as well as block people from sending him unsolicited InMail requests, a feature of LinkedIn that some sales professionals might exploit, since it’s open to anybody who has $10 to burn.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, at least.  While I’m sure some people (such as executive decision-makers with well-known companies) are much more at risk than others to receive tremendous amounts of networking abuse, I’m still not convinced that anybody is SO successful or important that they can afford to utterly disregard the social media world — and the starring role it now plays in terms of job security, recruiting, and career management.  Your thoughts?