LinkedIn has become one of the premier on-line business networking forums. I’ve found it useful in various ways professionally. I’ve recruited good staff by posting a job offer on LinkedIn. There have been interesting cross-referrals and opportunities to e-meet new people. I’ve actually enjoyed some very positive experiences directly as a result.

And then there are the Questions and Answers.

Sounds like a brilliant idea – a huge business network at your disposal. You have a question – post it on LinkedIn, and a wealth of expert advice will be at your disposal. Sadly, here’s where the distinction between humans and vultures sometimes begins to blur. I try, at least twice a week, to see if there are any questions in my fields of expertise to which I can add some value by supplying a useful answer, based on my knowledge and experience. At no point have I tried to use this as a “selling” opportunity. And there are many, many people on LinkedIn who do the same, far more effectively and prolifically than I could ever manage.

However, there are so many questions that result in a flurry of sales responses. If you’re the person who recently asked a question about a manufacturing process, your question had 17 responses when I last looked. Fourteen of them were from vendors of anything from ERP software to machine repair services, trying to sell to you. The 3 meaningful answers were buried amongst these, quite possibly never to be read by you.

This parallels my own (admittedly limited) experience with traditional business networks in the past. Most people seemed to be there with one mission in mind: find someone to pounce on with your sales pitch. There was no give and take. That’s so different from the many technology (and other) on-line forums I belong to, where for the most part people seem happy to simply impart their advice or knowledge, and to keep quiet if they don’t have anything of value to add. And ironically, my suspicion is that this ultimately attracts more business than the blunt force approach.

I still like LinkedIn, and will continue trying to answer questions where (a) I can add value and (b) I can get in ahead of the vultures. But I’m not planning on posing any question of my own there – I’ll keep those for the specialty forums.