Last week, LinkedIn introduced the mention feature, allowing the social media giant to become a bit more social. The feature, pretty much identical to Facebook's and Twitter's mention, is a great way for users to engage with other users. But for the professionals looking to start taking advantage of this feature, I would highly recommend exercising caution.
Since LinkedIn is primarily for professional networking (emphasis on professional), the platform has a completely different culture than that of most other social networks. Profiles are available to the public and potential employers, so maintaining professionalism consistently is essential for any and all LinkedIn activity. A good rule of thumb is to treat your LinkedIn profile as if it was a digital resume you were submitting to a prospective employed. This means profile pictures, which are publicly viewable, should portray you in a conservative business attire as opposed to that hilarious Facebook profile picture of your weekend shenanigans (for someone seeking jobs, this is also a bad idea for Facebook).
So with the introduction of LinkedIn, one has to wonder why now? On LinkedIn's end, it's pretty obvious. They want users to engage more which means they will spend more time on their site, which in turn makes it more lucrative for both advertising as well as a platform for head hunters. But this is exactly why you should question using it to begin with: there doesn't appear to be an actual benefit for the user. Sure, technically this will help by increasing your visibility, but LinkedIn profile's are already subject to more scrutiny since they are set up for the sole purpose of professional networking. Making public conversations available changes the dynamic of the platform and will do nothing but increase the chances that a user will interact in a way that is off-putting to co-workers, employers, or potential employers.
Take into consideration the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: User converses about a new job while still employed.
Job hunting while currently employed is already tricky to navigate outside of LinkedIn since there is a risk of jeopardizing your current standing with your company. General practice usually entails keeping everything hush-hush. But with mentions, that will no longer be an option as conversations with prospective employers or even current coworkers can potentially out or allude that users are seeking a new job since interactions will be publicly viewable.
Scenario 2: User says something inappropriate.
While we'd like to assume that people should know to exercise restraint (especially on LinkedIn), there will no doubt be public conversations that will be damaging. The simple fact is that if you engage LinkedIn with mentions, you are essentially increasing the amount of information employers can judge you on. The hard part is that users may not even know what is damaging since it is all subject to the current employer or potential employer. This means, in order to use it to protect yourself, you'd essentially need to triple check every mention to make sure that it is universally benign to anyone who views it. But that won't even help if you are engaged in a conversation that you shouldn't be discussing publicly.
Scenario 3: User mentions too much.
Everybody on Facebook has that "friend" who annoyingly over-invites everyone under the sun to like their page or go to their event. This is a huge turn off. Mentions basically gives a user the ability to over extend themselves which can be harmful in the eyes of some of your connections who may not appreciate it.
While I realize that my scenarios regarding LinkedIn's new feature focused on the dangers (surely there are benefits as well), my primary concern is that it is relatively unnecessary. Since professional profiles are under scrutiny as is (much of it unknown to users), adding a new dimension does nothing but open up potential hazards that users will need to learn to navigate around. In the meantime, there are certain to be users who will hurt their existing connections and thus create cautionary social media tales. So before you decide to jump on the "mention" band wagon, ask yourself first if the communication would be better suited to a simple direct message that isn't so public.