LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner talks about the future of social media and business

Every day, it seems the social media world is growing, making the physical world around us appear that much smaller. With those changes, the line that previously separated our personal and professional lives has blurred as websites and applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube provide the ability to connect with family, friends and business colleagues to share information, news, videos and photos.

So what exactly defines social media, and where is this new frontier headed? More important, how can we best take advantage of what’s out there?

Who better to answer those questions than Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the Web’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

Q: Social media means different things to different people as well as companies. What would be a good definition of social media?

A: Broadly defined, it is the creation of content, information and knowledge, distribution of it, consumption of it, and leveraging social interactions. Whether that’s a status update, sharing an image, a video or a blog post, even re-tweeting a headline or sharing a headline — those are all examples of social media.

I think the social interaction component, the virality, really takes what historically has been behavior we all have done offline, and when you bring it online and digitize it, it starts to scale and moves at a speed with which we haven’t seen previously. It really has the opportunity to change everything it touches.

Q: So what do you see as the true cultural sea change that is being caused by social media?

A: This goes way beyond brand building and customer outreach, which is how many organizations are using social media a basic level. Leveraging social platforms is going to fundamentally change the way we work and how business gets done. It’s going to really revolutionize and disrupt all of it. So whether it’s the way you hire people, find your dream job, transition from cold calling to warm prospecting by leveraging the power of first-, second- and third-degree relationships, or whether it’s exchanging and sharing information, knowledge, insight and data that you need to derive insights to make better and more informed decisions, I don’t think people can really afford not to participate within these platforms.

Q: Since it’s going to be everywhere, where would you start?

A: It starts with recognition. There are three behavioral changes we focus on the most at LinkedIn. First is the way in which we represent our professional identity. Think about that for a moment. The way in which individuals now build their professional brand starts with their profiles. And those profiles, when they’re kept fresh and relevant, are search engine optimized so that when people search for your name or the names of people like you with your experience, your skills, your aspirations, you’re the first thing they see when they do that search on Google.

This ability to carve out a piece of digital real estate that you, yourself, can control to put your best foot forward is an incredibly powerful and valuable dynamic. It’s not just the individual; it’s also your company. There are over a million active company profiles on LinkedIn. And these company profiles not only represent who you are and your company’s identity, but they enable you to build your talent brands, establish the way in which you’re going to recruit and how you recruit, and build word-of-mouth around your products and services. So identity is an absolute cornerstone.

The second is building your network. I think historically, when people hear the expression ‘professional networking,’ they think of the guy at the conference who is handing out as many business cards to people as possible, just building the Rolodex. That’s not what we mean anymore. We mean the way business gets done.

If we believe the world is getting flatter, more global, more digital, more networked, this is the way business gets done — it’s the way people are tapping knowledge, exchanging information — and if you’re not taking advantage of that and building out your network, your competition is.

And then lastly is the whole notion of sharing information and knowledge — collaborating, sharing business intelligence and competitive intelligence. To be able to really derive this kind of insight from whatever networks or social environments you’re operating in becomes an enormous advantage versus those folks who aren’t able to do the same.

Q: Are there some good ways to create a company’s social media strategy, and how do you measure a return on investment from that strategy?

A: Pursuing a social media strategy for the sake of having a social media strategy is not the right thing to do. It will end up being a big waste of time. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of folks are doing it because they’re told this is something you have to be doing right now. But try to figure out how you take your organization’s top priorities and leverage social connectivity to create greater value. That, I think, is a very, very smart thing to do. So trying to align your priorities and objectives makes a lot of sense.

If you’re trying to go out and do recruiting using social tools, how is that going to benefit your organization? Explicitly, there are ways of measuring that.

Historically, people are filtering through hundreds or thousands of active candidate resumes. Now technologies exist that you can find the perfect person, which creates huge efficiencies for your recruiters. They can target the ideal candidate instead of constantly spending 90-plus percent of their time saying no.

For your salespeople, how are they tapping first-, second- and third-degree relationships to eliminate cold calls? Think about the effectiveness of tapping warm prospects and how much more business you’re going to be able to do as an organization. That kind of stuff can be measured.

And then there’s the implicit stuff, such as how your company, in and of itself, can leverage social connectivity. A group or the ability for your organization to share news or insights that one person in the company has identified as being valuable to everyone else in your organization is going to be a little more challenging to measure the explicit ROI of that. But implicitly, as people start to share that kind of information, best practices and knowledge, your organization is going to work more productively.

And so it comes back to what are your objectives and how are you going to leverage these technologies to achieve greater productivity.