1 September 2012

This blog primarily deals with matters relating to business, technology and change; obviously with a major focus on how information provision overlaps with each of these. However there is the occasional divertimento relating to mathematics, physical science, or that most recent of -ologies, social media.

The following article could claim some connections with both mathematics and social media, but in truth relates to neither. Its focus is instead on irritation, specifically a Facebook meme that displays the death-defying resilience of a horror movie baddie. My particular bête noire relates to the following diagram, which appears on my feed more frequently that adverts for “Facebook singles”:

It is generally accompanied by some inane text, the following being just one example:

I got into a heated battle with a friend over this… I got 24 she say’s 25. How many squares do you see?

Nice grocer’s apostrophe BTW!

I realise that the objective is probably to encourage people to point out the error in the ways of the original poster; thereby racking up comments. However 24?, 25??, really???, really, really????

Let’s break it down…

Well there is clearly one big square (a 4×4 one) staring us in the face as shown above. Let’s move on to a marginally less obvious class of squares and work these through in long-hand. The squares in this class are all 3×3 and there are 4 of them as follows:

1…

2…

3…

4…

Adding the initial 4×4 square, our running total is now 5.

The next class is smaller again, 2×2 squares. The same approach as above works, not all the class members are shown, but readers can hopefully fill in the blanks themselves.

1…

2…

Skip a few…

9…

Adding our previous figure of 5 means our running total is now 14; we are approaching 24 and 25 fast, which one is it going to be?

The next class is the most obvious, the sets of larger 1×1 squares.

It doesn’t require a genius to note that there are 16 of these. Oh dear, the mid-twenties estimates are not looking so good now.

Also we shouldn’t forget the two further squares of the same size (each of which is split into smaller ones), one of which is shown in the diagram above.

Our previous total was 14 and now 14 + 16 + 2 = 32.

Finally there is the second set of 1×1 squares, the smaller ones.

It’s trivial to see that there are 8 of these.

Adding this to the last figure of 32 we get a grand total of 40, slightly above both 24 and 25.

Perhaps the only thing of any note that this rather simple exercise teaches us is the relation to sums of squares, inasmuch as part of the final figure is given by: 1 + 4 + 9 + 16, or 12 + 22 + 32 + 42 = 30. Even this is rather spoiled by introducing the intersecting (and interloping) two squares that are covered last in the above analysis.

Oh well, at least now I never have to comment on this annoying “puzzle” again, which is something.

1 May 2012

I quite like WordPress.com’s latest data visualisation tool, which allows you to see the spread of people reading your blog. The data only goes back to February 25th 2012 and presumably a number of hits can have no country attributed to them, but it’s still a nice addition and interesting for me to see the number of different places that readers come from.

Perhaps we’ll gloss over the Mercator Projection and also how annoying and fiddly the WordPress app for iOS is; then things are always harder on iPad – right?

## What should companies consider before investing in a Business Intelligence solution?

27 August 2011

The following is a lightly edited transcript of a reply I posted to a question asked on the LinkedIn.com Business Intelligence Group. This was entitled What should companies consider before investing in a BI solution?.

I suggest some of the following:

2. Within these, what questions do people want to ask and what action will the answers lead to?
3. Why can’t these people get the answers today, or – if they can – what is wrong with them (incomplete, inaccurate, not detailed enough etc.)?
4. What is the business impact of the lack of these answers (poor decision-making, missed opportunities, inefficient processes, poor monitoring, lack of tools to manage people’s performance)?
5. If these questions were to be answered, broadly speaking, which different data sources would need to be brought together (assess different country / divisional systems and different types of systems – sales, Finance, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, complaints, external data, others)?
6. How aligned are the various different elements within these (e.g. customer records, products, territories etc.)?
7. To what level is the data required to answer the questions identified above captured (are there gaps and does new data need to be entered)?
8. How accurate is this data (does it actually reflect business events)?
9. What is the overall quantity of both historical and current data that needs to be looked at and how much of this regularly changes?
10. How frequently will users need to ask questions and how up-to-date does the answer need to be?

## Wager

20 July 2011

Introduction

I have used this column to write about my favourite sport, cricket, on a number of occasions[1]. In general my articles that have referenced cricket have also been related to some other business-focussed issue.

For example in Accuracy I compared a lack of precision in cricket journalism with analogous concepts in both Twitter and Business Intelligence. In The Big Picture I contrasted cricket all-rounders (people who both bat and bowl) with the general tendency to pigeon-hole people as one thing or another (in particular details people or vision people – some people can do both).

There have been a number of other cricket-related postings, but each has been used to shed light on what might seem an unrelated area. This piece may well prove to be purely a cricketing one, but I suppose that the reader will have to get to the end of the article and make up their own mind.

Some background

As in earlier posts involving cricket, this margin is too narrow to contain a comprehensive overview of this most complex of sports. If you don’t know about it already, then try The Font as a place to start, or find a friendly ex-pat Brit or Indian to help you (or someone with any of the nationalities appearing below).

There are nine nations that play in the top tranche of Test Match Cricket (international matches that are played over five days – for US readers think about a team visiting a city for a series of games in baseball). In total these account for 25% of the world population; a list appears below.

 Rank Team Matches Points Rating Population (m) 1 India 32 4,001 125 1,210.1 2 South Africa 21 2,469 118 50.0 3 England [2] 32 3,759 117 62.2 4 Sri Lanka 23 2,486 108 20.2 5 Australia 27 2,692 100 22.7 6 Pakistan 23 2,132 93 170.6 7 West Indies 23 2,039 89 36.3 8 New Zealand 19 1,485 78 4.4 9 Bangladesh 11 144 13 142.3 Total 1,718.8

There are an additional 36 affiliate nations – including some surprising names such as Japan and the USA – and 60 associate nations – including Afghanistan[3] and China – so, while the top flight is mostly confined to countries previously in the British Empire, cricket is a pretty global sport.

Speaking of being global, cricket is close to religion in one of the world’s most populous countries, India. The above list is of the Test-playing nations by their current ranking (a score derived by a rather labyrinthine algorithm, with which I will not bore readers) and India is currently number one. This is after what seemed like an eternity of domination by an Australian team that contained some of the sport’s greatest ever players; but which is now laid low by the twin curses of retirements and less able replacements.

India has been a perennial underachiever in Test cricket, its performances not consistent with the vast pool of human capital available to it. However, in recent years, this performance had come more into line with both demographics and the expectations of a billion Indian cricket fans. The current team’s achievements in both the ODI and Test arenas have been built on the foundation provided by a crop of truly great players, in particular that of Sachin Tendulkar, who is viewed as a demi-god by his compatriots.

 Sachin Tendulkar Rahul Dravid VVS Laxman

Sachin would be in any cricket fan’s fantasy team and is arguably the greatest batsman the game has ever seen; unarguably he is in the top two[4]. The current Indian tour of England may be the last chance that people in the country have to see this legend of the game play “in the flesh”. The glowing star that is Tendulkar is however surrounded by a constellation whose members are not much less bright. It is possible that India will face the same challenges so recently experienced by Australia when Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman (all now in their late thirties and cricketing twilights) retire over the next few years, or even months.

Ranged against these batting titans is what is becoming a rather formidable England batting line-up. This features the current number 4 and 5 ranked[5] batsmen (Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott sporting averages since the start of the 2010/11 season of 115.6 and 79.1 respectively). Sachin is currently above both at number 2, but India’s only other top ten batsman is the inured Virender Sehwag. England’s captain Andrew Strauss also comes into the match on the back of scoring 187 for once out against the tourists in their warm-up game.

But perhaps of more relevance is the fact that England also have the number 2 and 3 ranked bowlers in the world in the shape of Graeme Swann and James Anderson respectively.

England, have had a chequered history in Tests in the last few decades, but are currently on a positive trajectory. In particular they just beat the declining Australians in home and away series; something that is very dear to the hearts of all England supporters. This means that quite a lot hangs on the result of the England vs India series that kicks off on 21st July. Given that the number two team, South Africa, does not play Test cricket again until November 2011, the England / India games could have a profound impact on the ranking of Test teams; something that is illustrated in the table below[6]:

The fact the tomorrow’s first England vs India Test Match is also both the 2,000th ever Test and also the 100th between England and India adds piquancy; as does the fact that Tendulkar currently has 99 International centuries (scores of 100 or more) spread between Tests and ODIs and is poised to become the first person ever to have a century of International centuries.

The Wager

Given the high-profile of the series that starts tomorrow, it is not surprising that it has been the subject of conversation between supporters of both teams. As well as discussing cricket with Indian friends (or friends of Indian heritage) in the UK, the debates also have a more international flavour. For me in particular, there has been some [mostly] friendly banter between myself and Ajay Ohri (@0_h_r_1) of decisionstats.com.

Ajay and I have never met – we are entirely virtual friends. I have had virtual friends before (see the preamble to New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging), some of who have become real-life friends as well. The non-cricket element of this article (tenuous as it may be) is that the friction associated with forging such friendships with like-minded people is now lower than ever before. Ajay may correct me, but I recall that we first came across each other via Twitter, but now are connected on LinkedIn and Facebook as well. In part due to the explosion in Social Media and the related formation of global communities coalesced around certain specialist subjects (information in all its various guises for Ajay and me), it is now not only feasible for people to have friends across many continents, it is becoming quotidian.

Anyway the result of our discussions was a small bet between the two of us. If England win the series, then Ajay has to write and publish an article extolling the virtues of the superior team. If the unthinkable occurs through some freak of nature and the outcome is reversed, I will have to post a similarly congratulatory piece, devoted to the victorious Indian team here. Social media truly reflecting life!

Let the games begin!

Explanatory notes

 [1] Regular readers may wonder what happened to rock climbing, the activity in which I am currently most engaged; well I’m not sure that rock climbing really a sport, more a way of life. [2] Actually England and Wales, though effectively the UK, Ireland and (or so it seems of late) South Africa as well. [3] Afghanistan is currently the highest-ranked associate nation. [4] Supporters of Don Bradman might argue that his record stands alone: 52 matches, 6,996 runs at an average of 99.94; compared to Tendulkar’s 177 matches, 14,692 runs at an average of 56.95 (as at the date of this article) [5] A full list of world cricket rankings may be viewed at: www.relianceiccrankings.com. [6] To the bafflement of many, although Test Matches are played over five days, they may still result in a draw.

## LinkedIn does what it says on the can

12 July 2011

An analysis of peterjamesthomas.com traffic based on linking site

I suppose, given that this is a essentially professional blog, I should not be surprised that LinkedIn dominates traffic for me, dwarfing even the mighty Google and Twitter (incidentally Facebook was in 13th place, below Microsoft – a verdict of “could do better”, but then Facebook is only semi-pro for me).

It is also worth noting that traffic from all WordPress blogs (not included in the 4% WordPress figure above) amounted to 3% of traffic. Adding in all other non-corporate blogs got this to 5% and notional 4th place).

It is also notable that StumbleUpon outdid all other social bookmarking sites, with Reddit next in a lowly 23rd place.

Some selected top threes…

Please note that the only criteria here is quantum of traffic.

The Social Media “Big Three”

Vendors

1. Microsoft
2. SAS
3. IBM

Blogs

Social Bookmarking

1. StumbleUpon
2. Reddit
3. Delicious

2. Netvibes

Technology News / Communities

Media

I should point out that the figures presented above are all-time, rather than say the last six months. It would be interesting to do some trending, but this is a bit more clunky to achieve than one might expect.

## Four [Social Media] Failures and a Success

9 July 2011

Introduction

The internet is full of articles claiming to transform the reader into the Social Media equivalent of Charles Atlas. I have written some of them myself (though hopefully while highlighting that that things are seldom as simple as ticking a set of boxes). Bearing in mind the old adage that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, here are some thoughts on Social Media failures; the first three are mine and the fourth a failure that seems very widespread. Lest this article becomes too depressing, I will close with a more positive piece of Social Media news.

Failure 1 – Thinking that you can dip in and out of Social Media

I recently came across Ken Mueller’s blog via a LinkedIn Group (see the segment of New Adventures in WiFi that relates to LinkedIn for some thoughts on groups). In one of his articles he lays out what he sees as the factors that have led to him tripling his blog traffic. Foremost amongst these is consistency:

I’ve been doing this every day for about 2 years now. Some of the growth that I’m seeing is due to just plugging away and forcing myself to blog every day, hopefully creating good, relevant content that people want to read. If I take a day off, I notice a drop in traffic. In fact, I always see a drop in my November traffic because I go away for Thanksgiving to an area with no Internet access.

A quick look at the above chart, which shows the number of articles I have published each month since founding this blog back in November 2008, will reveal that consistency hasn’t been my middle name.

For a variety of reasons, I have had periods where I have sustained a high output of articles (without, it is to be hoped, quantity compromising quality) and periods where my writing has slowed to a barely perceptible trickle. To take an ultra-prosaic example, I started writing this piece while commuting by train and my recent output is highly correlated with my method of transportation.

Coming out of some of the troughs in writing, I have sometimes felt that I could simply pick up where I left off. This is probably the case with some niche readers who may visit this site; this is precisely because at least some of my content is directly pertinent to them from time to time. However, after a while, even they may have looked elsewhere for their regular fix of the topics I cover here. Beyond this, there is equally likely to be a second cohort of casual readers who will quickly move on to pastures new if the grass here does not re-grow apace [note to self, I am meant to be restraining myself from overly liberal use of analogies, must try harder!].

Even if an author has written several articles that have proved popular with a number of people; after anything more than a few weeks’ lay-off, it can almost be like starting again from scratch. To employ a too widely-used phrase, you are only as good as your last month’s (or maybe week’s, or maybe day’s) output.

Disregarding for the moment my own parenthetic advice from the end of the paragraph before last, this feels rather familiar. It seems to be very like what it feels like trying to get fit again after an injury or time away from a sport. It doesn’t really matter if you had attained a certain level of fitness a year ago; what is relevant today is your current level of fitness and the gap between the two. Sometimes recalling just how long it took them to achieve a previous standard can be quite de-motivating to an athlete returning from a break. Once fit, it is a lot easier to stay fit than is is to regain lost fitness. The same applies to audiences and this is why – as Kevin suggests in his article – at least periodic blogging (assuming that it is of a standard) is essential.

My learning here is both to make time to write and also to re-engage with my readers.

[Perhaps ironically this article itself has been in gestation for a few weeks]

Failure 2 – Assuming that what has worked before will work again

I have a specific example in mind here and it relates to a blog post that precedes this one. In turn this goes back to a survey of senior IT people that I carried out predominantly via LinkedIn back in January 2009. This related to their view on the top priorities that they faced in their jobs. Recently I thought that it would be interesting to update this and – no doubt naturally – I also though that I would adopt the same modus operandi; i.e. LinkedIn. I even targeted the same Group – that of CIO Magazine.

Sad to say, while I had dozens of responses last time round, there was been little or no response at all when I attempted to refresh the findings. I have been thinking about why this might be. Of course my musings are pure speculation, but a few ideas come to mind:

1. The output of the last survey was not of much interest / didn’t tell people anything that they didn’t already know and so it was not worth the effort of replying again.
2. The people frequenting the CIO Magazine LinkedIn Group back in 2009 were a very different set of people to now. Back then we were in the aftermath of the global banking crisis and perhaps a number of good people had more time on their hands than would normally be the case. Today, while the good times are not exactly rolling, I hope that a large tranche of these people are once more gainfully employed.
3. It could be (as I have mentioned before) that the wild proliferation of LinkedIn groups means that people’s time and energy is spread over a wider set of these, with less time to devote to specific questions. I have no access to LinkedIn statistics, but would like to bet that while overall Group-based activity has no doubt increased, activity per group may well have decreased.
4. Variants of the same question may have been asked so often that people have grown tired of answering it.
5. This could be one of the early signs of general Social Media fatigue.

By way of contrast – and perhaps tapping into my thoughts about variants of the same question having been asked many times before – the same Group has a thread asking members to state in one word what their key challenge is. Although many of the replies are somewhat trite and there is a limit to how much information a single word can convey, it is instructive to think that an innovative approach (and one that requires little time typing a response) has been successful where my attempt to repeat a previous exercise has failed.

My learning here is to think of new ways to approach old material, rather than simply believing that your can repeat past successes.

[UPDATE: I posted on the original CIO Magazine Group threads to change its status to publicly available and started to receive new thoughts on this. Another thought - perhaps people are just more comfortable contributing to discussions that others have already engaged in, rather than being the first to comment?]

Failure 3 – Ascribing [as yet] unwarranted maturity to Social Media

I religiously refrain from blogging about current work projects, however the following was 100% in the public domain of its very nature.

I have recently been doing some recruitment and – given both the increasing use of LinkedIn by recruitment firms in their work and that I have a pretty extensive network – thought that it would be worth trying to leverage Social Media to reach out to potential candidates. I did this via a status update, rather than taking the perhaps more obvious path of using the various job sections. My logic here was that I would potentially reach a wider audience in one go than via several postings within pertinent groups. I was also pursuing my recruitment through more traditional channels, so this idea could simply be viewed as a Social Media experiment.

As with any honest scientist, it is important that I state my negative results as well as positive. In this case, though I was contacted by many recruitment agencies, I didn’t get any feedback from actual candidates themselves at all. It could be argued that the failure was in the way I approached the experiment, or the narrowness of the channel that I selected. While both of these are true observations, the whole point of Social Media in business (if there is one) is to make either organisation-to-person, or person-to-person contact ridiculously easy and immediate. Regardless of my level of ineptitude, it wasn’t easy to achieve what I wanted to achieve and I abandoned my experiment after a week or so.

My learning here is to not to refrain from business / Social Media experimentation, but not to expect too much from what is after all an emerging area.

Failure 4 – Vendor employees not “getting” Social Media

I have often used this column to talk about my opinion that your choice of Business Intelligence tool is one of the least important factors in a BI/DW project. In the article I link to in the previous sentence, I quote from an interview I gave in which I compare the market for BI tools with that for cars. There is no definitive answer to the question “what is the best car?” and in the same way there is no “best BI tool”. Going further than this, there are many other areas of a BI/DW project which, if done well, will come close to guaranteeing your success regardless of which BI tool you select; but, if done badly, will come close to guaranteeing your failure with any BI tool.

I highly recommend Object Explorer Studio+ for all your BI needs

- Joe Blogs

Particularly where one click reveals that Joe Blogs is either employed by the owners of OES+ or a consultant whose company seems to exclusively do OES+ implementations. I hate to single out one vendor, but a particularly egregious reply to one of these “Which BI Tool?” threads that I saw recently consisted of one word:

Microsoft

- Jimmy Blogs

As I say, on the very same thread there were examples of employees of many other big and small BI vendors doing just the same, but most of them at least provided more than one word. In the cause of balance, the same thread also contained some thoughts along the lines of:

I can heartily recommend Oracle BI, OBIEE+ is great because [sales pitch deleted]. If you would like to know more drop me a line at jeff.blogs@oracle.com

- Jeff Blogs

I still wonder whether Jeff got any e-mails. At least he flagged his connection with Oracle, I don’t recall many other vendor employees being honest enough to do the same.

Lest I be accused of bias there were also not too dissimilar postings from people strongly associated with SAP, IBM, QlikTech, Pentaho and a sprinkling of BI start-ups. I should perhaps also note that SAS was not a culprit (at least to date), but then maybe this was because the question was about BI, something they abjure. Microstrategy was also honourably notable for its lack of replies containing naive self-promotion, but perhaps this was simply an oversight.

The above rather bizarre behaviour leads to two questions:

1. Why do the people making these types of posting think that they will be taken seriously?
2. Why do the vendors themselves not offer better guidance to their employees about avoiding crass and counter-productive social media advertising of a sort that is more likely to tarnish reputations than enhance sales?

Maybe here again we have an issue of social media maturity. Many people are perhaps struggling as much to get their message across effectively as they did with say the advent of television advertising.

My learning here is that I should curb my rather obsessive compulsion to “out” vendors promoting their own products under the guise of neutral advice-giving.

[not sure that I am going to take much notice of this one however]

Success – The Accidental Search Engine Optimiser

After covering three of my own failures and one of the BI vendor community (though I am sure the phenomenon is not restricted to BI or even technology vendors), I will close with one of my successes, albeit an unintentional one. I noticed a strange result the other day when looking at the following (I was actually looking for something else believe it or not):

I believe that my elevated ranking is probably correlated to recent changes in Google’s algorithms that take greater account of social media. Certainly I don’t recall placing on the first page for any Google search before, let alone rank #1. I suppose that I might have a degree of technical satisfaction if this was as the result of months of assiduous search engine optimisation. However the truth is that the result appears to be the unintended by-product of doing lots of things that I wanted to do anyway, like writing about topics I am interested in and trying to engage with a wide group of people in a number of different ways. In a sense the fact that this achievement was accidental (or at least collateral) makes it more pleasing. Maybe the secret to Social Media success is simply to not worry about it and just get on with expressing yourself.

My learning here is that providing content that is of interest to your target audience and being clear about who you are and what you do is going to be an approach that trumps any more mechanistic approach to SEO.

Closing thoughts

I believe that I have leant something from my three failures above (and that vendors should learn something from the fourth), but the single success encourages me to persevere. My aim in sharing these experiences is to hopefully also similarly encourage other Social Media ingénues like myself. I hope that I have at least partially achieved this.

## The CIO / IT Director Survey – Redux

17 June 2011

Back in January 2009, I started the process of using both this blog and LinkedIn.com to solicit feedback on the top issues facing CIOs and IT Directors. This was in preparation for a seminar I was helping a recruitment agency – Chase Zander – to run. I got a lot of very interesting feedback, some of it also from people e-mailing my directly. This was summarised in The Top Business Issues facing CIOs / IT Directors – Results.

I thought that it might be interesting to revisit this area and so am seeking your feedback, either in the comments section of this article below, or again via LinkedIn.com and, in particular as before, the CIO.com magazine group.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Peter

2 June 2011

Forming the final part of the trilogy, earlier episodes being:

New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging

Introduction

Having recently published an entire trilogy whose gestation had consumed more than three times that of a human infant, I am now returning to another troika whose first part I published back in July 2009. Before starting, I’ll repeat something that I mentioned at the beginning of both of the previous articles; I am not a great believer in Recipes for Success, this piece reflects my journey within LinkedInLand and your path may be very different. The intention is to provide some ideas, not to offer a foolproof set of steps that will lead to instant success in the media.

I should also stress that the suggestions that I present here are related to the professional aspects of Social Media. The personal aspects are different and, while there may be some overlap, please don’t expect my recommendations to wow your friends and relations!

I joined LinkedIn in July 2005 and so have been engaged in it for much longer than I have either blogged or tweeted. However, me devoting any real time to this area dates to around the same time that I embarked on these other activities; late 2008. At that point I was looking to achieve a few, fairly limited things:

1. To build on my public speaking to establish a profile in the IT industry
2. To develop a network of fellow professionals, both in my native UK and more widely
3. To create another platform from which to showcase my abilities and experience
4. To reconnect with past colleagues
5. To try out what was – even at that point – an emerging media

It is perhaps odd to think, but I believe now that item five was probably much more influential that the others back then.

Over time these objectives have morphed as I have become more familiar with LinkedIn. Today the list would more often mention either “grow” or “maintain” than “develop”. Also LinkedIn has become the main channel through which my content – such as this article – reaches people who may be interested in reading it. This is one notable aspect of LinkedIn and the observation raises two points that I will come back to later in this article. First, that LinkedIn is a great way to find, or even form, groups who are interested in niche subjects (and I am not as yet arrogant enough to think that much of what I write is in the mainstream). Second, that LinkedIn tends to work best in conjunction with other elements of Social Media; for me at least the two that I cover in the earlier articles in this series.

The Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

I tend to have an allergic reaction to articles entitled “10 steps towards successful X”. I certainly don’t have all the answers and the last thing that I would ever want to do is to stop readers thinking for themselves. However, the material I will cover in this piece, which is based on no greater insight that my own experiences, is inevitably going to fit fairly and squarely within this blogosphere cliché.

1. Your page – a shop window

First things first, once you have signed up for LinkedIn, you will need to build your own page. This is not as daunting as it might seem and LinkedIn have done most of the hard work for you. Also they are always coming up with new sections and new features that will allow you to position snippets of information about yourself. However, in essence, your LinkedIn page is your shop window and it is important to realise that developing its contents merits some care and attention.

It is useful to bear in mind your main objective for using LinkedIn. If this is to get a new job, then – much like a CV – you should be looking to highlight the same things that you would highlight in a CV (try Googling “10 steps towards writing a successful CV”). However remember that you can also easily host your actual CV on LinkedIn, so it will probably be productive to take a slightly different slant on your page itself. If you are a consultant and want to generate new clients, then explaining what you offer and why it is different from others will be valuable. If you are simply interested in connecting with like-minded individuals, with whom you can converse about issues and trends in your industry or sector, then perhaps listing the types of areas that you would like to talk about is a good idea. Of course, most people will have multiple and overlapping reasons for being on LinkedIn and – if so – a measured and blended approach will probably be best.

As with a CV or a static advert, you probably have only a fleeting amount of time to engage the reader’s attention before they move on elsewhere. Given this, it makes sense to make use of things like your Professional Headline to pithily pitch yourself. It does no harm at all to also have a decent photo posted. My opinion is that a business-related one sets the right tone, but others think differently.

If you catch the eye of passers-by, then your next hook is your Status – this can be something that you type in yourself, an update from your activity on a group, recent Twitter postings, or a link to other content. Again a little thought here will pay dividends. This is a chance to convey something distinctive to your readers, so do your best to take advantage of it.

After the summary of basic career details that LinkedIn auto-generates, your next opportunity to engage with readers is the experience section. Here (within a limited number of characters) you can build on what you have led with in your Professional Headline and Status to provide a more rounded perspective of you as an individual.

Although it makes most sense to get the upper pieces of your page just right (whatever that means for you), I would recommend also paying close attention to each of the details of your career (or those that you choose to post anyway) and even interests and other information. If you do manage to engage a reader and they invest the time to go through all of your information, then the last thing you want is to put them off right at the end with a glaring typo or inane comment. Whatever your reasons for being on LinkedIn, you probably would like readers to take away the idea that you are professional in what you do and a little thoroughness never hurt anyone.

I will cover other ways in which you can use your LinkedIn page to greater effect later on, for now – as with most things in life – the more time and thought that you spend on this area, the better the results are likely to be.

2. Who will you look to connect with?

There are two ways that connections are forged, you initiate the bond being formed, or someone else does. I’ll consider the second area in the next section, what type of people does it make sense for the LinkedIn user to try to actively connect with? There are a number of obvious categories:

1. Current colleagues or business partners

It is becoming increasingly prevalent that connecting on LinkedIn plays the role that exchanging business cards used to in previous times (it is actually not that uncommon to see LinkedIn details on business cards either). This is the most obvious source of connections and LinkedIn will helpfully suggest people who work for your organisation as candidates.

Having recently started at a new company, I would not suggest indiscriminately inviting everyone at your place of work to connect. As and when you meet people face-to-face and begin to interact more, a LinkedIn invitation can help to expand your relationship (and also potentially showcase aspects of your experience that have not formed part of your day-to-day dealings with someone). If you gave new colleagues or business partners a copy of your CV, they would probably never read it. People do however seem to have the habit of checking out LinkedIn profiles, no matter how similar the two activities would appear to be on the face of things.

Anyone that you work with extensively at the current moment is a prime candidate for a LinkedIn contact; not least as you may be able to call on such people to recommend you at some later point (see below).

2. Former colleagues or business partners

The same comments apply (and the same LinkedIn suggestions), but it may pay to be a little more discerning with this group. It might even make sense to be a little hard-nosed – think about what such a connection might do for you and what being connected to them might say about you. Of course where you have enjoyed a very good and mutually productive business relationship with someone, why would you not want to connect? If you instead occasionally came across someone in an old organisation and you don’t have much in common, the case for sending out an invitation may be much less strong.

Don’t get caught in the trap of chasing connections just for the sake of it; there are better ways to receive validation in life than via the cardinality of the set of people you are linked to!

3. People who you have never met

This is a strange one. Typically the advice from LinkedIn gurus – and from LinkedIn itself – is not to make such connections. I am actually in rather close connection with several people I have never met via the combination of Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, but they generally all fall into the next section. Approaching people that you really have no business approaching is probably just as much of an antisocial behaviour on LinkedIn as it is in real life.

Unless you share a group (or pay to upgrade to a premium account), you will need the e-mail of a target connection in order for an invitation to reach such a person. If you find yourself trying to Google this, you have probably crossed a line and should carefully consider if you really want to continue in this way.

4. People who you have never met, but with whom you have some other connection

What you have in common could be anything from both being members of a group on LinkedIn (see below again), to having read one of their blog articles, which you found interesting. Best is if you have actually “met” them virtually, e.g. struck up a discussion on LinkedIn, or via Twitter, or on the comments section of their (or your) blog. There are any number of people who I first “met” virtually and then physically later (see A first for me…, Another social media-inspired meeting and Some thoughts on the IRM(UK) DW/BI conference for some examples), most also were LinkedIn connections before we met face-to-face.

5. Friends

Aside from showing other people that you are not a sociopath (and excepting the case where friends are in a similar line of business), I’m not sure what value having cohorts of friends as connections serves. Returning to the box at the beginning of this article, maybe Facebook is the place for this.

Finally in this section, asking someone to connect doesn’t have a major downside. At best they accept. At worst they ignore you (actually at worst they write to you and say how they would love to connect except for issues A, B and C and how this is all very unfortunate, but have a nice life). If you do get snubbed, you can comfort you self by thinking that probably no one else will ever know, or indeed care!

3. Who should you accept invitations from?

This is a shorter section than the previous one. The answer to the question is “all of the above”. The only exception is in the People You Have Never Met section. I used to follow the received LinkedIn wisdom of only connecting with people with whom I had had some previous interaction (either on-line or IRL). Latterly I have come to the conclusion that if someone has gone to the substantial trouble of finding, or figuring out, my e-mail and then asking to be my connection, they must have some valid reason and who am I to deny them? Of course if the valid reason is wanting to sell me something, then it is not too onerous to disconnect. This actually seems to happen less frequently than one might think.

4. Groups and what to share with them

As alluded to above, groups are one of the strongest points of LinkedIn. It could be argued that they have proliferated and splintered too much since their inception, but they remain a great way to interact with people who share your interests (for me everything from Mountain Biking to Data Warehouse Architecture). Joining a group both flags your areas of enthusiasm or expertise to the reader of your profile and provides a mechanism to connect with people via just what you have in common (you can generally send an invitation to the members of one a group you belong to without needing to know their e-mail address).

However the greatest benefit of joining a group is that you can get involved in discussions. These may be responding to topics that others have raised, or web-pages that they have shared, or you may choose to initiate discussion threads of your own. For example, and anticipating the final part of this piece, I have lost track of how many of my blog articles had their genesis in LinkedIn group discussions. Of course when a group inspires you to write, you can then share the results back with the very people who provided the inspiration; a virtuous circle. You can learn a lot by just reading, but even more by jumping in and getting involved.

Particular LinkedIn groups that have inspired me to write include:

Nowadays, of the above, you are most likely to find me hanging out here:

At the time of writing there is a limit of 50 groups to which a LinkedIn user can belong. I am at that limit and probably need to do some weeding out in order to focus on the truly useful versus the mildly interesting. A final suggestion here is to – unlike me at present – devote your time to a smaller number of groups, giving each the attention that it deserves.

A final recommendation under this sub-heading: don’t get into discussions with Young Earth advocates, especially those who somehow managed to graduate from your science-based alma mater – you have been warned.

5. Recommendations – giving and getting

Recommendations are another tricky area. Ideally you will receive these spontaneously, but back in the real world you may need to ask. As ever the praise of the praiseworthy is the most treasured of all, so I would strongly suggest that you do not ask for recommendations from all and sundry. Qualifications should be a) that you respect the person you are asking to recommend you, b) that you did substantive work together, c) that the person’s recommendation is pertinent to whatever you are trying to achieve on LinkedIn and d) [sadly this one is not within your control] that the recommendation conveys something other than mere platitudes. You can of course ask people to edit their recommendations, but maybe at that point the trickiness becomes terminal.

Some people suggest that recommendations from superiors, or customers are the only ones that are worth having. I say poppycock! Two of the LinkedIn recommendations that I am most proud of come from colleagues who worked for people who worked for me. If displaying man-management or leadership skills play any part in your LinkedIn objectives – and of course if such recommendations appear genuine – then surely there is an awful lot of value in any recommendation from a colleague. Perhaps solely having testimonials from people who have worked for you might not set the right tone, but having none also says something in my opinion.

6. Applications – closing the loop

I mentioned above that there are other ways to jazz-up your LinkedIn page. Amongst these are add-in applications. The number of these has increased of late, but don’t expect the Apple or Android app stores. There are apps that will let you share presentations, tell people what you are reading (via Amazon), or flag your travels around the globe (useful if you are a rock band on its world tour, less helpful for a humble ITer like me). I only use a couple, but they both seem to add value.

First I use Box.net, a cloud-based document repository on which I store nothing more exciting than my CV and some other career documentation. The app tells you when a document is downloaded (though obviously not who has downloaded it) and I am surprised how many readers have taken advantage of this. I hope that they found my CV a riveting read.

Second I use WordPress’ own add-in which allows content from my blog to be displayed (see next section). The app doesn’t provide tracking information, but I can tell whence (anonymised) visitors to my blog arrive and a fair percentage appear to originate from this LinkedIn feature.

Despite a slow start, I anticipate a growing number of LinkedIn apps becoming available in coming months. It will be interesting to see what other opportunities these provide. The core value of LinkedIn is going to continue to be vested in the sections that I describe above, but I can see future applications enhancing this in interesting ways.

7. Combination with other elements of Social Media

Way back in the first segment of this series I said that I felt that they interplay between Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn was more powerful than any single element. I have probably come into contact with a wider range of people via Twitter, maybe due to the low friction associated with following someone, but most of the more useful relationships have also become connections on LinkedIn. I mention above that LinkedIn groups have inspired a number of my blog articles. These include some of my most highly-rated pieces such as Who should be accountable for data quality?, A single version of the truth? and “Why Business Intelligence projects fail”. Perhaps the fact that they related to topical issues that people clearly wanted to discuss was a contributory factor in their popularity. I like to think that I often take a different slant from the original discussions on LinkedIn, but I would have often not put fingertip to keyboard without the initial conversation giving me a nudge.

Of the three media, I put the most effort into blogging (as attested to by the length of this piece for example), but I interact with people more on LinkedIn. The way that WordPress reports referring URLs makes it difficult to be precise, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that linkedin.com is my most frequent referring domain by some way. My Twitter output has fallen somewhat in recent months, both due to other things consuming my time and also my developing opinion that it is becoming tougher to tell signal from noise. Nevertheless, it is a very common occurrence that a Twitter follow leads to a LinkedIn invitation in rapid succession and vice versa; it helps that each of the three sites have many links off to the others.

You can link your Twitter output to LinkedIn, but I find that this can be a bit overwhelming for me, let alone people reading my LinkedIn page, so have generally turned this off again. Although I think there is great value in forming connections between LinekdIn and Twitter, I also think it is important to remember that they are distinct media which people peruse for different reasons, albeit with some overlap.

Final thoughts

It has been a long journey, but I have now completed my traverse of the triangle formed by Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, with each “side” having its own dedicated article. I think that I will risk over-extending this analogy by saying two things.

First in arriving back where I started it is important to state that you can never declare success in Social Media, you are only as good as your last article or tweet (OK maybe the bar is not set that high for tweets). In fact I feel mildly motivated to re-read the first article in this trilogy and see which of my own blogging tips I have been ignoring recently. As with most activities, Social Media success is driven by practice and, to borrow from the other Seven Habits by continually sharpening the saw.

Second a triangle, if properly formed, has structural integrity beyond that of its component parts. I think that the same holds true for the three parts of Social Media that I have covered in this series. For those readers who have persevered this far, there is just one thing that I would like you to take away from this article. This is the strength generated by using Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn in a mutually reinforcing way.

## What is wrong with this picture?

7 April 2011

Following on from the optical illusions that I featured earlier in the week, here is another picture with something subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) wrong with it. Can you spot what?

## Another social media-inspired meeting

31 October 2010

Back in June 2009, I wrote an article entitled A first for me. In this I described meeting up with Seth Grimes (@SethGrimes), an acknowledged expert in analytics and someone I had initially “met” via Twitter.com.

I have vastly expanded my network of international contacts through social media interactions such as these. Indeed I am slated to meet up with a few other people during November; a month in which I have a couple of slots speaking at BI/DW conferences (IRM later this week and Obis Omni towards the end of the month).

Another person that I became a virtual acquaintance of via social media is Bruna Aziza (@brunoaziza), Worldwide Strategy Lead for Business Intelligence at Microsoft. I originally “met” Bruno via LinkedIn.com and then also connected on Twitter.com. Later Bruno asked me for my thoughts on his article, Use Business Intelligence To Compete More Effectively, and I turned these into a blog post called BI and competition.

We have kept in touch since and last week Bruno asked me to be interviewed on the bizintelligence.tv channel that he is setting up. It was good to meet in person and I thought that we had some interesting discussions. Though I have done video and audio interviews before with organisations like IBM Cognos, Informatica, Computing Magazine and SmartDataCollective (see the foot of this article for links), these were mostly a while back and so it was interesting to be in front of a camera again.

The bizintelligence.tv format seems to be an interesting one, with key points in BI discussed in a focussed and punchy manner (not an approach that I am generally associated with) and a target audience of busy senior IT managers. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is also notable that the more foresighted of corporations are now taking social media seriously and getting quite good at engaging without any trace of hard selling; something that perhaps compromised the earlier efforts of some organisations in this area (for the avoidance of doubt, this is a general comment and not one levelled at Microsoft).

Bruno and I touched on a number of areas including, driving improvements in data quality, measuring the value of BI programmes, using historical data to justify BI investments (something that I am overdue writing about – UPDATE: now remedied here) and the cultural change aspect of BI. I am looking forward to seeing the results. Watch this space and in the meantime, take a look at some of the earlier interviews that Bruno has conducted.

Other video and audio interviews that I have recorded: