POLITICS AND LINKEDIN

BY G. A. FINCH

In recent weeks I have seen LinkedIn updates and discussions about whether talking politics or curating politically tinged or themed posts and links and other materials is appropriate on LinkedIn.  It is clearly because of the political season and the stridency and controversy surrounding the presidential election that political matters have spilled over into the business social medium of LinkedIn.

We would expect people to discuss political subjects on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and You Tube.  We would not expect the typical business with a presence on Twitter or Facebook to engage in political discussions.  Businesses exist to make money for their owners and managers and employees, and they do that by attracting customers and clients, not repelling them with unfavorable messaging.  Professionals want to get  hired by a client or recruited by or promoted by an employer and to not turn off the employer or the client.unclesamsmokesandvotes

Growing up as a young adult, I was always told that one should avoid talking about politics or religion if one wanted to steer clear of controversy and keep conversations pleasant.  Although it was a general statement, I knew that this rule was honored in the breach when it came to discussions with family, friends, and neighbors and one’s various clubs and affinity groups.  What was clear was that the prohibition on speaking about politics and religion in polite society especially was to be strictly adhered to in the work place.  This is great advice and a good personal policy to have.

We have seen businesses make policy and business decisions to affirm or condemn certain actions that have a political or ideological cast to them.  These are sometimes viewed as ethical, moral, justice or religious values stances.  Some corporate boards or business owners choose to undertake a risk of adverse impacts on their business in order to do the “right thing” as they see it.

Should one’s LinkedIn page be a forum for one’s political views?  I was an early adopter of LinkedIn.  I use it for my business and professional life and to connect with other business people and professionals.  If someone works or has worked for a political party, a political candidate, or an elected official, then that affiliation is relevant information.  It gives me context and background about that person.  Would I be interested in updates, postings, or articles that are   political?  No.  Would I post or send an update with a political theme?  No.  I do not believe most people join LinkedIn for political content.  They join it to present their credentials to the world and to see other members’ credentials and to make possible connections.

Political content is a divider on LinkedIn, not a connector.   Political statements can easily offend.  One’s displaying political content can cause one to have fewer professional or business opportunities and not even know the opportunities were missed.  Personal political content is more suitable to a blog, a Twitter account,  and a non-business  website and, perhaps, Facebook and Instagram.

 

Copyright © 2016 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

LINKEDIN AND NON-COMPETE AND NON-SOLICITATION AGREEMENTS

By G. A. Finch

Another lawsuit has resulted from LinkedIn communications bumping up against employment restrictive covenants.  The National Law Journal reported on a recent case out of a Massachusetts Superior Court (KNF&T, Inc. v.  Charlotte Muller, et al., C.A. No. 13-3676) where an employer sued its former employee for violating a confidentiality and non-competition agreement.  In its complaint, the employer zeroed in on LinkedIn and alleged:

“Most recently, Muller has updated her profile on LinkedIn to announce her employment as Regional Vice President of Panther Global Group, resulting in notification to all of Muller’s 500+ LinkedIn contacts she established during, and which were related to, her employment at KNF&T.  To the extent this notification has been sent to current KNF&T clients, this notification constitutes a solicitation of business in direct violation of her non-competition agreement.  A printout of Muller’s recently up-dated LinkedIn profile is attached as Exhibit F.”

Mass Case Photo20131106_154847

The Massachusetts Superior Court denied a preliminary injunction and held that defendant Muller was not soliciting business for the same kind of workers covered by the field of workers of her previous employer, KNF&T.  The Court suggested that a general description of one’s new job in a profile update without active solicitation or accepting business in the exact recruiting categories prohibited by the former employer was not a violation.

This is similar to a U.S. District Court case (TEKsystems, Inc. v.  Brelyn Hammernick, et al.  ) that I blogged about in 2010.  In that case, a former employer alleged Defendant violated the non-solicitation and non-compete provisions by soliciting Plaintiff’s contract employees and clients within the restricted geographic area covered by the employment agreement in using such electronic networking systems as LinkedIn.

Whether a LinkedIn update or message communication to one’s contacts will constitute a breach of non-solicitation and non-compete provisions will be driven by the facts of the particular case.  Bad facts can land a former employee or her or his new employer in hot water.

The medium of communication, whether it is by telephone, email, mail, fax, or social media, does not change the substance of improper communication that may violate non-solicitation, confidentiality, and non-compete provisions.

As I have admonished in my earlier post:  If you already have pre-existing relationships with employees, customers, clients, potential customers and potential clients, then be sure to list those in a carve-out provision before you sign non-solicitation, non-compete and confidentiality agreements; there may be overlap between your existing contacts and your prospective employer’s contacts and you don’t want to be precluded from utilizing them post-employment.Blog LinikedIn Muller Photo20131106_161614

In turn, employers should remind departing employees that their social media may not be used as an end-run around any restrictions contained in confidentiality, non-solicitation, and non-compete agreements.

Finally, social media is still a mostly uncharted world of communication that must be approached prudently.  One must be conscious of the social, legal, and business impacts of whatever messages and images one is putting on the internet.

Copyright © 2013 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

LINKEDIN REVISITED

BY G. A. FINCH

I have been using LinkedIn for about three years with mixed results.  I have advocated that executives’ using LinkedIn is critical to maintaining visibility in an increasing virtual world.  People do indeed research others on the internet and having a website and a LinkedIn bio is important to provide positive and relevant information about your business, organization or profession.  Executive and corporate recruiters definitely use LinkedIn and are probably the main generators of revenue streams for the LinkedIn business model.

LinkedIn Keeps Growing

More and more people are signing up as evidenced in more and more requests that I receive from persons who wish to become one of my connections.   I now have 600 connections and counting.  This large number does not make me feel either popular or especially connected. Many of the requestors I do not know well and there are several that I do not know at all.  That’s okay.  I am again an open networker, so I rarely decline a request to connect.

Mixed Bag

I find that I do not have time to keep up with all the daily updates, and I would guess that maybe one out of  50 updates I do find interesting.  Not that my own occasional updates are terribly compelling or interesting.  My updates usually involve telling folks about what kind of legal matters that I am working on.

The affinity groups are uneven in their being current and substantive.  Some discussion groups are better than others.  The biggest problem: Who has the time to check in and keep current?  I know that I suffer from time scarcity and lingering on LinkedIn can’t be a priority for me.

Positives

I do like the business news feed that is on my home page, and I actually try to read the articles when I am there.

LinkedIn also provides a portal to my blog, which is convenient for its distribution.

The best feature about my “connections” is that it keeps me current on people’s job changes and e-mail contacts.

The introductions via connections are awkward and they seem more personable to accomplish via private e-mail exchanges between the interested parties and their mutual connection.

You need an enhanced paid account in order to do direct in-mail communications with persons to whom you are not connected.  In-mail communications from strangers may come across as intrusive.

I am not negative about LinkedIn.  I do think that it has not lived up to either its promise or potential.  The key thing is for LinkedIn to develop more content to make it attractive as a destination website.  Interactivity will have to revolve around compelling common interests like a cause, an alumni group, or a trade or professional group continuing-education matter.

Must Keep Using

Should you forgo LinkedIn?  I think not.  You want to make it easy for potential customers, clients, employers, recruiters and business partners to research you.  LinkedIn, through internet search engines, has become a primary source to do that.  As I have said in previous posts, it’s your free billboard.

SUGGESTED NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS ON NON-COMPETES, CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENTS, AND SOCIAL MEDIA

It is the beginning of the year.  The time for New Year’s Resolutions.  My little son reminded me on New Year’s Eve for us to make our New Year’s “Revolutions.”  His revolution was to do 40 minutes of guitar practice per day (up from 20 minutes).  He had carefully written it down and happily wadded it into a ball to throw into the fireplace.  As the flame consumed his promise to himself, I complimented him on his lofty ambition. Resolutions are indeed personal intentions of revolutions directed at ourselves.  My son’s malapropism has some relevant meaning.

It got me to thinking about appropriate resolutions for executives.  There are many I could conjure up, but three seemed like an easy number to digest and remember.

Resolution # 1: Look Before You Leap

At this time of new possibilities and opportunities, an executive who is considering moving to another company should carefully scrutinize his non-compete, non-solicitation, and confidentiality agreements he has with his current employer to ascertain whether he would be in violation.  The executive should not try to do this without the assistance of legal counsel.  Employers have gotten more aggressive in seeking enforcement of these agreements as evidenced by the many court cases around the country.

Resolution #2: It’s Not Secret If Everyone Knows Or Employees Don’t Know It’s A Secret

Confidentiality Agreements are meant to protect the proprietary information and trade secrets of a business.  If the executive leadership has not instituted safeguards, controls, and notices of confidentiality for its important business information, then do not expect a court readily to treat it as confidential information.

An employee confidentiality agreement is a good start.  Physical and technological protections of business information along with legal protection of intellectual property through copyrights and patents are a good finish.   Think locked filing cabinets, password protected computer files, documents marked “confidential,” and so forth.  The New Year is a good time to establish protocols for safeguarding trade secrets, etc.

Resolution #3: Know How To Use Social Media But Don’t Lose The Personal Touch

If you are an executive or professional, no matter what your age, you are committing business development and networking malpractice by not understanding and utilizing social media whether it is LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.  Whether you realize it or not, you, your business, or your profession are affected by social media and will continue to be at an accelerated rate.

You don’t have to be a “techy” to join LinkedIn or pen a blog – I am living proof of that.  You must do something or you will be increasingly on the margins of access to information sharing.  After some skepticism, I recently signed up for Twitter and I will let you know how it goes.  Older executives must adapt and be continuous learners.

Despite the rise of social media, it is still not a substitute for meeting with people in the flesh, having conversations on the telephone, and sending thank you notes and condolence cards.  Being there and showing up still counts for a lot.  Younger executives should cultivate old fashion pressing the flesh.

Senior executives and the twenty-something young Turks can learn from each other.  To borrow a phrase from my son, that would be a nice “revolution.”

LINKEDIN: IS IT OKAY TO REVEAL YOUR FAITH-BASED ACTIVITIES?

A general counsel friend who was updating his LinkedIn profile queried me as to whether it was prudent to list his activities related to his Catholic faith.  He was concerned about turning off legal recruiters and potential employers by

John F. Kennedy

revealing his substantial commitment to his church and faith-based organizations.  I kidded him that he was not Jack Kennedy running to become the first Catholic president of the United States.  We have come a long way from 1960 in terms of religious prejudice.   But he does raise an important point.

Diminishing Religious Discrimination

Last year, there were some people who thought Chicago would not elect a Jewish mayor and that notion seems laughable now.  Commentators have noted that Republican primary presidential candidate Mitt Romney has to overcome an anti-Mormon bias among significant conservative and evangelical  elements in his party.  Muslim Americans certainly have to contend with stereotypes.  We have elected our first African-American U.S. president, so should we be concerned about residual religious bias in the social media market place?

I certainly do not dismiss the fact there remain various degrees of discrimination and bigotry whether it be religious, ethnic, racial, etc.  Should that fact dictate what we reveal about ourselves in our LinkedIn profile?

Appropriateness of Religious Information

If your non-business pursuits reflect your substantial commitment to your faith-based activities and you want to share your religious interests publicly, then by all means you should do so. However, if you want to proselytize your religion on your LinkedIn page, then you will likely alienate potential employers or customers. LinkedIn, after all, is about business. If your religion is a big part of your public identity or you are a clergyman, rabbi or imam, then listing your religious activities certainly makes sense.

Your Story on LinkedIn

For many executives and professionals, their references to religious related organizations simply round out a picture of their non-work related, nonprofit, and charitable endeavors.  For example, I list the fact I was president of St. Joseph Seminary at Loyola University of Chicago Board of Advisors and that I am a member of the Queen of All Saints Basilica Men’s Club (including being an assistant Webelos Cub Scout Den Leader at the Basilica.)  Although I do not wear it on my sleeve, I am proud to be a Roman Catholic, and revealing that fact tells people something about me – it contributes to my story.

Your LinkedIn profile is a piece of your narrative.  Executives and professionals should think carefully about how they craft their narratives.

As I said in a previous post about putting your photo on your LinkedIn profile, if someone wants to discriminate against you because of your age, looks, ethnicity, race or whatever, you would not want to work or do business with that person anyway.   I would add religion to that list.

Use of Commonsense

As is in everything in life, moderation is the watchword.  If your career pertains to faith-based organizations, then a long list of religious-oriented activities would make sense.  If you are an executive for a Fortune 500 company and a 100% of your listed activities is religious based, you may limit your potential opportunities within your company as well with other employers.  The more well-rounded your employers’ perceive your experience, the better.

LINKEDIN PHOTO: CAN YOU SKIP IT?

A general counsel friend wanted to revise and make more robust his LinkedIn profile and queried me as to whether it was necessary to have a photo.  He may have been self-conscious about his looks.   Join the club.  Aren’t we all? He did want his revised profile to be seen by possible recruiters.  He also had a question about revealing one’s religion on LinkedIn, but that will be the subject of another blog post.

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Many people are self-conscious of their photos and just do not like being photographed.  Some do not like the way they look because of age, weight, baldness, etc.   Some do not like the idea of others having photos of them for privacy or security reasons.  So having their photo out there on the internet on LinkedIn makes some people very uncomfortable.  Understandably, you find it more so for women than men.

Being Judged

For purposes of using your LinkedIn profile as a resume billboard for a job search or business development, it gets even trickier.  Some people do not want to be excluded for consideration for a job or a contract because of race, ethnicity, age, average looks, and so forth.  We all know that people can be discriminated against for those reasons (race and ethnicity were not the concerns of my general counsel  friend as he is neither a racial nor an ethnic minority).  Unfortunately, research has shown physical attractiveness can give a person a leg up in life. Nevertheless, for a job interview or for a business meeting, you will eventually have to meet potential employers or customers in person.

Let It Be

You are who you are, and you should be at ease with yourself even if there are nincompoops who may not be comfortable with your identity, looks and  background.

My personal belief is that if someone wants to discriminate against me because of my age, looks, ethnicity or whatever, I would not want to work or do business with that person anyway.  People are naturally curious as to what a person with whom they will do business looks like.  I know that I am.  A photo provides more context.  Accordingly, I have no hesitancy putting my photo on LinkedIn.

If I were a woman, I would probably be a bit more circumspect because of security concerns as there are weird people out there in the world.

Bottom Line:  You can skip a photo on LinkedIn without sacrificing the effectiveness of your profile.

LINKEDIN FLEXING ITS MUSCLES: Are you flexing yours?

The fact that today President Obama is having a town hall meeting hosted by LinkedIn at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California says a lot about LinkedIn’s impact on social media and its evolving potential.  Obama will answer questions from a live audience at the museum and from LinkedIn members on the internet.

Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California

This past August, LinkedIn reached a milestone: It surpassed 120 million worldwide members with fewer than half of its total number of users residing in the United States.

I am about to reach my own milestone with LinkedIn: My connections now total 499 and will cross over to 500-plus any day.  500 connections is a robust number.  What does this all mean for my use of LinkedIn?

It is clear that LinkedIn is growing by leaps and bounds and is the dominant game for professional social networking notwithstanding Facebook. Most LinkedIn members are still in the infant stages of their utilizing its full potential.

People are using LinkedIn to post and view updates from their connections.  I think more people view updates than post them, so the posters do get a lot of visibility.  I know that posting updates does provide opportunities for offline conversations with my connections.  A fellow board member will say, “Oh, I saw the item about your family being on the early morning news show for your children’s first day back to school.”  This comment begins a conversation.  The trick is not to becoming a serial, pesky updater and becoming part of the internet noise which we all are trying to reduce.

G. A. Finch's LinkedIn Profile Page

I have been able to get people job interviews for advertised positions when I have used my LinkedIn connections at a particular company or organization to facilitate an introduction.

LinkedIn does post jobs in particular fields, but it is no Monster.com and has plenty of room to grow.  The company states on its website that it “has a diversified business model with revenues coming from hiring solutions, marketing solutions and premium subscriptions.”  So clearly, it intends to become the go-to source for employment recruiters and job seekers.

The one current drawback to LinkedIn is that many people, if not most, don’t check the site frequently, so an update or an email message can get stale.  LinkedIn needs to create more incentives to visit its site a couple of times a day rather than a couple of times a week or a month.  Recently, LinkedIn has added a news content feature which should encourage its members to visit their home pages.  For example the home page news features business bloggers from HBR.org (Harvard Business Review), which is actually quite good.

The advice I would give LinkedIn is to increase the quality and availability of high-end business and political news and blogs, e.g. add content from the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.  This quality content will drive more traffic to LinkedIn.

As I have said in earlier posts on social media, an executive or professional can’t afford not to be on LinkedIn as it is increasingly becoming the dominant venue for people to check out the executive or professional.  LinkedIn is a free billboard to let people know who you are, what you have done, and what you can do.  Now it should also be about what interesting things you are doing now.

Why wouldn’t you be on it?  Why wouldn’t you file updates?