Q&A: LinkedIn and Social Networking in India

September 15, 2009

[Ed. note: We're taking a break from the usual format of guest posts to include Q&A posts such as these. This is the first in the series and is a conversation that Jose Mallabo from LinkedIn had with Ajay Jain, author of Let’s Connect: Using LinkedIn to get ahead at work when he was over in India recently]

During a market intelligence gathering trip to Mumbai and Delhi, I was fortunate enough to grab a cup of coffee with Ajay Jain, one of India’s more prolific bloggers and author of several travel and social networking books. Needless to say, I listened and learned a ton about social networking in India. Below is a synopsis of our chat in Gurgaon (southwest of Delhi) last week.

JM: I just met with a bunch of Indian PR firms and almost all of them pointed to you as the most influential blogger on social media in India.

AJ: (Big smile and shrug) It’s probably because of my book on LinkedIn and a couple of columns I wrote in the media here.  My new travel book goes to print today.

JM: That’s great. What the heck are you doing here with me then?

AJ: Well, it’s done so there’s not much to do today other than promote it.  It’s a pictorial travelogue of my trip through Ladakh, a high altitude Himalayan region bordering Tibet and Pakistan. Travelling has become a key agenda in my life; I need to get away from the cacophony of big cities and the rat race forced upon all of us. Call it social ‘un-networking’ – or seeking opportunities to make friends with even those who have never seen a computer.

JM: Send me an InMail on how to buy it and I’ll check it out. You’re kind of living the dream. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want to make a living as a blogger and travel writer.

AJ: (Bigger smile, laughter) I have a long waiting list of those wanting to assist me. But this option does not come with guaranteed pay checks I tell them.

JM: In all your talks and trainings on how to use social media and LinkedIn, what have you found is the most interesting use or issue with it in India?

AJ: Recruiters seem to be most active here, but they tend to rely more on Introductions and InMails to get through to candidates.  Just to save a few advertising dollars, they often tend to be irksome. Some LinkedIn users don’t seem to realize the value of interacting on the site just like they would in the real world. You can play the fool on MySpace and Facebook if you choose to, but LinkedIn is all about real people, with real identities out to conduct serious business.

Indian users also tend to get suddenly active when they have a need. This can sometimes be seen as selfish behavior.  You have to nurture relationships over time to get the most out of your contacts. It’s back to what we should be doing in the real world.

A cultural trait is worth mentioning here: Indians are generally happier to socialize and talk in person. We are not very keen on written communication which often comes in the way of meaningful engagement on social media and blogs. And unlike the West, we have an overdose of people socializing with us including family, friends and colleagues. For many Indians, we want social isolation rather than more networking.

JM: What is a common misconception you hear about India and social media?

AJ: It may sound strange in the American context, but you may need to go a little offline. And organize some face to face meets with users in India to drive home value of LinkedIn, what they should be doing and how to conduct themselves. It will require a bit of effort, but the same thing documented and sent electronically won’t resonate. Again, Indians tend to ask and figure things out rather than read any manuals or books explaining the same point better.

JM: Which is exactly why I flew 9,000 miles to see you, right?

AJ: Well, you could have just emailed me!

Ajay will be hosting a fireside chat with Deep Nishar, vice president of product development at LinkedIn, at IIT Bombay on September 23.