LinkedIn adds birthdays to Updates – Good Idea?

Love, no, LOVE LinkedIn.

Premium subscriber for years.

As a sales professional LinkedIn is indispensable for what I do. Really can’t live without it.

But birthdays?

Do I really need a “LinkedIn Updates” email about a business contact’s birthday?

Birthdays used to be a personal matter, not a professional one. Facebook was the place to share birthdays, not LinkedIn. After all, questions of age are legally off limits in the professional world.

Something is afoot here broader than birthdays. It is the continued blurring of long established lines of privacy and professional decorum.

This is created in large part by the metaphorical fog machine of Social Media and their participant’s eagerness to connect with one another. Plus, the clarion call from social media sites and social media champions are almost always for more self-disclosure from their members (and revised privacy policies that go with them). This additional disclosure often goes unchallenged and agreed to by a simple click.

Added fuzzy-ness within Social Media come from the employer side as well. Companies with Facebook and Google+ pages interested in building their “brand” encourage employees to “like” and “follow” them on their personal accounts. Content marketing savvy businesses ask employees to “retweet” or “repost” their content – some even offering incentives to do so.

Job site Glassdoor asks members to post “reviews” and give a “salary history” of current and previous employers (in a somewhat anonymous fashion). Wasn’t income the ultimate employee secret never to be talked about?

And while many (especially millennials) view making semi-public (via social network) information like birthdays, relationship status, political affiliations, salary, and personal preferences as a practical and largely harmless activity, it’s not clear what will be the final impact to people and businesses down the road. All this information can potentially stay on the web forever. With big data tools, it can all be discoverable easier than ever before. Most importantly, it is almost all legally admissible.

Background screening company HireRight reports in “The Evolving Practice of Social Media Screening”  only 21% of surveyed employers use social media as part of their selection process. They say the number is trending down – largely due to legal reasons. Legally it is unclear if this type of personal data requires “consent” to retrieve and check. Many employers are unwilling to encumber legal responsibility by mining for this information without consent opting instead for services like HireRight to do the screening for them (and carry the legal liability). The bottom line is personal data is sensitive no matter how you slice it.

For LinkedIn, Birthday Updates are merely another way to harmlessly connect more of their members through an event. Adding value and a good thing.

For LinkedIn members, who think personal/professional divisions are necessary, Birthday Updates can mean something else. Perhaps a flash point for reviewing their own style.

Whatever you think, Birthday Updates cannot now be disabled on LinkedIn.


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The Evolving Practice of Social Media Background Screening

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