I was just looking at a discussion about LinkedIn where someone called it useless. I’ve been a LinkedIn user for years, basically since it was launched, so I’m more than a little biased about it’s utility. However, I also recognize that quite a few people think it should be a magic bullet to a variety of problems, from lead generation to landing a new job. Truth is, like most social networking/media sites, it’s hard work to get what you want out of it.
Nothing is a substitute for doing the hard work of face to face networking, but LinkedIn is hugely helpful in keeping up those relationships, particularly as people transition from one job to another. It’s also extremely helpful in surfacing people in other industries and helping to setup face to face meetings in other regions you may be traveling to.
Ultimately, however, it’s like everything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) is particularly weird in the sense that it might take quite some effort (and time) to get out of what it promises.
It’s also important to remember that in some geographies like Silicon Valley, it’s pretty much a requirement to be on LinkedIn – in other places or verticals other than tech, it’s not as common or it may be another social media network. In Europe, Bebo and Xing are much more used that LinkedIn – and Facebook is increasingly what people use to connect for business purposes.
As far as generating business from LinkedIn, it’s pretty clear that no single medium ‘generates business’, you have to work a broad front and each little bit increases your ability to ‘generate business’.
In the end, there is no magic bullet, it just comes down to hard, consistent work over a period of time, much like every other aspect of business. In that sense, social media is no different.