About six months ago I got an e-mail from a colleague inviting me to join something called “LinkedIn.” I had never heard of it, and suspected that it was spam or phishing or some other new thing that sounded like food. I was quite leery, but my colleague assured me that it was a legitimate vehicle for virtual networking with past and present contacts. Given that I am a social animal and consider networking one of my core competencies, I signed up. (Yes, it was free.)

The engine behind the LinkedIn Web site (www.LinkedIn.com) is quite powerful and intuitive. (Those are my words, not marketers' words.) After signing up, I was led through a process to enter all of my past positions, association memberships, and other details in order to help me to connect, and maybe, more importantly, re-connect with people with whom I've worked. I was also given the ability to invite some or all of my contacts to “Link In” to me. I obediently sent out quite a few invitations, and the responses were interesting. Some people accepted right away, others had questions similar to the ones that I had when first invited, and two people responded that they didn't know me. I guess that I am not as memorable as I thought that I was, or maybe they were just trying to be funny.

Group Dynamics

As my list of contacts began to grow, I discovered that there were LinkedIn groups where members with similar interests could find each other. I thought that this was a great idea, and decided to create a LinkedIn CME group. Within minutes of sending out notifications about the LinkedIn CME group, I was bombarded with acceptances and kudos and thanks for starting up the group. One of those messages was from an old friend and colleague who told me that earlier that week she had set up a CME group on LinkedIn. We decided to merge the groups and have one place for all.

Most of the initial members of the group were contacts of mine (as you would expect), but very quickly contacts of contacts (second-degree contacts) and even contacts of contacts of contacts (third-degree contacts) began applying for membership. There is worldwide interest in this topic (as we already knew), and there are a lot of people looking for collaboration and partnerships. Surprisingly, there didn't seem to be an obvious use of the group for seeking CME funding and support.

Moving forward, I am asking members of the group to donate their time and efforts to put together a group Web site. I envision message boards, chats, links to resources, and other valuable interactive tools. Additionally, I am curious as to what other members will want out of the group: What are their expectations and needs, and what can the group or group dynamic do for them? Although I am the “group manager” I don't own it, the members do. I just hope to be able to guide them through the process.

Would you like to participate? Send me an e-mail.

Lawrence Sherman, FACME, is president and CEO of Physicians Academy for Clinical and Management Excellence, New York. A 14-year CME veteran, he is a frequent lecturer on topics related to the strategic development, dissemination, and evaluation of CME activities. Reach him at LS@physacad.com.