Is Ben Franklin the ultimate LinkedIn model for all of us?

Ben was always ahead of his time. My guess is, he would have been an early adopter—and master—of social media, particularly LinkedIn.

Ben was always ahead of his time. My guess is, he would have been an early adopter—and master—of social media, particularly LinkedIn.

When I read about famous figures from bygone eras, I love to imagine some sort of time-travel miracle allowing us to teleport them to modern times. It would be fascinating to see how they would take it all in, if their heads didn’t explode.

That entertaining little concept is crossing my mind, a lot, as I read Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, by Walter Issacson (the same author who wrote the acclaimed Steve Jobs biography). My impression is that if Mr. Franklin dropped from some celestial ooze into modern life, after a period of adaptation and a wardrobe change, he’d do just fine. In fact, he’d probably thrive.

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I began learning a lot about Franklin—and I was smitten by the guy’s genius. I knew he was smart, but my public school education fell woefully short here. Like many of us, Franklin was fused in my mind as the two-dimensional, spectacle-wearing colonial dude flying a kite in a lightning storm. I can still see the history book illustration in my mind.

He was far, far more. And much of what our country is founded on, indeed our very existence as a nation, is in large part owed to him. His list of accomplishments is staggeringly lengthy, impressive and humbling… I don’t know when the man slept.

As Franklin’s story unfolds in this biography, one of the places my mind keeps racing to is, of all places, LinkedIn. The gregarious, highly connected Franklin would have LOVED the platform—and he most definitely would have been one of those people with 500+ connections.

The way Franklin approached life is a timeless lesson in networking, cooperating with others for a greater good and more. It’s even more impressive when you think that communications in his day relied on rickety printing presses, quills, inkwells and horseback.

To me, there were two themes that weaved through Franklin’s life from a very early age: He loved to 1) Connect with people, and 2) Create and share awesome things.

Sounds an awful lot like what most of us do on social media, right? But here are the reasons I connect Franklin to LinkedIn, and they’re great lessons for all of us:

Be about advancement for all. Franklin was all about advancing—himself, his friends and colleagues, his and their businesses, industry and society as a whole. He continually met and brought folks together for common learning and good. A tenet of Franklin’s life was that when people (or 13 colonies) come together, they can achieve incredible things… and he loved finding and organizing the right people for the right causes. To me, that’s a real talent, and if you have it, it’s a shame not to use it.

Always find ways to connect with others. Franklin had lifelong friends in every colony, American city and in England. He wrote volumes of letters to people, orchestrated regularly scheduled groups to solve societal problems (a small one called the Junto and the multi-state American Philosophical Society, which still exists today), and kept friends and business partners from every walk of life. He was known and beloved by everyone from tradesmen to royalty. In your own little digital way, what kind of legacy are you leaving?

Be pragmatic and useful to others. Franklin was boundlessly curious, forever exploring, documenting and thinking. And he openly shared everything with his connections—serving as a mentor, colleague and teacher. He was incredibly helpful in bringing useful information to people. Do you bring this practical advantage to your network?

Always share quality, original content whenever you can. Franklin was quality content factory. He wrote and printed Poor Richard’s Almanack for more than 25 years—and even today, it’s still entertaining! What’s more, Franklin produced a popular, weekly Philadelphia newspaper; literature; and pamplets—all exquisitely written. Think of the stuff you share… would Ben approve?

A mix of business and pleasure is good. Franklin was a tireless self-marketer and businessman, but he was far from all business. When revisiting London, he made it a point to stop by the printshop where he once worked—lugging in buckets of beer for his former employer and colleagues. He was fun to be around, great to talk to and always kept up with people. To quote one friend of his, “I never saw a man who was, in every respect, so perfectly agreeable to me.”

Many of us, especially at networking events, tend to only think about what we want from people, as opposed to what we could bring or offer them. Some of the people I’ve enjoyed most working with—and in life—were those who were just entertaining or nice to chat with (whether that’s in real life or digital!).

I think Ben would concur.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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