James Mayes

Does LinkedIn get Social Media?

In Recruitment, Social Media, Twitter on April 15, 2010 at 11:46 am

I’ve been present on LinkedIn for many years now. Being an ex-frontline recruiter, it was a core tool I made regular use of and I always found it worthwhile. Safe to say, it was one weapon in my arsenal and a useful one at that.

In my more recent capacity, building and developing TweetJobs, I’ve been looking more closely at other social media platforms and how we might work with them. Obviously I’m not the only person doing this, which is actually great. I’m not looking to be the only person in a market, but one of several shaping a new market – though I think that’s possibly a great subject for a more philosophical post further down the line. What it does mean now is that I can have open conversations with peers at partner AND competing firms, where we feel able to share views.

This culminated in a conversation recently which really crystallised one question in my mind.  Does LinkedIn ‘get’ social media?  By this, I mean there are any number of means by which one may define a social media platform (dissemination through social interaction; publication to a shared environment; online content generation and engagement; virtual network development) and on many (if not all) LinkedIn delivers.  However, the more I consider and discuss, the more I evidence I uncover to suggest that this might not be the case.

On what do I base this, you ask?  Allow me to illustrate via anecdote – recent quotes from people I hold in high esteem

  • “They may have made the API available, but they sure don’t make it easy” – third party app developer
  • “My level of engagement with Twitter is 10x that of my engagement with LinkedIn” – marketer
  • “80% of my usage is research, 20% just keeping a record” – recruiter
  • “Pricing seems aimed at those wanting to make contact – yet a mobile number is easy enough to obtain and texts/calls get far more attention than an email over LinkedIn” – salesman

It’s very much perceived as a site purely for business; this isn’t necessarily a problem as it gives the platform professional cachet and probably eases people into parting with payment for it’s service – however, this inherently steers people to keep the conversation limited to the commercial arena. We all know that business is built on human interaction though and Twitter’s more informal nature allows human relationships and personality to come through so much more easily. Is this the fault of the LinkedIn platform or the User?  A little of both. With no change, they may remain simply a site for research and (yet another) online personal address book. The core platform allows for so much more, so I don’t believe it’s simply a technology issue – much more one of perception and usability.

Where does it go from here? I believe LinkedIn needs to take the first steps.  The opening of the API and some of the recent layout changes show some willing; further, the direct link with Twitter shows LinkedIn are aware of the issue and wish to take steps.  They have a great user-base already, but they’ll need to move quickly if that user base isn’t to suffer swift erosion.  I don’t have stats for the level of active versus passive LinkedIn accounts, but I’m betting it shows cause for concern.  I see many people trying to use Group pages in ways which perhaps were not originally anticipated – and again, Twitter has taken a strong position on this by trying to actively introduce functionality which mirrors changes in the way people use the platform (retweeting, lists).

Finally, there was a warning from the past, back in the news this week too.  I would be remiss not to mention Jobster, “a company most famous for burning $55m in VC funding”.  A jobs board? A UGC platform? A social media / networking site?  They took so long to decide that it’s now difficult to define where they sit. Perhaps that concern, more than anything, will dictate the speed of change at LinkedIn.

For those who recognise the quotes above, you’re welcome to identify yourselves if you wish. I do not presume to do so – but as always, comments and opinions are welcome here!

  1. James,
    Nice work! I really enjoyed this and found it thought provoking. Too often LinkedIn feels like a directory- which is not social! Some really have embraced the community angle, many haven’t. The platform as you state does not help it’s self!

    The creative use of a real open API would reap huge results for LinkedIn, I have a few great ideas now!

    • Glad you liked it. It’s been kicking around for a while in my mind, but hadn’t taken form. Any time you want to talk ideas, I’m right here. I think we have a number of joint opportunities ahead of us!

  2. I contrast Linkedin and Twitter with real life networking. At a networking event, I feel comfortable joining any group of people, listening to the chat, and then joining in. This is easily replicated in Twitter, where you can follow anyone you like, and its rare to be blocked.
    Linkedin comes at it from the other direction, where invitations and permissions are key to every connection. See my views on this here. http://wp.me/pPAVC-7f

    Linkedin isn’t ant-social as such, it’s just a little more stand-offish and formal.

  3. Congratulations on a well written and thought provoking piece James but I think much of your concerns are based on a misunderstanding of what LinkedIn is all about – the term ‘social networking’ is a label that really doesn’t fit well with LinkedIn and its 63 million users. LinkedIn is a business networking platform – not a social networking platform and I believe the two things are very different.
    Let’s evaluate your 4 anecdotal pieces of evidence;
    • The Marketer. If your friend is marketing a consumer brand then I am not surprised they find twitter more useful, LinkedIn is a B2B platform whereas Twitter is largely a B2C marketing tool (although it does have it uses in B2B). Marketers traditionally don’t like LinkedIn because it is a personal branding tool (a swear word to most marketers!). Increasingly people are realising that through LinkedIn they can evaluate a company and its products/services through the people who represent the company, it is commonplace now to check out a business through the LinkedIn profiles of their people rather than be subjected to a glossy website produced by a marketing person which gives you little idea of the real heart of the business – its people.
    • The Recruiter. If your friend is using LinkedIn purely for research purposes then, put bluntly, they don’t understand networking! Recruiters often make the mistake of seeing LinkedIn as a database of candidates and/or client information without realising that it is a live and active community of business people who are interacting daily, building relationships and doing business together. Many (not all) recruiters completely miss this point and are seen by the LinkedIn community as being outsiders – vultures hovering above the network who swoop down to take what they want and then disappear until they have another need! Networking is all about being an active part of a community and contributing by helping others. Many recruiters advertise vacancies in their status updates (a clear indication that they don’t get it) which are largely ignored by the community. Recruiters who really get involved will tend to occasionally ‘ask’ for help from their network when searching for a role – a very different proposition when the question comes from a respected contributor to a community.
    • The Salesman. So I receive 3 unsolicited messages, the first is an email with no real information about who sent it, there may be a link to their corporate website but I know what to expect from that (see above). The second is a text which has even less information on it and is more irritating (I am used to email spam but text spam feels like more of an intrusion). The 3rd is a message through LinkedIn (which I also receive via email), the message is exactly the same but the difference is that I can see who sent it to me – a real person, not a website! I can even see where they used to work or went to Uni’ and even better than that I can check whether I know anyone who might know them. When we approach someone cold their biggest issue and most likely reason for rejecting us initially is that they don’t know who we are – LinkedIn messages help to break down these barriers and that is why it works better than email or texting. Maybe your friend doesn’t have a well written profile! The pricing issue is largely a red herring because there is enough functionality in LinkedIn to be able to contact other users without having to upgrade – you just need to know what you are doing!
    • The App Developer This is the one person I agree with, LinkedIn’s API is (I am told) very restrictive and this leads to a less effective user experience. The best way to improve a user experience these days is through apps and LinkedIn are ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ by making it such a difficult task for developers like your friend. To be fair though things are improving, 12 months ago there was no API available and LinkedIn are slowly moving towards a more open platform. I can’t see a day when there will be thousands of apps on LinkedIn but I think we will start to see an easing of restrictions in time.
    In summary James I think the issue here is that you are comparing LinkedIn to genuine social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is very different, it’s a profitable business for a start (unlike the others) and it appeals to business people who want to do business together.
    A typical LinkedIn user is not on Twitter and if they are on Facebook they are only there to keep an eye on their kids at Uni’! They are not interested in the (as they would see it) ‘tittle tattle’ that goes on in social networking – they are busy, serious and focussed on their business and they find LinkedIn a great tool to meet new contacts that they can then develop offline relationships with.
    LinkedIn is far from perfect and there is much they need to do to get their users more active (you are right to point out that issue) but it is gaining popularity amongst those who would never normally consider social networking and this makes it a very powerful tool for those in a B2B market.
    Mark

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for taking the time to write such a full response! You’re obviously far more acquainted with LinkedIn than I, so it’s great to get your perspective. I’m not sure I currently agree with every point you make – but as I don’t have sufficient experience, I’ll have to admit to going on “gut feel” and I’ll hush until I can back it up! You’ve certainly given me some different angles to consider – and for that, I thank you.

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