Hey LinkedIn, didn’t you get lost along the way?

More and more users are complaining about what LinkedIn has become. Is it a necessary moment of bewilderment or a necessary moment of transition to adulthood?

LinkedIn is still better than [name the local alternative]

I’m talking about a time that those under 20 years old will never know…At that time professional social networks were taking their first steps and were still far from reaching the general public.

At the time there were, in France, 6nergies (now extinct) and Viaduc (which you know today as Viadeo and which has lived several lives since).

At the European level OpenBC (Open Business Club), a German network, was making eyes at foreigners by being available in several languages. You know it today as Xing.

And then there was LinkedIn. At that time with a rather tech connotation (it’s THE network in the Valley), elitist (it’s for highly qualified profiles) and with a barrier to entry (on LinkedIn you speak in English and in no other language.)

As these tools have become popular, each has found its place and niche. Or rather, it has found the niche where users have put it.

Geographic niches: LinkedIn is Paris and abroad, Viaduc is the rest of France. Business niches: LinkedIn is for tech companies, startups and large companies, Viadeo is for the SME market. According to profiles: LinkedIN is for highly graduated people, Viadeo is for the rest. In terms of uses: on LinkedIn you develop your network with quality people with whom you have value-added exchanges, on Viadeo you are harassed by sales people. In terms of job search: on LinkedIn you get hunted or found thanks to your network, on Viadeo you get spammed by job seekers. In terms of maturity: on LinkedIn you have people who have well assimilated the codes and etiquette of this type of platform, on Viadeo it’s a little more clumsy.

LinkedIn had thus quietly taken on the “international elitist” positioning that made it a place of choice to frequent for certain profiles, even if it meant falling into the middle. And the platform began to make the eyes at the French market (French version, partnership with APEC which broadens its base without deviating from its positioning). We are in 2008.

Today and a takeover by Microsoft later LinkedIn became “the place to be”. No matter the age, the profile, the job, the place. You have a job, a professional activity, you must be on LinkedIn.

From business class to metro at rush hour

Social media all follow the same trajectory. Blogs, twitter, Facebook, and therefore LinkedIn…. at the beginning we are among ourselves and it’s nice. But not necessarily profitable for the platform. Then there are more and more people and it’s not necessarily as nice as before! The rule is valid for all public places: it’s better to discover a good restaurant when it’s just opened than to go there when the journalists have started to talk about it. Besides, many restaurant owners will tell you the same thing: being known is good for business but some of them regret the time when their business was more confidential, more convivial.

Anyway, to get to the point, I see more users complaining about what LinkedIn has become. Why is that? Let’s quote in bulk:

Subjects that have no place in it

“If this keeps up, it’s going to look like we’re on Facebook,” a friend of mine said to me recently. Exaggerated? Maybe, but not without foundation. When I met Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, for the first time, he told me “LinkedIn is the office, Facebook is drinks with friends in the garden“. Now I think some users have started to uncork the bottles.

I’m seeing more and more messages on LinkedIn that don’t belong there. I don’t judge the quality of the content, just its subject.

But when you see that the LinkedIn “editorial staff” selects and highlights posts about…Maradona’s death, you might ask yourself some questions.

The joke of the day or the video that makes “LOL” can be saved for Facebook. The contents of humoristic sites too. Thank you for that. Political and religious opinions too (and more)…). Anyway, they have no place on a professional social network. And in this period of COVID, I’m not even talking about content of a conspiratorial nature or similar things.

And I don’t even mention connection requests by profiles that seem to have just escaped from Tinder

Good manners left in the locker room

In my opinion, this is mainly due to the deviation on the subjects discussed. On a professional subject one tries to react intelligently and make a contribution. On subjects on which people are more sensitive, it ends too quickly with peremptory positions (which have nothing to do with convictions), and name-calling.

And strategies aimed at accumulating (begging) likes to promote users’ personal content are seriously starting to annoy me.

Good manners left in the locker room (2)

In a professional context there is a way of approaching people. I remember a time when 90% of contact requests were for a professional exchange. Today it is to sell me something. Why not after all. But in this case I will give you some advice.

1°) Pay attention to the first message

Sometimes the profile of the person or their company is of interest. And then it doesn’t take long before the first message arrives.

Often it begins with a polite greeting. That’s a start. Then things get more complicated.

  • The quasi automatic message as if sent by a robot
  • The message that is not personalized at all
  • The message that suggests I asked for something. Hey! You’re the one who contacts me.
  • The message that requires a response from me, with reminders. Again, I didn’t ask for anything!
  • The message that tries to sell something right away without the person even introducing himself or herself.

I didn’t ask for anything at all and my mailbox gets spammed and I have the impression that I’m dealing with door-to-door salesmen rather than professionals!

I’m not even talking about people who initially ask nicely to connect to exchange on a common subject and who once the request is accepted behave like aggressive sellers, far from the initial request.

2°) Read well people’ s job, their function and look at their company’s business.

In addition to the inappropriate message there is also the topic of the request. I am not talking about sellers of tax exemption products and other wealth management services. On the one hand this means that my profile at least gives the appearance of some success but I don’t forget that one day I was told “when these profiles leave Viadeo for LinkedIn it will be the beginning of the end and then all the carpet merchants will show up”.

But frankly I see requests that make me wonder if people have read my profile. I’m not a marketing director or CIO.

It’s very nice of you to ask me if I need to do omnichannel commerce. The problem is that this is mostly the core business of my company.

Yes, it is very important for the employee experience to remember that many of my employees are also parents. But from there to proposing activities for the children in the company’s premises so as not to keep them away from their parents…. we’re just in the middle of COVID and the country is confined. On the other hand I have friends who can help you with your Go To Market!

Am I attentive to the importance of the employee experience? Have you read my job title? My CV?

You want to connect with me “because I am a director”. Is that it? No more arguments? I should accept just because you connect to all the executive profiles I should be proud to be in your network, right?

Ah, I forgot the best part. “You should create a blog for your professional image and we can accompany you”. Mine will soon be 16 years old. What else ?

Well I won’t go any further and I think you have as many examples as me to share. Morality my mailbox is full of useless stuff by the time I sort it out I’m late in responding to useful and qualified messages.

3°) No bogus value propositions

I don’t know if the real problem is the value proposition itself or if the mere fact that it is expressed is the beginning of a willingness to sell hot air. But by dint of seeing self-proclaimed gurus of all kinds, experts in a field we’ve never heard of, augmented version of the digital coach, who promise in 3 clicks to explain to you how to triple your turnover, multiply your audience tenfold or even…well actually I don’t always understand what they’re trying to sell…. I feel like I’m at the fair with people trying to sell me tickets to see the bearded lady.

Generally speaking, my LinkedIn news feed is starting to lose quality and, above all, my LinkedIn messenger has become a garbage can.

If 5% of the messages I receive are worth it it’s a maximum and they are so drowned in those of the door-to-door sellers that sometimes I miss them!

When you are not the client you are the product.

In the beginning LinkedIN was about jobs and business development at a good level. No need to be a fortune teller to guess that it was not scalable or profitable and that the scope had to be broadened.

When I said that the “social web” is nice at the beginning when there are a lot of people but not too many and that it gets worse as the number of users increases, I also had another idea in mind.

To illustrate the life of these so-called “social” tools I often say that “at the beginning there are the people and it’s nice, then the brands come and it becomes hell“. And the brands always end up arriving because a model that is free for its users is not sustainable for the one who provides the service! Then someone has to pay, which led to the saying “if it’s free, you’re the product”.

I would like to remind you that Facebook’s business is advertising, just like Google to a lesser extent. We could also do a long article to explain how in the same way blogs (the first real social media) became popular with bloggers who shared experiences and ideas (cf the famous sentence “blogs start conversations” by Loïc Le Meur) and today they are being replaced by influencers, some of whom are just a digital version of the multi-brand traveling salesman. And all this no longer starts conversations but purchases.

Anyway, since I don’t think that selling premium accounts was going to make LinkedIn profitable, it was necessary to:

  • To enlarge its product inventory and therefore recruit a large number of users.
  • Enlarge its customer portfolio by offering more and more services.

The first led to an evolution of behaviors and uses.

The second gave companies tools to target users. As long as we were in recruitment tools we were in LinkedIn’s core business and I’ve never seen anyone complain about being contacted by a recruiter. When it expanded to marketing and advertising in a broader sense it got out of hand.

In fact, neither of them can be criticized. It’s the logic of the business, the choices that accompany the transition of a platform to adulthood. What is problematic is when the two intersect.

Functionality is never a problem, usage is.

I disagree with those who think that LinkedIn has put in the hands of its customers (companies, not users) tools that allow them aggressive or inappropriate marketing and contact behavior.

No, technology is not evil. No functionality does aggressive or inappropriate things. On the other hand there is the way it is used. And it depends on the people.

The Necessary Evil of Coming of Age

So yes LinkedIn is starting to make me grind my teeth a bit. But let’s be realistic: I don’t think LinkedIn could have had any other development strategies and what we are experiencing today is a necessary evil. All the more necessary since there are no alternatives on the market today.

On the other hand, a moderation of non-professional content could make sense. In any case it would be appreciated and not impossible to set up.

Could LinkedIn “police” its clients’ business practices? You can dream but I don’t believe in it. And I don’t see how.

In short, I think we’re going to be forced to live thinking that it was better before. And, giving credit where credit is due, LinkedIn remains a source of information and professional exchanges of high quality, especially when compared to the existing alternatives in terms of social platforms.

Unless we take ourselves in hand. Finally we can report contents or people. Maybe we are too kind or tolerant.

However, more than four years after the takeover, one may wonder what Microsoft is doing with LinkedIn. Slippery uses, an interface unworthy of the name (and I’m not talking about the back office for pro offers that are unworthy of the product). In short, maybe things should be taken back in hand, the lack of competition not justifying such sloppiness.

LinkedIn you disappoint us. Good thing we love you…or that we have nowhere else to go.

Image : Linkedin by BongkarnGraphic via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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