LinkedIn’s Weak Link

On balance, most people would agree that the LinkedIn social media platform has been a positive development in the field of business. Until LinkedIn came along, often it was quite challenging to make and nurture connections with like-minded industry or professional colleagues, or to find relevant contacts deep within corporations or other organizations.

I’m old enough to remember the “bad old days” of fruitless searches through the Corporate Yellow Book, Hoover’s and Dun & Bradstreet mercantile listings to try to find good company contacts. Often the information was far too “upper-level,” out-of-date, or simply wrong.  Industry, state and regional directory listings were even worse.

Invariably, any data ferreted out needed to be vetted through phone calls made to beleaguered front-office receptionists who were understandably disinclined to spend much time being helpful.

Of course, as with Wikipedia all LinkedIn “data” is submitted information, and subject to varying degrees of accuracy. As well, the data are comprehensive and accurate only to the degree that each LinkedIn member keeps his or her employment and related information current and complete.

But as a crowd-sourcing database of information – and often with “deep-dive” data on members available to view – LinkedIn is miles ahead of where we were before.

That being said, there is one negative aspect about LinkedIn that seems to have become more pronounced over time — and that’s the burgeoning volume of LinkedIn connection requests that are happening.

Speaking for myself, I’ve spent an entire career nurturing my business relationships. That this has resulted in being one of the LinkedIn members who are in the “500+ connections” club speaks to a lifetime of establishing “real” connections with “real” people – not mindlessly sending out connection solicitations to just anyone.

But that’s what’s happening with many of the incoming requests-to-connect on LinkedIn. These days, I’m receiving requests daily from people I do not know personally and have never even heard of before.

These are the folks who take advantage of LinkedIn’s higher cost”premium membership” programs to gain access to the more detailed information contained in member profiles that is normally off-limits to all except first-degree connections.

In what ways are these people actually interested in connecting with me?  Are they simply sending out a rash of “spray-and-pray” requests in the hopes of getting a nibble … or perhaps making an effort to build their own network and look more like an “authority” in their line of work?

When I click through to view the profiles of those people requesting to connect, it turns out that most them are in fields that relate to my line of work, however tangentially. Likely they’ve identified my name based on shared professional organizations and vocational interests.

But their reasons for requesting to connect — if they even bother to give one — are so generic (or so lame) as to be laughable.

Early on, I did a bit of “empirical” research to see how a few of these connections might actually evolve after I accepted their request to connect. Big mistake, that was.  Recently, freelance copywriter extraordinaire Ed Gandia described something very similar about his own personal LinkedIn experience, characterizing the typical follow-up communiqué from a new LinkedIn connection as “the business equivalent of a marriage proposal” – to wit:

“I’d like to get on the phone with you about [marrying me/having kids/opening a joint bank account]. Here are three times I’m available to talk.  I’m so excited to hear what you can offer me as [my new husband].”

If ever we needed reminding about how not to engage in business development solicitations, these sorry LinkedIn communications are it.

The bright promise of LinkedIn is the ability to identify people with whom we can potentially work or collaborate.  In that regard, the platform can be very valuable.  It’s just too bad that so many people are now using it for ill-conceived (or perhaps desperate?) shotgun attempts to sell themselves, their products or their services.

It won’t work. Communications technology may have evolved but some fundamental things never change.  At the top of the list:  No one wants to be pestered by unsolicited pitches for products, consulting services, employment opportunities and the like.  Not then, not now, not ever.

Hopefully, LinkedIn can calibrate its business practices to ensure that the benefits of interacting with the social platform always outweigh the detriments. We all recognize that this is one way LinkedIn can monetize the data that’s valuable housed on its platform.  But LinkedIn needs to get this just right, lest they turn off their most consequential members – or worse, drive them away.

This LinkedIn sayonara message says it all.

Over the past several years, it’s been painfully evident to me as well as many other people that LinkedIn has become a sort of Potemkin Village regarding its professional groups.

While many groups boast enviable membership levels, there’s been precious little going on with them.

It’s almost as if the vast majority of people who signed up for membership in these groups did so only to be “seen” as being active in them – without really caring at all about actually interacting with other members.

And if any more proof were needed, try advertising your product or brand on LinkedIn.

Crickets.

Today I received the following message from Alex Clarke, digital content manager and moderator of the B2B Marketing LinkedIn group. You know them:  publishers of B2B Marketing, one of the most well-respected media properties in the marketing field.

We’ll let the Alex Clarke memo speak for itself:

What ever happened to LinkedIn Groups? What was once a bustling metropolis, teeming with valuable discussion and like-minded peers sharing success and insight has now become a desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland – home only to spammers and tumbleweed. 

We’re sad, because, like many other groups, our 70,000+ strong LinkedIn community has become a stagnant place, despite constant love and attention and our best efforts to breathe life into its lonely corridors. 

That’s why we’re moving to a new home … Facebook: bit.ly/B2BGroupFB. 

We’re aiming to build a similar – and ultimately, better – community on this platform, with an eye on providing B2B marketers with a place to seek advice, share success, and connect with like-minded professionals in a well-moderated environment. 

We’ll still drop in to keep an eye on the LinkedIn Group, continuing to moderate discussions and approve new members, but much of our effort will be invested in building a brand-new community on Facebook. Many of you will already know each other, but please feel free to say hello!  We’re really excited to see where this goes, thanks for coming along with us.

So, while B2B Marketing will maintain a default presence on LinkedIn, what’s clear is that it’s abandoning that social platform in favor of one where it feels it will find more success.

Who knows if Facebook will ultimately prove the better fit for professional interaction. On the face of it, LinkedIn would seem better-aligned for the professional world as compared to than the “friends / family / hobbies / virulent politics / cat videos” orientation of Facebook.

Time will tell, of course.

Either way, this is a huge indictment of LinkedIn and its failure to build a presence in the cyberworld that goes beyond being a shingle for newly minted “business consultants,” or a place for people to park their resumes until the time comes when they’re ready to seek a new job.

It’s quite a disappointment, actually.

What’s behind Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn?

LI MCAt first blush, it appears almost ludicrous that Microsoft Corporation is offering an eye-popping $26 billion+ to acquire LinkedIn Corporation.

The dollar figure far eclipses any previous Microsoft acquisition — including the $9 billion+ it paid for Nokia Corporation in 2014, not to mention what the company paid for Yammer and Skype.

What’s also acknowledged is that none of those earlier acquisitions did all that much to further Microsoft’s digital and social credentials — and in the case of Nokia, the financial write-downs Microsoft has recorded have actually exceeded Nokia’s purchase price.

So what’s different about LinkedIn — and why does Microsoft feel that the synergies will work to its advantage better this time?

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, technology journalist Christopher Mims noted that such synergies do exist — and in a much bigger way.

That includes Microsoft Office, the productivity suite that’s now delivered almost exclusively online. And then there’s LinkedIn’s database of over 400 million subscriber professionals.

Put those two elements together with a strong strategic vision, and you have the potential for some pretty amazing synergies.

When you think about it, LinkedIn’s users are essentially Microsoft’s core demographic. And it isn’t something that’s replicated anywhere else in Cyberspace.  Here’s Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella talking:  “It’s really the coming together of the professional cloud and the professional network.”

Acting on its own, LinkedIn hasn’t been all that successful in leveraging what is arguably the most comprehensive and powerful database of business professionals ever compiled in the history of mankind.

While it consists of self-contributed information that hasn’t been “vetted” by outside parties, it’s still the single most comprehensive and valuable repository of information about business professionals — anywhere in the world.

I view the dynamics of LinkedIn as something like the Wikipedia. Wikipedia has become so pervasive, it has driven traditional encyclopedias from the scene.  And while we all know that there can be misstatements of fact — or omissions of facts — from Wikipedia entries, it’s also become the quickest and easiest place to go for information that’s “accurate enough and complete enough” for most any type of informational query.

In similar fashion, LinkedIn is making personnel databases like Dun & Bradstreet that are less robust and accessible only by subscription increasingly obsolete.

And yet … with all of this powerful data at its fingertips, up to now LinkedIn hasn’t been all that effective in leveraging its vast trove of data in way that goes much beyond using it as a personnel recruitment tool.

Try as LinkedIn might to create “stickiness” by offering communities of users based on job function, shared industry involvement and the like, to this day only about one-fourth of LinkedIn’s ~400 million users come to the site on a monthly basis.

The reality is that the vast majority of people continue to access LinkedIn only when they’re in the job market — either as a seeker of talent or seeking a new position for themselves.

In the wake of the pending Microsoft acquisition, those dynamics could change quickly — and in a big way.

One way is in how LinkedIn could begin to provide a big boost to Microsoft’s CRM services. Many companies use such products to identify and track sales leads; in fact, having such a tool is almost a prerequisite for any successful business of any size at all.

As of today, Microsoft languishes behind three other CRM software providers (Salesforce.com, SAP and Oracle). LinkedIn’s own product (LinkedIn Sales Navigator) is essentially an also-ran in the category.

But bringing together LinkedIn’s extensive personnel database with Microsoft’s CRM capabilities looks to deliver data and reach that would be the envy of anyone in the market.

So … it is certainly possible to understand why Microsoft might see LinkedIn as its strategic “ticket to ride” in the coming decades. But two questions remain:

  • Does the acquisition business potential match with the $26 billion+ Microsoft is paying for the buying LinkedIn?
  •  Will Microsoft do a better job of integrating LinkedIn with its other products and services when compared to the disappointing results resulting from its other acquisitions?

We’ll need to check back over the coming months to see how things are come together.

Bird dropping: Instagram overtakes Twitter in the social media derby.

Instagram logo

It seems like the jockeying for position among social networks is never-ending.

The latest case in point:  Instagram, which is presently the fastest growing social media network in the United States.

According to the latest figures released by digital market research company eMarketer, as of February 2015 Instagram now has over 64 million users in America.

That’s a ~60% increase in just one year, and it puts Instagram in third place among all social networks, surpassing Twitter for the first time.

Not only that, eMarketer forecasts that Instagram will add more than 10 million additional users in the United States this year:

  • Facebook: ~157 million U.S. users forecast in 2015
  • LinkedIn: ~115 million
  • Instagram: ~78 million
  • Twitter: ~53 million
  • Pinterest: ~47 million
  • Tumblr: ~20 million

       (Source:  eMarketer and LinkedIn, February 2015.)

eMarketer also forecasts that Twitter will continue to fall further behind Instagram in the upcoming years, since Twitter’s annual growth is expected to be in only the single digits throughout the rest of the decade.

Based on the overall American population, Instagram has now a market penetration of nearly 25%.  Of course, that’s well behind Facebook, which has nearly 50% penetration.

Untitled-1But Instagram’s user base is skewed heavily towards teens and millennials – people between the ages of 12 and 34.  This makes Instagram a bit more of a threat to LinkedIn and even Facebook than you might think at first.

Facebook’s user base has been skewing older in recent years.  If those trends continue, we could see a measurable drop-off in Facebook’s share of users, with a corresponding rise in Instagram’s penetration.

Of course, we mustn’t forget that Facebook was the social media network of choice for younger people at one time, too.  After all, it got its start on college campuses.  But now that Facebook has solid adoption among older Americans (age 40 and over), no longer does it seem like a “cool” network for some millennials and teens.

So it would be foolish to assume that Instagram is a slam-dunk to continue to be the “network of choice” for younger people in the years hence.  One never knows what new network might suddenly appear on the horizon and capture their hearts.

Still, Instagram’s rise has been noteworthy.  And it certainly puts the lie to the notion that there wasn’t room for a new network to enter the increasingly crowded social media space and make a big splash.

Personally as an “aging boomer,” I don’t have an Instagram account, and neither do most of my acquaintances.  What about your own personal experience or professional experiences with this network?

LinkedIn: The “Other” Social Network Makes its Move

linkedinWe may be reading quite a few news reports these days about Facebook and Twitter facing a plateau in usage … but LinkedIn’s fortunes continue to be on the upswing (financial losses notwithstanding).

In late April, the social network reported that it now has more than 300 million active members throughout the world, which is up more than 35% since the beginning of the year.

Too, the gender gap in membership is narrowing, albeit more slowly:  Today, ~44% of LinkedIn members are women, up from ~39% in 2009.

Even more impressive for a network that has the lofty goal of “creating economic opportunity for every one of the 3.3 billion people in the global workforce,” is the fact that two-thirds of LinkedIn’s active members are located outside the United States.

This is underscored by the top three countries represented  in LinkedIn’s membership, which are the U.S. (#1), India (#2) and Brazil (#3).

worldwide membersLinkedIn’s latest international push is into China, where it seeks to add more than 140 million Chinese professionals to its membership rolls.

Mobile Movement

The increased use of “smart” mobile units has affected the ways users interact with LinkedIn as well; mobile traffic is expected to overtake desktop access later this year.

[In fact, that’s already happened in markets like the United Kingdom, Singapore and Sweden.]

Here are a few “factoids” that illustrate how significant mobile has become for LinkedIn operating as the world’s mobile employment bazaar:

  • Average number of LinkedIn profiles viewed daily via mobile devices:  ~15 million
  • Average number of job position openings viewed daily via mobile:  ~1.5 million
  • Average number of job applications submitted daily via mobile:  ~44,000

Despite these healthy usage figures, a continuing challenge for LinkedIn is the degree to which it has been able to “monetize” its membership.  Among U.S. members, the average revenue-per-user is hovering around $11.30.

That’s much better than the ~$3.75 average revenue-per-user amount for members overseas.  But it’s still well below the revenue-per-member figures being charted by Facebook, which helps explain LinkedIn’s continuing revenue and profit challenges.

Still, when you consider that LinkedIn is becoming the de facto “Help Wanted” public square for the professional world, it’s hard to criticize its business model as the “go-to resource” for human resources professionals involved in personnel recruitment.

And now that the platform has a an active membership north of 300 million people, it’s hard seeing how that dynamic is going to change going forward; LinkedIn really is in the catbird seat when it comes to recruitment.

Speaking personally, I’m glad LinkedIn is resisting going the route of Facebook and Twitter in their evolving “all advertising, all the time” revenue models.  If LinkedIn can continue to derive a large chunk of its revenue stream from recruitment solutions instead of relying on display advertising or sponsored posts that are too often distracting or irritating, so much the better for us.

The Continuing Ambivalence about Twitter

Or is it more a division of the house?

ambivalenceOf all of the social media platforms that have taken root, the one that seems to cause the most divided opinions among the marketing and communication specialists I know is Twitter.

… And these are the folks who have been diligent about “following the script” for crafting tweets that are interesting, informative, and get noticed.

Each social platform has its strong and weak attributes, of course … but I hear far more mixed views about Twitter than I do about Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn.

This is amply illustrated in a recent discussion that was started on LinkedIn’s B2B Marketing Group, of which I’m a member.

Joel Harrison, Editor-in-Chief of B2BMarketing.net, posed this question to the group’s members:

“If Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow, would we all be better off?”

This rather provocative query elicited a range of reactions pro and con – which was to be expected.

However, I was a little surprised that the comments were weighted roughly two-thirds negative about Twitter versus positive.

Remember, this is a discussion group made up of marketing professionals — people you’d expect to be keen on pretty much any established social platform that has an extensive following for marketing purposes.

… Which, even if you discount the ~30% of accounts that “fake, faux and farcical” – still makes Twitter qualify as one of the leading social media platforms.

But consider these comments about Twitter posted by members of the B2B Marketing Group on LinkedIn:

“16 characters solve this dilemma: ‘Don’t take part.’”

 “I once read a tweet that said, ‘This is the generation that had nothing to say, and said it.’ Sums it up pretty well.”

 “My target audiences … have not mentioned that they prefer to communicate on that channel, so until that happens, there isn’t much going on.”

 “I like the old BBC mission: ‘Entertain, inform and educate.’ If you don’t do any of that, I ain’t following.”

 “Useful as an additional channel for customer service and sharing experiences – if the customer wants it.”

 “It depends on the industry and the target audience.”

 “As a marketer, it’s useful.  On a personal level, it annoys the hell out of me.”

These statements don’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the platform, do they?

Of course, they were posted on a business-to-business discussion board, so presumably people were commenting based on their B-to-B perspective; consumer marketing opinions are likely somewhat different.

What are your opinions about Twitter? Based on your own experience, how important and how effective has Twitter been to your marketing efforts?  Is it a critical component … or is it just one more ornament on the MarComm tree? Please share your comments for the benefit of other readers.

A new milestone for LinkedIn: 200 million users.

LinkedIn reaches a new milestone:  200 million registrants.
LinkedIn is adding new registrants at a rate of two per second.

It may have gotten lost in the shuffle amongst the news about other social platforms like Twitter, Facebook … and now Pinterest and Instagram … but LinkedIn has quietly signed up its 200 millionth user.

While LinkedIn may have only a fraction of the 1 billion users who have signed up on Facebook, reaching the 200 million milestone is a pretty big deal for a professional networking site, and in fact makes LinkedIn the 800 lb. gorilla in the professional social segment.

LinkedIn is adding nearly 175,000 new registrants each day; that averages out to about two per second. So it comes as no surprise that if you look at LinkedIn’s trajectory over the recent years, it like one of those exponential lines:

  • January 2009: 32 million user registrations
  • March 2011: 100 million
  • December 2012: 200 million

LinkedIn has gone worldwide, too – although it’s not as international as Facebook. There are LinkedIn members in more than 200 countries and territories.  The United States continuing to lead the pack, but it now represents well fewer than half of registrants:

  • USA: ~74 million user registrants (37%)
  • India: ~18 million (9%)
  • United Kingdom: ~11 million (6%)
  • Brazil: ~11 million (6%)
  • Canada: ~7 million (4%)

There are detractors to look at Facebook and its user profile and see a lot of chaff among the wheat: a large portion “wannabe” professionals who are sole proprietors of varying degrees of consequence or even validity.

But at least these people actually exist, which is much more than you can say about the Twittersphere – the very archetype of the “digital Potemkin Village.”

LinkedIn’s growth isn’t just noteworthy in and of itself. It’s also become much more of a revenue machine … to the tune of an 80%+ rise in 2012 3rd Quarter revenues in over the same period in 2011. Look for that trend to continue.

Launched a decade ago, LinkedIn’s been fluttering around the periphery of the “big boys’ club” in social media for the better part of a decade.

Clearly, they’ve joined the club now.