LinkedIn has lost its Vision

The Promise

A few years ago, I worked at LinkedIn. At that time, Reid Hoffman had a very clear vision for LinkedIn.

LinkedIn was “Resume 2.0” for the middle managers and the professional individual contributors who really make businesses function. LinkedIn would enable those people to highlight and show off their abilities.

Through LinkedIn, outside recruiters would see the LinkedIn members’ professional competency. The invisible professionals would get more economic opportunities.

LinkedIn members were members to be helped, not users to be exploited. This was a unique social bargain, unmatched by any other social network. LinkedIn members would keep their professional profile updated with their performance and skills. In exchange, LinkedIn would use that profile to help the members find new and better opportunities.

LinkedIn also built a member’s professional network: LinkedIn became a place to do reference checks in a quiet way. A place to find people without posting a job. A place to do business. A LinkedIn profile became a professional necessity: an electronic business card.

LinkedIn became the dominant business social network to conduct business.

In exchange, LinkedIn would then sell access to those members’ profiles to recruiters looking to hire the professionals. A win-win for all.

For a many years LinkedIn enjoyed their success with rich stock P/E multiples. 

Complacency Today

LinkedIn Stock Price

Earlier in 2016, LinkedIn lost its bloom. A year ago LNKD was at $269, today it is at $110. What happened?

LinkedIn has forgotten the unique “fuel” that powers the money machine: the members and their willingness to keep their profile up to date. 

This exchange I had with a college senior is typical:

when-to-use-linkedin

But is more telling are these snapshots from LinkedIn’s own employees:

linkedin-employee-1

Linkedin-employee-2

linkedin-employee-3

LinkedIn’s own employees don’t see the value of updating their own LinkedIn profile!

Amongst my friends, the general attitude for not updating their LinkedIn profile is one of the following:

  • “I am not looking for a new job”
  • “I am looking for a new job, but I don’t want my manager to know I am looking.”
  • “Or I just got a new job, and I don’t know if it is going to work out so I am not putting it my profile until I know that it will.”

Which then leaves the very pointed question:

“When exactly will someone update their LinkedIn profile”?

Remember an up-to-date profile is the LinkedIn’s key asset that powers LinkedIn Talent Solutions:

Trefis-linkedin-product-break-down
LinkedIn Revenue breakdown

62.5% of LNKD’s revenue depends on members keeping their profile up-to-date.

Outside recruiters still use LinkedIn as part of their recruitment process, however in-house recruiters that I have talked to get better results with Indeed.com. With Indeed.com, recruiters know a person is actively looking, the resume is actively updated, and there is much more detail when compared to a LinkedIn profile. (Please note: I am a LNKD shareholder and I have no financial interest in Indeed)

If LinkedIn was demonstrating its true potential, the resume would be a subset of the LinkedIn profile. And Indeed would not be valuable to recruiters.

LinkedIn’s Misaligned Focus

Yet, LinkedIn’s focus is on… Sales Solutions and the Talent Solutions.

Lets take a look at the Sales Solutions product. Sales Solution depends on members having a quality network. It depends on members willing to keep their important business connections in LinkedIn.

With Talent Solutions and the members’ profile, the promise was members will get better jobs, more career advancement opportunities and more money-a direct, measurable, economic benefit to the members.

LinkedIn over the years has become a business card proxy. LinkedIn users hand out their Linkedin member url at conferences. They connect to people that they may not have an actual business relationship. Over the years, the LinkedIn network accumulates with people that are little more than distant memories. 

There is even less value to members to prune and update their network. LinkedIn offers minimal tools to members to annotate and get personal value from the LinkedIn member information. For me personally, I have to refer to my email history to figure out how and why I know a person in my LinkedIn network.

And now in 2016, LinkedIn wants to sell access to members network with Sales Solutions. Sales Solutions’ benefit to members is the opportunity to be lukewarm called instead of cold called.

This is not an incentive for members to use LinkedIn-they are now being a product that is being sold.

LinkedIn forgot to ask: what is the economic value to a member to keep their network up-to-date?

What LinkedIn needs to change: Future focus

As of today, members’ LinkedIn profile is all about the past: past job titles, past companies, past education.

What is completely missing is any sense of the future. As they say in the stock market reports, “past performance is not a guarantee of future results” What a LinkedIn professional has done in the past is not a guarantee of what they see in their future:

  • Is the member looking for new opportunities?
  • Does the member want to change careers?
  • Move to a new city or country? 
  • Does the LinkedIn member want to move from the corporate world to teach at a university?
  • Starting a company that combines professional skills with a hobby: Develop software for sailors? Or start a chain of swimming schools?

LinkedIn does not help members prepare for the future:

  • What skills does the member need within the next 5 years?
  • Is the member at risk because they are stagnating with regards to experience?
  • Which of two different job opportunities are more likely to pay off?
  • What skills are needed to make a career change?

Not eating the dog food

You may agree or not agree with me. If you choose to disagree, you need to ask and answer the “dog food” question.

Fundamentally, LinkedIn needs to look to their own employees and ask: 

why is your LinkedIn profile allowed to decay and be a mere skeleton?

In startup land there is the term: “Eat your own dog food”-prove that your startup’s product is valuable by using it internally.

If LinkedIn’s own employees’ don’t find LinkedIn valuable-investors are right to question LinkedIn’s value as a company.

Some discussion happening here

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19 Responses to LinkedIn has lost its Vision

  1. Alex Marinov says:

    Lot’s of good ideas here! Thanks for laying this out. Couple of thoughts:
    1. Personally, I don’t update my LinkedIn profile in detail, because I don’t want to be put in box. In other words, I don’t want to be hit up to do the same work I’vealready done in the past. And since search engines results are informed by keywords, it’s entirely possible, that that a recruiter tries to hire me for a role I did 10 years ago. To me having only one profile, one resume seems like a very antiquated idea. We should be able to have multiple profiles/ resumes.
    2. There is something proprietary about one’s resume. They’re tough to write, and frankly, it seems people want to keep them to themselves. Maybe they’re thinking if I tell everyone how I got here, they might all do the same thing. Why would I help my competition? Similar perhaps to why companies can secretive about sharing the talent they’ve employed in their organization.
    3. Yes, it would be nice to have a toggle Available/ Not Available, have the ability to have multiple profiles to target different roles and be available in different cities of interest.

  2. Carlos Miro says:

    Easy ways to prune my network is one of the key features missing from LunkedIn, and one of the reasons it’s less useful to me.

  3. Art Kleiner says:

    As the editor-in-chief of a management magazine (Strategy+Business), I have a perspective on this. The value of LinkedIn is as a vehicle for showing up professionally. Within a company, and often outside, people realize their aspirations by demonstrating what they can do distinctively.

    That goes beyond having a personal brand: it involves having relationship equity, reputational equity, and competence – all of which accrue, over time, just as powerfully as interest-earning capital. LinkedIn is a vehicle for accelerating this, which is why it has value as a platform for publishing articles etc.

    The problem articulated here stems from a confusion between public and professional identities. They’re not the same thing. They involve different kinds of equity – reputation and presence vs. relationships and connection. For managing relationships, we need to be able to prune and prioritize people. For managing reputation, we need to be able to publish, critique and show up – we need platforms. For both, we need aspirational guidance, damage control (dealing with rumors etc.), and the ability to have one place where people can always find us. To the extent LinkedIn offers these transparently, it will thrive.

    It hasn’t, in my view, lost its vision. It’s grappling with the fact that its vision is complicated. And the tools are not always clear. For instance, I would have preferred to post this comment on your LinkedIn posting, rather than on your blog. But I can’t figure out how to do that, and I’m too impatient to take the time to figure it out. The user interface is getting in the way.

    Thanks for posting this . I appreciated this essay.

  4. john says:

    Snap shot is of positions advertised not actual employees. A quick look shows a lot of updated profiles, it is worth amending article to reflect this (I made the same mistake when I looked first time for LinkedIn contacts.

    I do agree with your article and they have lost their way. Alex makes some great points too – I keep my profile short and CV private and Carlos is right pruning contacts is a pain which aligns with your point on assigning private notes to people. LinkedIn could be so much more than it is today with getting the basics right and some solid plans for the future development

  5. Ben Ross says:

    @Alex Marinov, your comments are spot on. I was tired of always being lumped in the recruiter bucket so after multiple failed attempts at moving into product management, I built my own product – projectsherpa.com / it’s on hold for now, as I couldn’t continue building the network and not paying my bills. Our platform addresses the forward looking that you’re discussing, as I’ve always aimed to find people that were looking for growth, but needed someone to help that connect their aspirations with companies/people willing to help them attain their goals. Sports is one the only avenues where talent is nurtured with a structured approach. When it comes to careers and traditional jobs, unless you’re at a great startup or have an amazing mentor, you’re just a cog in a large inefficient machine.

  6. john says:

    Just figured out how to add a private note about a person to their profile on the website and you can add tags and reminders. It is under relationship in their profile link. Looks like all the useful stuff is hidden away on the website and I can’t find it on the iOS or BB10 apps

  7. I’m the CEO of a peer networking company for HR executives from Global 1000 companies called Executive Networks, the author of The Connect Effect: Building Strong Personal, Professional and Virtual Networks and the founder of a start-up called NQuotient.com. I’ve struggled with the issues outlined in your blog mainly because my network (and I assume most people’s networks) is very fragmented and housed in disparate “databases” such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Outlook, Gmail, Salesforce.com, mobile phone address book, etc. We started NQquotient to help people bring all of their network connections together into one common database (what I call a meta-network) and then analyze (map by geography, for example), organize and manage these network contacts in ways that are 100% driven by the user. We also created a free validated assessment of a person’s Networking Quotient (or NQ) that provides a feedback report aligned to 10 dimensions of networking effectiveness (if you want to take the assessment, go to http://www.whatsyournq.com). Another start-up, with way more funding than us, is http://www.accompany.com. The founders are from Google Analytics so I’m optimistic that their tool, when released, might really advance meta-networking capabilities.

  8. Lawrence Schmid says:

    I personally stopped using LinkedIn on a regular basis because most of the tools I use to find useful were taken away. I use to manage a group and LinkedIn without any notice changed the rules and made the group for all our members unuseful, so we deleted the group. There is also a high number of fake profiles with the intent to scam people. The best you can do it block the scammer. LI will not do anything to remove a fake profile.

    I personally saw LI as a sales and marketing tool. Based on your article they were a tool for recruiting. Seems they are not sending a clear message of what they want to be or are supposed to be.

    A great post and insight.

  9. Steve Wallace says:

    LinkedIn seems to ignore a basic fact: at any given moment, only a small percentage of members are looking for (or could be persuaded into) a new job. In between those times, what are the reasons to come to the LinkedIn site?

    One powerful reason used to be the professional groups. But LinkedIn has damaged them so badly that engagement is in the toilet and still falling. LinkedIn even had an official group of the top group management who let LinkedIn know, very specifically, what was wrong and how to fix it. LinkedIn’s response? Killed the group. For the second time!!

    The group reformed in an unofficial group (The LI Groups Management Forum https://www.linkedin.com/groups/6706081) as well as in some smaller additional groups but LinkedIn can easily ignore them, also. Most businesses would kill to have their power users involved, eager to help!

    LinkedIn needs to repair its relationships, increase the number of member visits and the time on site, with relevant incentives to its members. Groups used to help and might, with attention to user advice, do so again.

    • Robin Sherman says:

      Yes, half the reason for me to use LinkedIn was the discussion groups where substantive, useful information could be examined by group members (depending on the activity of individuals in the group).

      But LinkedIn has been killing individual group functions to the point that they are barely useful.

      However, even when the group functionality was at its best, it still paled in comparison to full function discussion forum software.

  10. Kyle Lyles says:

    I agree with Lawrence Schmid about LI being a bunch of Silicon Valley navel gazers with ear plugs. LI reached a peak around 2010-2011 when Groups were active, members engaged more often and the site was sticky as a result of networking within groups.

    Taking away group management tools, coupled with abandoned group management effectively killed groups. One alumnus group I was in had 150,000+ members and the group owner walked away. The namesake company couldn’t take over management of the group. LI spit in the faces of 150,000 members.

    The spammers use ‘bots and Lawrence is correct, when reported, LI leaves them running. My only guess as to why and has yet to be refuted by LI is investor fraud – LI is propping up its member count as actual users walk away.

    LinkedIn is MySpace of this decade. Rupert Murdoch’s horrible management wasn’t required to chase away users. Nor was a Facebook-like competitor required, LinkedIn stinks badly enough that everyone is running away from the bloated corpse in Mountain View for no other reason than it is disgusting.

  11. What percentage of LinkedIn members update their profiles?
    Maybe I missed that number.

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  13. Haven’t changed the content in my profile in years because what’s there still pulls requests for bids on work.

    As my pappy used to say, “Don’t mess with success.” I don’t.

    Paul Lalley, admin
    Freelance Web Writers

  14. Nicholas Tee says:

    Absolutely spot on article that sums up the situation nicely.

    I started using in 2007 and it was the single most valuable online resource of it’s kind for anyone in business and I was happy then to subscribe at a reasonable cost – but no longer. But it is now a shadow of it’s former self. I operate a number of groups on LinkedIn and the the interaction of the members now reflects my own opinion.

    What has happened is the perfect example of the same complacency that has crept in with so many companies that have scaled the heights and completely forgotten their roots.

    The concept is relatively simple. You get the traffic and then you monetize it. You may have to plan and adjust several times to make the monetization work, but the once thing you must ensure no matter what is to maintain your traffic. And that came for LinkedIn with enabling your users to interact. However with all the changes, they have literally destroyed that. I can only assume that has come about either through Hoffman’s loss of interest or alternatively the employment of an individual as CEO that did not “get it” and could not adequately effectively as the CEO in leading the team.

    Yahoo and many others are testament to this problem and I think it is heartbreaking, particularly as it is fast reaching the point of no return.

    I suspect that this would not have happened if they had not passed the IPO because the more significant investors would have taken some preventative action. But this is a classic case that many others in Silicon Valley should study and learn from.

  15. LinkedIn has become a huge boat with lots of holes in it. Their engineering staff is too busy bailing water to fix their fundamental platform issues. Staff turnover is ridiculously high, for good reason. But the saddest part of this story is that they are sitting on a virtual gold mine and can’t see it – the Groups. I run the largest private group on LinkedIn, Social Media Marketing, as well as 23 other niche groups. They mismanage those assets and do nothing to make group managers’ lives easier. In fact, they treat us like bastard step children. We are in fact the lifeblood of new members for LinkedIn but you’d never know it by how we are treated. We have so much to offer, in terms of new membership, new revenue potential, new products and more but they are totally oblivious to us.

  16. Luke Dam says:

    No mention of the groups and the value they can have in promoting your expertise in a field? Mind you, LinkedIn is doing its best to destroy the functionality of the groups too!

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