2012/13 Part 7: Whatever happened to #LinkedIn?

2012 was a bit of a mad one for LinkedIn. On the business front  they consistently outperformed their competitors and posted record sales, record revenues which they reinvested in to the business by increasing the size of the sales team (which is why they have become much more visible), and big investments in to product development. On September 30, 2012, LinkedIn had 3,177 full-time employees located around the world. LinkedIn started off 2012 with about 2,100 full-time employees worldwide, up from around 1,000 at the beginning of 2011 and about 500 at the beginning of 2010. Only a few days ago LinkedIn announced that they had reached their next milestone with 200Million members in more than 200 countries, growing at a rate of 2 members a second. Sixty-three percent of LinkedIn members are located outside of the United States, as of September 30, 2012.

The fastest growing demographic on the channel is students with over 20M profiles at the end of 2012. I’m confident that this will explode with the launch of alumni pages in early 2013, when data rich pages will help students make informed choices based on other members’ data. The example I was given was using the education of users from a particular discipline to identify the best employers, best courses, best options etc, and to connect students with working alumni. One of the big developments I’m expecting to see this year is that it is going to become easier and easier to interrogate collected data from other users for decision-making, such as career paths, etc.

A great example of this is the data available on company pages. More than 2.6 million companies have LinkedIn Company Pages, and more and more data on employees, connections and employer branding content is proving to be a really valuable resource. I was lucky enough to get a view of the Merlin data for a few of my customers a few months ago. If you pay for any LinkedIn products, or you are thinking about it, then you should ask your account manager for the data. The trends that really stood out for each of my clients was the number of people who looked at employee profiles from the organisation before applying for jobs. The typical route was generally look at the employee profile, link to the company page, then look at the jobs. When you see this, it makes you realize how important individual profiles are. When I conducted an audit for one of my clients, the findings were that only 30% of the staff used the same company and department name as the company page. For 70% of the employees there was no link.

I’ve heard Craig Fisher (@Fishdogs) speak a few times this year about what he terms workforce marketing, which has the LinkedIn profiles of employees at the heart of it. If the employee profiles are the most viewed employee content for reference, it is important to give guidance, training and additional resources to make the profiles consistent and useful. That doesn’t mean making them all the same, but it does mean lining up company names, links, presentations etc. It really works, and PPC advertising against your employees profiles linking to your company page or jobs really pays off.If you are going to be investing in any recruiter products, then get these bases right first.

On the product side, LinkedIn has been changing with much more than a cosmetic makeover. There has been so many big and small changes to the channel that you could have been forgiven for thinking they were Facebook. Each time you logged in during the second half of the year something looked or felt different.

Let’s jump back 12 months and consider what LinkedIn was, compared to what the channel is now. Profiles were largely static. Users visited on average of 1.2 times, and the level of engagement outside of select groups was very low. This is very different now. Time on site and pages visited have increased tenfold, and there is now more engagement, comments, shares and likes in a month than in a year. LinkedIn has gone from inactive, to active, and that’s a great thing.

I’ve blogged in the past about where I think LinkedIn is going, and what they are aiming to be for their users. Whenever I’ve met  anyone from LinkedIn, they have been quick to stress that all changes are made with the free users in mind. The reason behind this is that the more valuable the channel is to the free users, the more time we are going to spend in the channel, and the more up to date we are going to keep our profiles. The more data we add, the better LinkedIn know us, and the better we can be targeted with relevant content, connections and opportunities. LinkedIn are always quick to point out that their purpose is to connect people with opportunities. I think the use of the term opportunities is important, because they really want to move beyond jobs, to careers, profesional reference, and to become the best source for profesional content.

From my point of view, the big change this last year is that LinkedIn has become the channel for professional content sharing. I wrote about this earlier this year, and a few of the LinkedIn experts were not so sure, but a big part of the new features have been built around sharing. Anyone posting content should post to LinkedIn updates first, manually, via updates on the home page, then share to Twitter and other social places from LinkedIn. The reason for this is that LinkedIn apply an Edgerank style ranking system, and promote content that trends each hour. Points are awarded in order according to comments, shares and likes. The more interactions, the more you get promoted to users who have reacted to similar content, your link appears at the top of your networks news feed, and you increase the potential of being included in LinkedIn Today. Provided you have the LinkedIn share button on your blog/webpage, and you are sharing the LinkedIn link in other channels, all interactions in any channel count. There are more than 1.3 million unique publishers actively using the LinkedIn Share button on their sites to send content into the LinkedIn platform.

The addition of the notifications flag and messages envelope to the top bar of any page has made it much easier to see, and respond to any interaction on the channel. It has been a great add that I’m sure has contributed to the increase in interactions. It has lead to the channel becoming, well, social!

I’m excited that LinkedIn are now using user behaviour to become more intuitive about what users want from the platform. A great example of this is the new profile. Different users see different data and information on your profile according to what they have previously looked at on other profiles. There is a recruiter view, a jobseeker view, a networker view etc. Your behaviour gives you a customised view, making the channel much more interactive and relevent to the needs of individuals. The next goal is to learn your content preferences, in order to change your view again, for example, if you regularly look at SlideShare and other embeded documents on profiles, then you will see these on first view, if you never look, then you will have to go find them. It is about customising your experience, and the more you use the channel, the better they get to know you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most talked about new feature, endorsements. LinkedIn were faced with a challenge, because the search engine was driven by location, skills and keywords, but the skills sections were largely incomplete. The introduction of endorsements has changed this, with all active profiles adding skills. The endorsements are now impacting on search results. The more endorsements in the searched for skill, the higher the ranking. Whilst the ease of endorsing skills has attracted some complaint, not without merit. I would say the profiles that I track are accurate in terms of the top 5 – 10 skills. I’ve also noticed that now the novelty has gone, skills are endorsed less, but with more merit. Skill matching will drive search moving in to this year. My feeling, (and I’m going to cut mine down as part of an edit), is that less is more. Adding only 10 specific skills will clean up profiles, and give users more of a yes/no option. There’s also the option to add plenty of additional information to your profile in the edit sections on the right including projects, languages, test scores, courses, patents, certifications and volunteering. The more searchable, structured data added to profiles, the better the search results, and the more LinkedIn knows about its users.

At the end of 2012 the popular events feature disappeared, along with many of the other apps like BlogLink. My feeling is that this was aimed at increasing link sharing through updates and messaging, which in turn will raise engagement and interaction, and gives users more of a need to keep checking the update stream. You can now add unlimited Slideshare, presentations and video using the rich media icon under education. You can reorder these with drag and drop, You can search all updates and changes in your network by keyword by using LinkedIn Signal. This is hardly used, and should be a much more popular feature amongst recruiters and sourcers.

Another feature has been the introduction of influencer content in to the channel. Taking the lead from other channels like the popular Mashable social app, users can follower influencers by topic grouping (such as recruiting), or by individual. There are currently 150 influencers listed in the pilot program, and I’m following this closely. Influencers can post extended updates, in effect blog posts. These posts are attracting far more views, comments and shares than their original blogs, and the views and shares tend to be far more relevant than in other channels. As this rolls out to more influencers (and it will be controlled), then I’m expecting to see a growing group of people moving to making this their home channel, and moving away from other blogging platforms. All of this will serve to build original content in he channel, and give members more and more reasons to check in and stay in channel. The more time in channel, the more opportunity to serve up ads and other paid for options.

A lot of the new features and initiatives are being driven by LinkedIn employees who take part in hack days (held on a Friday each month) and the incubator program. The incubator program enables any employee to pitch a project and get funding and support to assemble a team and explore the idea for up to three months.

Kevin Scott, the SVP for Engineering at LinkedIn explains the incubator initiative as follows: “When teams pitch their [in]cubator projects, I have the pleasure of joining a panel of judges that includes CEO Jeff Weiner, co-founder Reid Hoffman, and SVP of Product Deep Nishar. The creativity, variety, and enthusiasm have been inspiring. We’ve seen proposals for internal tools, new product lines & business lines, infrastructure improvements, and human resources programs; the teams have included folks from all over the company, including engineering, product, design, marketing, sales, and human resources.”

So far five incubators have been approved, with the next round coming in Feb. When we look at those companies that are renowned for innovation, and LinkedIn must rank in this select group, you find a culture where new ideas, invention and experimentation is actively encouraged and backed. There is no such thing as failure only research, and the best innovation comes out of things that don’t quite work as planned.

The challenge LinkedIn face this year is to change unsociable users’ behavior  and that usually means recruiters who use the channel as a giant hunting ground, with limited attention to the relevance of jobs offered  and approaches. I have read that LinkedIn are working on a spam filter in the lab to try to control this a bit better, and that they are developing a tool that will automatically move jobs from the stream in groups to the jobs section, without the need for manager interventions. We could see LinkedIn being clearer on their terms of service for users, and coming down harder on those who breach the expected standards. I have heard stories, although I have no evidence, that some users are being penalised or having InMails removed or not delivered when they have a high rejection or non-open rate. Most importantly though, I think it is vital that recruiters take responsibility for themselves and don’t bite the hand that feeds.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more changes around groups this year. There are lots of redundant and idle groups that could be subject to a clean up. A well run group has a great value to the members and the owners in particular. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more control over managers, with tighter expectations over the role of the manager, and what goes on in the groups. Personally, I’d like to see the number of groups cut down, with more promotion based on activity in the group rather than membership numbers. This is only speculation, but is an area that needs some attention.

More than 75,000 developers are using LinkedIn APIs to create innovative tools and services for professionals, up from 60,000 at the end of the first quarter of 2012. LinkedIn has become integral to many of the apps we use, and is the professional reference source for most of the new recruiting tools. LinkedIn rule over access rigidly, which means no competition, and protection of the users data. The more apps integrate profiles, the more benefit to having a profile, and the most popular apps, like CardMunch, Rapportive and SlideShare have been acquired and integrated in to the channel, a good encouragement to build great tools for LinkedIn. It is also interesting to note that in the third quarter of 2012, an average of 25 percent of unique visiting members came through mobile apps, versus just 13 percent in 2011. Expect this to exceed 50% by the end of 2013, so any links must lead to mobile optimized destinations.

I think that covers most of everything. A long post, but a very busy year for LinkedIn. I think they are the most changed channel, and I’m sure there is lots more to come. Don’t be surprised to see live calling (it has been piloted via an iPad app) and chat, because the more we chat in channel, the longer we stay there.


All data taken from LinkedIn Press Report