Why LinkedIn Needs to Have a Better Grasp of Social
A heavy user of LinkedIn, I have been hearing identical complaints to my own as regular business networking event conversation fodder for the last six months or more. Light users of LinkedIn as well as those of us who have over 600 connections have nearly identical problems.
At its core the social interactions design is severely flawed and poorly thought through. LinkedIn integrates social interaction components and features as if they were playing a game of "me too" with Facebook. This is problematic as much of the Facebook social interaction design is poorly executed. I have stated how Facebook's DNA does not support business use (in Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable. Oddly, now LinkedIn seems to be building the poorly thought-through Facebook interactions, implementations which are directly counter to their reason for being.
Wake-up LinkedIn! You may have money to get you through some sort of recession that lasts for a while, but your business relevance requires you to get these things right and get them correct now.
Too Many New Features, Too Fast
LinkedIn now has conflict and confusion about its primary focus as a service and what is the primary social object. Prior to 18 months ago LinkedIn was more or less a live resume and work connections site. The social object was the individual person and the focus was clear and social actions, while limited, were clear and focussed too. The addition of more social interaction and services has completely lost that sense of focus and could be one of the causes of poorly built social tools.
The last 18 months or so has LinkedIn seeming like it wants to be more of a Social communication site, workplace social platform, and/or general social site like Facebook with a quasi-focus around work-life.The lack of central understanding of what LinkedIn is also has increased the scatter shot understanding of social and voice (based on really confounding contexts for understanding). The inclusion of social elements that bleed into LinkedIn, with similarities to Facebook, are executing on the same social understanding of social interaction design that acts as if the last 8 to 15 years in digital social interaction design and knowledge did not exist.
This is a compilation of things that have been increasingly bothering me with the rollout of LinkedIn's social features. They seem to roll out features that are not fully baked. Then, they release new features rather than fixing the poorly thought through functionality already deployed. I have delayed writing this as I have heard many of these items were going to get fixed (but have not after far too long). I also have many friends at LinkedIn and have not wanted to rock their boat (but many of them have publicly and privately encouraged me to write this publicly).
Another reason for posting this is I am seeing these mistakes many places. Far too many "social x gurus" are just users of less than optimal systems. They don't grasp the less-than-optimal features are holding back the tool adoption, in addition to a lack of social interaction design.
This muddled social mess triggered Jonathan S. Knoll to proclaim on Twitter, "LinkedIn: the online community of people you don't really like."
What Worked Well
LinkedIn worked well for me as an ambient social network for business contacts. The last 3 or 4 years LinkedIn has been one tab that was always open in my work browser (until a couple weeks ago when I got fed up). I would watch the ambient flow of who changed jobs, titles, connections, and what they were seeking. These were social business clues that I used as opportunities to reconnect with people and see where I could help out.
LinkedIn was a great tool for strengthening business relationships. Quite often I would offer help to someone job seeking or send congratulations on new role or job. The communications often lead to chatting about working together, which had a really good business upside for me.
Watching people connect has value in finding people I already knew and had not connected with, as well as having some understanding of who outside a community is looking for help (those who say they can tell everything about a person by who they connect to don't understand social interaction dynamics very well, particularly around business relationships and business growth).
LinkedIn's recommendation services for finding others to connect with have been really good. The only other service that is this strong in my opinion is Plaxo, which is a service that increasingly has taken the place of LinkedIn for me. Plaxo understands volume, various levels of relationship, and keeping contact information current where you need it (in address books, not is disconnected services). LinkedIn is also really good for capturing and making recommendations of one's work.
Something LinkedIn has done rather well is its iPhone application, which really should be extended to other mobile platforms for smart phones. It finally enabled the ability to use contact information in a use context that matters and outside their service (mail does some of this but it is broken as in LinkedIn responses and external responses are not coordinated).
LinkedIn's question and answers section has been done rather well. Many people find it valuable and get good use from it. There are many things that could be done to augment it, particularly around using it to build an understanding of reputation around subject matter. It also could use the ability to easily hold on to (and annotate for one’s self) good suggested answers. This is the sign of a decently thought-through social platform.
The second part to this post, LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2 looks at some specific lessons learned from LinkedIn.