Several weeks ago, I wrote that LinkedIn has been signaling its intent to become a B2B marketing powerhouse. Over the last few weeks, Linkedin has released several new features intended to increase site activity and demonstrate its potential value leading up to its IPO.
Last week was no exception, as the company launched LinkedIn Today, which “surfaces the top headlines and stories being shared the most across multiple industries by LinkedIn’s trusted network of professionals.” LinkedIn users are able to customize their “front page” news by following sources by industry and publisher. Based on my profile, LinkedIn automatically set me up to follow categories such as Marketing & Advertising and Online Media. I also chose to follow several additional news sources.
The custom surfacing of content is attractive to professionals. The question is whether this is a valid reason for users to visit and stay longer on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn Today incorporates the personalization of iGoogle, the networking of Twitter and the visuals of Facebook
In addition to personalized homepages, content on LinkedIn is surfaced based on the people who shared it – both the volume of shares and their direct relationship to the user. This is the most “social” feature that LinkedIn has created to date, borrowing features from iGoogle, Twitter, and Facebook.
The news customization feature of the “front page” is equivalent to the iGoogle, which highlights news based on user preferences. Layered on top of this, LinkedIn allows users to share content with the broad LinkedIn community, attaching profile data and comments to the content they share. This feature is reminiscent of Twitter. Finally, LinkedIn added a Facebook-style visual layer by including previews of links within the page, graphics that indicate who shared articles, and time indicators that show when the article was first shared.
But while LinkedIn offers familiar tools, it is not unique on its own.
The familiar features that LinkedIn Today has incorporated will significantly reduce the learning curve for people coming to the site for the first time. However, is it enough to gain a loyal following? I don’t believe so, for the following reasons:
- The alternatives are still better. iGoogle is backed by Google. A custom news page powered by Google is powerful because the user is one click away from the most powerful search engine. Meanwhile, on LinkedIn Today, the user is one click away their colleagues. While the news feature may keep some people on LinkedIn longer, iGoogle will remain the world’s homepage.
- LinkedIn is not a networking site. While content can now be shared outside networks, becoming a LinkedIn connection is still a very formal process that requires approval by users. This is a huge barrier to true networking, which Twitter has overcome by making ‘following’ easy. Facebook remains for connecting with your best friends and family. Twitter is for meeting like-minded people you may never have met. These are both unique, very social, and outgoing activities. LinkedIn, meanwhile, remains for direct business contacts – by far the most formal and often times impersonal relationship type.
- LinkedIn continues to battle user paranoia. Many people believe that logging into the site is an signal to others that they are looking for a job. This is not neccesarily an unwarranted concern. LinkedIn needs to address this before the site will become truly become popular in the business community.
- Meanwhile, beyond marketers and IT professionals, who is regularly on LinkedIn? The company boasts 90 million users, but how many are actually using the site rather than simply maintaining a profile?
To overcome these issues, LinkedIn needs to create a unique experience that is built for and valuable to business professionals. Building forums equivalent to workshops and conferences in which networking is encouraged and sharing is expected would go along way. The site is currently nowhere near that … yet. However, I hold out hope that LinkedIn will become the business-to-business social media site. But it first needs to invest its IPO dollars in the right ways.