Where LinkedIn’s Strategy Leaves Big Gaps

LinkedIn certainly has many, many strengths, including a world-class team, rich profiles of most of the top professionals in the world, and a wide set of features around connecting, learning, and job hunting. But, just like there are multiple social networks that fulfill our need to connect, in the future there will be multiple professional networks that fulfill our need to grow professionally.

So, as a thought experiment, I’m thinking through what could be considered LinkedIn’s Achilles heel that another network could use to gain share.

*** Since my goal is only to identify gaps here, I would in no way interpret what follows as a “LinkedIn is doomed” message. Also, I’m not trying to explain LinkedIn’s recent share price drop. If you are looking for that, here’s a good article: Five Reasons LinkedIn Had Its Worst Day Ever ***

Gap #1: LinkedIn’s product (features, onboarding, flow) targets 600M professional users instead of 3B who work worldwide.

Linkedin’s mission applies to everyone: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. When you join LinkedIn, you get access to people, jobs, news, updates, and insights that help you be great at what you do. But the way they go about this mission ends up targeting 600M people instead of the potential 3B working people globally:

  • First, the jobs on LinkedIn tend to be focused on higher wage jobs, in part because LinkedIn’s fee structure is expensive but also because LinkedIn is viewed as a way to target passive candidates who are already employed. There is less of a need to target passive candidates in the non-professional segment.
  • Furthermore, LinkedIn doesn’t capture important information for workers that work hourly jobs – e.g., which hours they are available, what specific locations they’ve worked at, and what their current address is and how they plan to get to work, and what hours they are available.
  • Each feature needs to be adapted to the non-professional audience. For example, the skills feature misses attributes that are important differentiators for a workforce whose core skills are personality attributes: e.g., friendly or resourceful.

Because of these reasons, even though their vision is broad, LinkedIn’s numbers show they are not on track to reach everyone in the global workforce. LinkedIn’s MAUs seems to be plateauing in its latest earnings release at about 100M (See below). Someone could make a big bet on penetrating the  remaining 2.4B people in the market.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.25.34 PM
Member growth doesn’t look like it is on track to hit the 3B working people globally. 

 

Opportunity #2: Low engagement. From the above numbers, only 100M users use LinkedIn monthly out of 400M signups (see the first graph again). 25% of users sign in monthly or more frequently –the other 75% use it less than once a month.

Compare that with Facebook where you have 1B DAU and 1.5B total users (that’s 66% using it daily). Of course, a company does not have to incite daily usage to be successful (e.g., AirBnB), but, in this case, profession and work are a part of my daily life (unlike taking a trip). If  you don’t believe that a company could have daily engagement with a professional network, just look at Slack.

So why does LinkedIn fall short here? In a survey done a few years ago, users listed which features of LinkedIn they used the most:

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.26.37 PM.png
Features LinkedIn users found most useful (source at end of post)

 

 

These are really impressive and innovative features that the team has built but most of these features for me do not fulfill a set of daily unmet needs. Yes, if I’m looking for a job or hiring someone I will be on LinkedIn often, but this doesn’t happen on most days.

The ones that come close are messaging (Linkedin InMail), daily news (Pulse/News feed), and looking up people/research before a meeting (Linkedin search). However, for these features, the current value proposition for LinkedIn is not compelling enough for daily use:

  • For messaging, there are other platforms that I prefer (email, texting, and Facebook).
  • For reading the news/staying up to date, Linkedin has a feature set through its Pulse acquisition. But, there is so much competition for the time I have to read “news” – between pocket, Google Now article feed (which leverages my Chrome history) and publications themselves, it’s not clear I need an aggregator.
  • When I look at my Pulse feed, it’s not clear to me that it’s much better than any of the other aggregators I already use:

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.27.34 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.27.34 PM

(Two different Pulse feeds. I looked for a friend who’s an engineer who’s expressed sufficiently varied interests in his profile, but it turns out his Pulse feed was exactly the same!)

  • The only frequent need that I see is looking up a person before an important meeting or researching a Company. LinkedIn nails this use case.  

I may be being harsh here but I’d contrast this with Slack – a network that does fulfill a daily need. Linkedin, to its credit, did try to release an app called Lookup which allows you to connect with colleagues at your company, but it was focused on finding contact information for your colleagues. I haven’t seen LinkedIn building other features that can dramatically drive engagement.

Opportunity #3: Relatively low virality versus other networks  – When was the last time you invited someone to join LinkedIn? With Facebook (you’ve probably asked someone to please post their photos on facebook?) or with Slack you’ve invited the rest of your team to join. But with LinkedIn, when was the last time you asked someone to share content on the platform? Why is Linkedin a low virality product?

  • On LinkedIn, I’m not offered a clear benefit of inviting others to join. It’s not really communicated to me and I haven’t quite been able to figure it out
  • In Facebook’s case if I get my grandma on the platform and I post a picture I benefit from sharing something more important with one more person.
  • LinkedIn’s endorsements or skills feature, if done well, could create virality, but it hasn’t achieved that yet.

 

Opportunity #4: Quality/new content generation is a key part of good networks — e.g., Quora, Facebook, Instagram, Next Door. LinkedIn makes it hard to generate content. A company that exploits content generation in the professional space – i.e., makes it even easier than answering a question on Quora – could thrive.

  • When was the last time you generated original content on LinkedIn? On LinkedIn, I’m generally in the mode of being very cautious about what I say because everything I say is being broadcasted to my entire professional network. 
  • What about the people that blog via LinkedIn? The friction for writing a well-thought-out coherent article that you want the rest of your network to see is too high. As one Quora user says,  “ I often struggle to sit down and write content for my blog, but answering a question does not seem so hard. “

Various social networks have been successful in growing users/engagement by bringing the friction in posting down significantly. For example, Instagram will make your ugly pictures better with filters, YikYak (below) allows you to post anonymously, and Twitter only allows you to type short messages and is often used professionally. There’s an opportunity to do the same for a competitor in the professional networks space.

2014-03-25-yikyak1
Original, interesting content drives growth in networks. YikYak brings down the barrier to posting by making posts short and anonymous.

 

Bottom line: A company looking to build another professional network on the scale of LinkedIn could do one (or more) of the four:

(1) Target non-professionals

(2) Engage professionals/non-professionals on high engagement daily use cases

(3) Design a product with stronger incentives for users to invite more users

(4) Lower the friction to generating new content

 

Sources:

  1. “About Us | LinkedIn.” 2013. 18 Feb. 2016 <https://www.linkedin.com/about-us>
  2. “LinkedIn Q4 2015 Earnings Call – SlideShare.” 2016. 17 Feb. 2016 <http://www.slideshare.net/linkedin/linkedin-q4-2015-earnings-call>
  3. “Most helpful LinkedIn features according 2015 | Statistic.” 2013. 17 Feb. 2016 <http://www.statista.com/statistics/264135/most-helpful-linkedin-features-according-to-users/>
  4. “LinkedIn Lookup: Your Company At Your Fingertips … – iTunes.” 2015. 18 Feb. 2016 <https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/linkedin-lookup-your-company/id1000842861?mt=8>
  5. “10 Facts Small Business Owners Should Know About Social …” 2015. 17 Feb. 2016 <http://thrivenetmarketing.com/uncategorized/10-facts-small-business-owners-should-know-about-social-media-engagement-for-linkedin/>
  6. “LinkedIn now has 400M users, but only 25% of them use it …” 2015. 17 Feb. 2016 <http://venturebeat.com/2015/10/29/linkedin-now-has-400m-users-but-only-25-of-them-use-it-monthly/>

 

 

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