LinkedIn (LNKD) continues to strengthen its position as the de facto source for business networking. The company continues to beat Wall Street expectations and the stock has performed exceptionally well.
At the same time, the company continues to innovate, adding new features and improving the core platform. LinkedIn's latest mobile and tablet offerings are showcase examples of how to reinvent your products for the needs of the mobile user.
But there are a few potential clouds on the horizon. And there are three things that LinkedIn should change immediately in order to maintain its credibility.
And credibility is everything for LinkedIn. Unlike other social media platforms which are purely social, LinkedIn is about business. And for business users, the value of LinkedIn comes from knowing that its social graph is reflective of the real world social graph of its users. LinkedIn is all about separating the signal from the noise.
Here are three things that LinkedIn should change immediately, to maintain its value proposition:
Make it slightly harder to connect: I know. This goes against all logic, especially for mobile users. But LinkedIn has lowered the bar to connecting. It used to be that almost every LinkedIn connection request came with a note. Something like "Hi, Barry. I enjoyed speaking at the abc conference and look forward to following up with you about our tablet initiative". Great. Even if it's not someone I've worked with, I can immediately remember the context and decide if it's someone whom I should allow into my professional network.
But today, many of the paths that LinkedIn provides to connect with contacts don't even provide that option. Upload your address book or click on this group of people and a generic request automatically goes out. So, if I can't remember the context of how we met (or if we even met), I'm refusing your request.
This is the same problem that services like Monster.com (MWW) created with "1-click" to apply for a job. Prior to that, job applicants typically had to write a custom cover letter to apply. So, they wouldn't bother applying for jobs where they did not meet the required skills. But with 1-click to apply, there's no penalty to applying for jobs they won't get. So, hiring managers were flooded with job spam - unqualified applicants and Monster has become largely useless.
LinkedIn runs the risk of becoming useless noise if it makes it too easy for people to try to connect to everyone.
Make Skill Endorsements Meaningful: Endorsements can be very powerful. But as presently implemented, they're fairly meaningless. LinkedIn is pushing endorsements pretty aggressively. As a result, users are often encouraged to do a 1-click endorsement of multiple contacts for "default" skills that others have chosen for them. It's also become a courtesy issue. If you endorse me, I feel obligated to endorse you.
There are a few ways in which LinkedIn could quickly improve Endorsements.
First, flag or identify endorsements from people who worked with you (relationship as Colleague or We've Done Business Together). I trust those more than the random guy you met once. Amazon marks reviews by whether the reviewer purchased the product through Amazon. This could work in a similar manner.
Second, require endorsers to add a sentence or two to the endorsement. If I need to think for a second, I probably will only invest the time for people I would honestly endorse. Third, only allow users to endorse one contact at a time. The whole idea of presenting a slate of four contacts with predefined skills to endorse just makes this a joke. Make users work a little harder to endorse someone and the endorsements will have significantly greater value.
Clean up the stream: The LinkedIn news stream has gotten a lot more cluttered lately. Some parts of the stream are great. The Twitter-like shared links and posts work well. The "new connections" are fine. The endorsements are weak for the reasons described above. But probably the weakest thing is the "say happy work anniversary to Katrina" posts. First of all, they're often incorrect. In fact, I'd say that more than 50% of the ones I've seen have been inaccurate, likely due to the way that someone entered their resume or bio into the system. But seeing a "congratulate Bob on his first anniversary" message for someone whom I know has been in the same job for five years just makes the platform look dumb. Even if it's accurate, it's just noise.
LinkedIn is a great service for business development and recruitment. Their massive database has become a barrier to entry for potential competitors. The company has clearly figured out ways to monetize the platform. Going forward, they need to be careful not to turn their valued network into just another stream of noise. And they can start with the three changes outlined above.