For the past five years I have chosen to invest my professional online social networking efforts in using LinkedIn. Currently, I have over 1,000 contacts, belong to a dozen different groups, have been recommended by over 50 people, and am an active user of the answers and recently released application sections. I also spend much of my time conducting “best practices” consulting, training and coaching on effective use of LinkedIn for senior executives and front line staff.
With over 30 million LinkedIn users, less than 10 percent actually know how to get the most from this platform. The goal of this article is to serve as a wake up call as much as a future foretold. I believe there are five fundamental reasons as to why the demise of LinkedIn is imminent if there are not critical improvements:
1. Equilibrium – In any social networking exchange there must be equilibrium between producers and consumers. Think of eBay, Amazon.com or any other site where there is a producer and a consumer. Imagine if on eBay or Amazon.com the only active users/visitors were sellers of products and no one bought anything, would those organizations actually be able to post annual revenues of $7.6B and $14.8B respectively?
Philosophically, we are all sellers; we sell ourselves, our expertise and our perceived value add. However, in the process there is typically a consumer, someone who needs or wants what we have to sell. Many executives have told me that most of the individuals they have found on LinkedIn are other service providers, not consumers, thus questioning the value-add of the site. This perceived inequality reduces the effective social networking investment rate of return and thus the consistent involvement of the current and future value producers.
2. Visual – We are very much a visual society, yet little to no information is represented graphically on LinkedIn. One school of thought is the time graphics take to download could bog down the system and make it less user friendly. However, with the increasing availability of wider bandwidth, and reduced graphic storage costs there should be no reason why LinkedIn could not integrate to a social networking map. If you look at SmartMoney.com’s “heat map” or the IntroNetworks “pin view” they are each very competent in visual representation of highly dispersed yet highly relevant data sets. Users would be considerably more engaged if they could see their social network on LinkedIn in a much more visibly appealing manner.
3. Diversity & Quality – One misnomer about LinkedIn is that the sheer size of your network is what matters most, yet when it comes to effective social networking, the single biggest asset is the diversity of your relationships. The more diverse your social network, the broader and more expansive your social networking footprint and thus your sphere of influence.
Another issue is the quality of relationships, and the idea that all relationships are not created equal. The Relationship Value Pyramid™ as mentioned in Relationship Economics (Wiley Sept. 2008), demonstrates this idea in considerable detail. Without a systematic approach to identify, categorize and invest in your most valuable relationships at different quality levels, how will a LinkedIn user ever improve their existing relationship bank? LinkedIn has yet to address this issue, there is no measurement tool or capabilities to track those investments in our most valuable relationships and as such realize a return on our relationship investment.
4. Mass collaboration – Social networking has the promise and potential to dramatically evolve business-to-business relationships. We have seen the evolution of many one-to-one relationship tools, and with advent of web 2.0 capabilities, I am mesmerized as to why LinkedIn is unable to provide an opportunity for real time many-to-many mass collaboration. Why can’t the answers section function more like a real time micro blog like Twitter? Why must we still type text versus use voice or video to interact or engage our social network? LinkedIn must evolve to conversation with more than just connections and recommendations to create real time dialogue. It must evolve into a platform of collaboration.
5. Cross-platform functionality – One of the most frustrating aspects of the current tools like Twitter, Facebook, Naymz, ZoomInfo, Spoke, and XING, is that none of these “communicate” with the other – it has become the social networking equivalent of the tower of babble. Why can’t I invite a list of contacts from Jigsaw to a LinkedIn group? Why can’t I embed my tweets into a user mash-up in LinkedIn? Until social networking sites realize co-opetition (competitors who can cooperate toward a greater cause or to fight a common enemy) their ability to create greater opportunities and expand visibility and revenue will be limited. Neither, LinkedIn or any other networking tool will truly evolve into a true social networking platform without cross-platform functionality.
Here is a bonus one for you – Mission Critical: The 1-9-90 phenomenon, states that in any social network, only one percent will be the high-value hubs. They are proactively engaged and influential and they bring high-value content. Nine percent will be moderately engaged and not only appreciate but interact in dialogue with the one percent, leaving the other 90 percent to the casual observers. Unless LinkedIn identifies and nurtures strategic relationships with the one percent high-value hubs and realizes the critical nature of the interaction between the one and the nine, it will struggle to sustain the perceived value-add beyond the initial intrigue.
What do you think?