‘RandomPerson has endorsed you for 3 skills: Showering, Personal Hygiene, HighTechNonSense.’
I regularly get these and other equally obscure notifications from LinkedIn. I respond to them like any other social media addict; I ignore them and wait for something more interesting, from some other network, to catch my attention. But LinkedIn’s refusal to understand my behaviour or even notice that I havent been on the platform for months, or that nothing interesting ever happens there, meant that last week, I removed the app from my phone. No beeps. No notifications. No nothing from the blue ‘In’. Its not worth my time.
I know LinkedIn wasn’t always like this.
In the winter of 2009, stuck in a deep, cold, grey British recession (it took the British government many months more to accept that there was a problem), I had used LinkedIn to find an internship. The internship didn’t pay much: it covered my bus fare and lunch. But it was giving me experience (and lunch), which was a lot more than what my fellow masters graduates were managing on. There were no jobs, no temporary ‘experience posts’, ‘trainings’ or even internships in the market. Money was scarce and the rent was cornering what little was left of my savings and student loans. It was in that desperation that I decided to track down anyone and everyone who had worked on or was working on virtual worlds (my work interest at that time) and write to them asking for a chat and eventually a job. After a month and a half of trying, I found the internship that eventually become a full time job. Without Linkedin that would have not happened. Nothing else, physical or virtual, would have been able to connect me to so many people working in the field of my choice. Nothing else would have let me talk to them and get their attention. LinkedIn had worked beautifully.
I also know that in some cases, LinkedIn still works.
Zooming into 2013, at Blueant Digital, we still use LinkedIn, on behalf of our clients, to promote, engage and converse with other people. In two cases, most of the traffic we drive from social networks onto websites, comes from LinkedIn. In fact, LinkedIn contributes over 60% of all traffic from social networks that comes to these sites. So clearly, they are people who notice links on LinkedIn, click on them and go to the websites. There are people who still contribute to conversations, join groups and start discussions on LinkedIn.
But if there are these people, then why is LinkedIn so boring and useless?
For me, LinkedIn has become an-update-a-minute mashup of the ‘Chicken Soup’ self help series and management gurus who are desperate to share their wisdom with you. It has become a network with content that reminds me of ‘cute’ and traditionally ‘awwww’ inducing images with bad fonts that chide you for not believing in god enough or not loving your parents enough or some other things that you ought to do. The images that you get tagged in, make you angry enough to untag yourself, track down the ‘friend’ who tagged you in the first place, and ‘unfriend’ him/her till the ends of eternity. It has become a network full of people so desperate to share their ‘success’ and ‘experience’ that they remind you of similar people who you avoid at parties.
What exactly happened here?
As Ann Friedman explains in The Baffler, the ‘thought leader’ program that LinkedIn started last October has a lot to do with it. By inviting business icons and management gurus to blog (for all purposes) on the network and cement their status as people to look up to, LinkedIn made soppy and sad management cliches an enshrined part of its user experience. From xyz has changed his job or a blog post about someone trying something new or promoting something new, LinkedIn became about ‘counting chickens’, being ‘monks that sold’ stuff and ’10 ways to achieve’ something. All stuff that was available in plentiful in cheap paperbacks and websites that have a more focus on the writes ‘winning ways’ than actual content. In all it became a C-grade B-School’s A-listers groups chat. It ceased to become a network (where people post, share and discuss) and instead become a park with soap boxes for people to scream on. (Conan O’brien makes a similar comment here, which as usual, CNet didnt understand.)
It’s at that point that LinkedIn stopped being a network for me.
It was no longer useful, it no longer let me collect useful information or contact people working in my current field of choice. It no longer remained a place which would help me find fascinating content or people.
Does LinkedIn still work?
From the sites that we run, the answer would be yes. It still helps you drive interactions and traffic, provided you can find the right groups and right people to show your content to. Which takes more time, effort and understanding of the content you have to offer. Which makes it hard to reach out to people who may be interested in what you want to show them, which in my head, defeats the entire purpose of being on LinkedIn. Instead of being able to reach people, all you can do is find another soap box, scream out your content, as loud as you can, and hope that someone listens.
It’s lucky for us, that most of our LinkedIn traffic is already being replaced by organic google searches.