Stop! What are you doing on LinkedIn right now? Why do you spend time on this site? For most of us the answer has to do with our career. We want to find a new job, get promoted, or make connections who can help us with our current job (like partners, clients, and investors). We are on LinkedIn because we think, right or wrong, that it can help our career and our professional life.
For years, LinkedIn thought the same. It encouraged us to come back, update our profiles, add skills, and recommend our colleagues. It monetized our data by creating tools for recruiters and headhunters and we were fine with that: if LinkedIn makes money and helps our careers at the same time, we all win.
But LinkedIn wants more. People change jobs only every so often but they need to buy stuff all the time. The next big opportunity for LinkedIn is in the sales tools area. Current products like Sales Navigator are only the beginning. LinkedIn’s sales tools help salespeople find relevant leads. The tools provide more information about these prospective customers and help sales professionals easily get in touch with leads.
But there’s one problem: the lead is you. If LinkedIn is successful in its mission to provide better tools for salespeople, you will open your inbox and instead of seeing 2 job opportunities and one for networking, you’ll see 10 products or services you should be buying right now. Now, it’s a good business decision for LinkedIn to build this tool and maximize its potential revenue from the network it built. The question is:how will it affect the future of the network? How will people respond to becoming sales leads on a network that formerly seemed to exist just for their benefit?
Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, brilliantly explained how people think of different networks:
MySpace is like a bar, Facebook is like the BBQ you have in your back yard with friends and family, play games, share pictures. Facebook is much better for sharing than MySpace. LinkedIn is the office, how you stay up to date, solve professional problems.
In other words, Hoffman understands that people like context segregation: in fact, this is the reason why LinkedIn is the great company it is. It is the one-stop shop for everything around your personal career. It is not about staying in touch with friends, nor it is about getting good local deals. LinkedIn is about promoting yourself professionally.
The more a product like Sales Navigator becomes successful, the less single-focused LinkedIn becomes. When your inbox is 80% sales pitches and 20% career opportunities, you might not be as motivated to visit LinkedIn, keep your profile up to date, and create new connections. When LinkedIn feels more like a sales tool and less like a career tool, you’ll start feeling like you’re serving others (salespeople) and not serving yourself. When LinkedIn becomes the home of rain makers and not the home of networkers, someone else will create a single-focused career network and people will move over there, just as they moved to LinkedIn and Facebook before.
LinkedIn needs to be extra careful in the next few years. A huge success of its sales tools can be the beginning of the end of LinkedIn as a professional network. Balancing the two needs to be carefully measured so the success of one does not cripple the other.
Photo creds + Elvert Barnes