Love it or hate it, LinkedIn is one of those companies that’s constantly tweaking their platform; that they put a ton more time and money back into their actual product than most HR Technology vendors, and make much more substantial updates to core features and functionalities than most online and SaaS companies, period.
The average active LinkedIn member (note: the “average” LinkedIn member, in fact, isn’t active on the website) a recent study suggested only around 37% log on at least once a month) spends a scant 17 minutes on the site every month, compared to over the over 20 minutes a day Facebook’s 1.3 billion users spend on site.
The average recruiter, by contrast, more or less lives on LinkedIn, which is why we’re so quick to catch even the most minor tweaks to functionality or the most subtle changes to the site’s UI/UX. Recruiters know LinkedIn better than anyone, which is why no one in this industry would deny the sheer level of work that goes into iterating current functionalities, introducing new features and experimenting with potential enhancements or revenue streams (remember CardMunch or Connected, anyone?).
This is why so many of us are so frustrated at the fact that what was once such an effective, disruptive and innovative recruiting technology has devolved into whatever the hell LinkedIn has become these days – although frankly, I’m not even sure the company itself knows what LinkedIn is supposed to be, anymore. While the amount of work that goes into the product is self-evident, exactly what the hell the point, or value, of this work actually is to its end users and customers, however, is another story entirely.
LinkedIn: New Look, Same Shit.
A perfect example of this mentality of fixing stuff that’s not really broken is LinkedIn’s recently released UI update, which, let’s face it, took some getting used to even for the most diehard of LinkedIn fans – it was, after all, a pretty huge change to the look and feel of a site that so many of its users had grown so accustomed and familiar with.
The old UI was fine, and the new update wasn’t a dramatic improvement – just a sweeping, superficial design change that didn’t actually address any of the seemingly infinite problems (like the laughably bad InMail open rates) that might make a meaningful improvement to its overall platform or product offerings. In a way, changing the most obvious elements of the site, like the profile design and homepage layout, makes perfect sense.
LinkedIn, as a publically traded company, has an obligation to its shareholders to continually evolve and expand its offerings, no matter how asinine or nonsensical they might seem, because optimizing existing features won’t help the company hit its quarterly growth and revenue targets, while even the worst new features still hold the promise of an untapped revenue source. Increasing value to institutional investors is the imperative, infinitely more so than investing in increasing value to actual end users. Successful companies know how to balance the competing needs of the market and marketplace.
LinkedIn, however, is obviously still trying (and failing) to figure this out, which is part of the reason that its roadmap seems to point more towards the needs of investors instead of the needs of recruiters. In this environment, change is seen as an ends, not a means, and this outlook inevitably leads to disastrous outcomes for both investors and customers (like New Coke or diesel VWs).
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These changes aren’t limited to organic iterations, but include the aggressive acquisitions LinkedIn has been making over the past few years, a spending spree that has brought in a melange of seemingly random products into the company’s portfolio, with only a handful of stripped down capabilities actually finding their way into the actual LinkedIn platform.
Some, like Pulse or Connected, became watered down and made more or less worthless; most, though, have either been quietly sunsetted (man, I miss Rapportive and CardMunch) after being stripped for parts (and proprietary data).
Jumping the Shark: Why LinkedIn Isn’t Relevant To Recruiting.
In their continued attempt to maximize investor value, LinkedIn’s results have been decidedly mixed; a one-time Wall Street darling, the company’s ongoing identity crisis, coupled with a loss in consumer confidence and a spike in legal actions and litigation, have finally started to damage those stakeholders, with market cap and consumer confidence continuing to trend downwards over the course of the past couple of quarters.
This, of course, has led to the more nefarious minds in Mountain View turning to increasingly desperate ways to right the ship, which means that its expansion into such categories as CRM, LMS and media buying have created a product suite that’s more bloated than their current stock market overvaluation, and likely, just as unsustainable and unhealthy over the long term.
All the money in the world can’t save you when you make self-destructive short term choices for the sake of immediate gratification or business expediency. Hell, that whole “only six figure jobs” thing probably seemed like a good idea at the time, too, but like a Monster Super Bowl buy, what’s good for marketing might not be the best idea for long term viability and sustainability. Just letting it BeKnown (boom).
In watching this year’s LinkedIn Talent Connect, I realize that for LinkedIn, the happy days are gone and that watching their slow, inevitable slide into irrelevancy is kind of like the live stream equivalent of watching the Fonz go waterskiing. The shark, my friends, has been jumped.
Only compared to LinkedIn, Henry Winkler basically looks like Steve Jobs in a life jacket. Hell, even though the entire point of the character was to be a throwback and act as a walking anachronism, somehow the Fonz is way more cutting edge and innovative than LinkedIn ever was.
To make yet another random TV Land reference, even though LinkedIn sees itself as Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, to the rest of the world, you’ll always look like Opie (and come across like Barney Fife). I know; these references are as outdated as LinkedIn’s search capabilities, but you get my point. Plus, if you care about LinkedIn, or even use it, you’re probably about as old as the average Jitterbug user, Gen Y “thought leader” or Taleo implementation specialist.
If you’re cold and need to go grab a sweater, take a breather, mix yourself a glass of Ovaltine and check your Hotmail. Because you’ve got to be eligible for the Early Bird special at Denny’s to think that LinkedIn’s latest product news is even remotely innovative, ground breaking or even particularly interesting to anyone who doesn’t spend most of their budget on LinkedIn’s license fees.
#TalentConnect: Don’t Believe The Hype.
If you watched the inordinate amount of money spent on the veritable Nuremberg Rally that was Talent Connect, at least you know your money’s hard at work paying off the student loans of the world’s most inept lighting designer or the overlay for a massive event held in some of the world’s priciest event space.
The spectacle that was this Jonestown revival meeting should have been an affront to anyone who’s paying through the nose to access LinkedIn’s premium product.
The companies shelling out millions of dollars a year for the privilege of having their InMails ignored and their proprietary or personal data repackaged, repurposed or resold to the highest bidder should be up in arms at the conspicuous display of unconscious capitalism on display at Talent Connect.
Every employer paying above market rates for below market results should be indignant at seeing LinkedIn make it rain with the money ever recruiter had to fight so hard to get to finally convince their organization to let them have the “must have” talent tool of the season. But of course, the point of the Talent Connect is so that LinkedIn’s biggest buyers get distracted enough by this boondoggle to forget that from a recruiting ROI perspective, they’re being bamboozled.
Of course, the people who actually have to live with LinkedIn’s constant devolution and pay the price for the open bars and high-end branded swag are sitting back at the office, watching the stream as their leaders get sold over dogmatic product presentations, steak dinners and the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of THE Lars Schmidt – coincidentally, Talent Connect’s only redeeming quality. Awesome job, my friend. I hope you charged them like five times what other clients have to pay for the exact same schtick if only to prove that there really still is justice in this cruel world we live in.
Because while the hype machine was kicking into overdrive, LinkedIn fed the buzz machine of their own design with a juicy product release before the event started that did a good job setting a precedent, albeit probably not the one the company intended.
This brand new product, LinkedIn Lookup, allows you to…drum roll, please…allows you to look up (get it?) the exact same shit about your coworkers that you could have already found out about them on LinkedIn had you cared to look and – wait for it – send them messages directly on the LinkedIn platform. Which, of course, they’ve always been able to do. But now, instead of communicating with future employees, you can do the exact same shit with current ones, too. Wow, they really went all out on that one, right?
Somewhere Elon Musk is stroking a pet cat while cursing LinkedIn for stealing all the innovation out there in Silicon Valley, and a team of Stanford and MIT grads are pulling all nighters dedicated the best years of their lives to what’s pretty much a recycled version of what’s pretty much the most mediocre product on the planet. The sad thing is, the second part of that sentence is actually true. Wow, that’s depressing.
What’s even more depressing is the lack of value (not to say there’s none, but it’s minimal at best) that LinkedIn delivers, even when delivering its purported latest and greatest, “full of sound and glory and signifying nothing,” to quote my man TS Eliot.
If you’re new to a company and have no way whatsoever to access any search engine out there, or lack the ability to access the same basic data that’s already on your intranet, say, then this product might have some utility. Or, if you’re trying to stalk, hook up with or blackmail your coworkers but prefer to use “professional networks” for personal motives, good news: the wait is finally over.
LinkedIn Product Roadmap: Recruiters, Don’t Lookup.
For the rest of you, you probably don’t have a whole lot to get worked up – or even really give a shit – about; seriously, Lookup isn’t worth looking up, much less really breaking down its features and functionalities or creating a case use that, frankly, would be a pretty big stretch at best unless some weird confluence of circumstances occurs when all other technology stops working, but you still really need to know who knows both accounting and Powerpoint for that big client meeting next week.
So, quickly, here’s what Lookup does (or what LinkedIn says it does), only without a lot of bullshit buzzwords and meaningless product marketing fluff:
1. Easily Find Your Coworkers! I can already do this on either the desktop version of LinkedIn or on its mobile app. Alternatively, I can kick it old school and pull up the good old company directory. Next.
2. Learn More About Your Coworkers! You’re a recruiter. You do know you have access to HR information and resumes, right? Also, see above: you can already do this on LinkedIn. In fact, it’s the entire point of a profile, come to think of it.
3. Contact Your Coworkers! Awesome! LinkedIn is giving me a way to message my coworkers directly in this application, using an inbox they own and that I can’t actually transport or extract outside of their platform, much less delete or remove any of my personal messages or previous communications from LinkedIn (I can only archive it). If only someone had thought of a way to build a special internet just for employees at a certain company to exchange information and post messages and discussions. You know you’re in trouble when your innovation is pretty much Sharepoint.
I know, right? If your mind isn’t yet blown, consider that as dumb as that sounds, the stuff LinkedIn is saying about their product is even more stupid than the product itself (which, by the way, is no small feat). I pulled these real (and really stupid) quotes from the million social media groups and online networks that exist for the sole purpose of providing recruiters a place to bitch and moan about whatever mole hill the mountain happens to be sitting on that day.
For these incredibly eclectic, amazingly active and completely asinine “communities” (the term for a place where you can blast your complaints to a captive crowd who could give two shits), LinkedIn releasing a new app is more or less Christmastime for all the ninjas and gurus out there joining in on the online pithy party that is online recruiter shop talk. Shudder. Yet, like a car crash or Top Recruiter, it’s gruesome, morbid and hypnotic. Like The Donald, these talent trolls are so over the top that they’re actually kind of entertaining (unlike Top Recruiter).
And yet, it’s been crickets in there on this one, mainly because not even the cynical critics (trolls) or the staunchest LinkedIn defenders want to touch what’s more or less a product whose idiocy is almost as self-evident as the actual talking points from LinkedIn that made this product more or less dead on arrival (or MIA, since it’s not really a new product in the first place):
“As an individual user, you cannot opt out of LinkedIn Lookup. However, you can choose to not add your contact information to the app.”
Well, I’ll trust the people who got sued (and lost) for literally violating their own terms of service and lost another class action suit for sending unsolicited spam to my contacts on my privacy settings and permissions. Yeah. Not so much. So, reading between the lines on this one, what I think it says is:
“If you want to keep using our site, tough shit if you don’t like us giving the information on your profile to another application. But you can choose not to enter it manually and just let thescrapers and spiders grab it anyway.”
I don’t want to hyperbolize or sensationalize this, but the fact that I’m not even allowed to opt out of the product, which is some kind of social spyware masquerading as a SaaS solution, is a little 1984 for me; apparently, LinkedIn reigns with an iron fist, and their corporate values seem suspiciously similar to Fascism (Mussolini would have been a killer personal branding guru).
Down At the Crossroads: Making Deals With The Devil.
HR is notorious for its compliance hypochondria, an overreaction to legislation few generalists actually understand, much less have the acumen to interpret. This is why sweeping doctrines and employee policies that are both unambiguous and incomprehensible are put into place – nuance is the stuff that lawsuits are made of, it seems, which is why the only thing we have to fear isn’t fear itself; it’s the remote possibility that someday, the dozen or so OFCCP compliance officers out there might somehow single out your company for a documentation audit.
We make our employees sign and acknowledge they understand stuff no one without a JD (that’s juris doctorate, by the way, not a job description, recruiters) could possibly comprehend to cover our asses. We forbid them from doing almost everything, no matter how innocuous, because it’s a potential compliance violation of some sort, but for all of this policing, somehow, we’re cool with letting LinkedIn take the PID from all of those employees to a standalone app just because they happened to set up accounts on a completely different platform well before the app ever came out – but who don’t have any sort of grandfather clause factored in. When you’re trading privacy for convenience, you’re making a deal with the devil.
And LinkedIn, my friends, is the devil to whom you’ve already signed away your soul. Suckers.
“Only 38 percent of professionals said their companies’ intranets are effective at helping them learn about their coworkers. 58 percent said they could do a better job if they could find coworkers with specific skills.”
First off, how “intranet” is still a word people use is kind of funny, right? I mean, even the word is an anachronism, but even weirder is the thing that these historically hated closed company networks are still widely in use at most enterprise employers.
While we can pretend it’s 1999 and do stuff like edit a department wiki or look up internal phone extensions, these systems almost always fail when it comes to presenting any personal information about employees, other than a few with noxious answers to stupid questions that sound like writing prompts for first graders (“where’s your favorite vacation destination?”).
Trying to configure these to add any degree of personalization, such data about an employee’s professional skills or professional expertise, is almost impossible, since these intranets are generally run by your IT department, who put HR’s intranet requests pretty far down the priority list (as a rule); figuring out how to structure, sort and search this data in these systems, similarly, would be way more effort than it would ever be worth.
Talent Disconnect: What LinkedIn Doesn’t Get About Recruiting.
LinkedIn offers a way to do that, but every recruiter knows that the way someone markets themselves to their current employers behind closed doors differs drastically from how they position themselves for potential employers on public profiles.
Using LinkedIn data will not make the information on your intranet any more accessible, nor employees any more likely to use internal systems to research their coworkers – most just go to Google, and most of the time, end up on LinkedIn since that’s the only relevant result a huge majority of workers have to their name.
Unlike job aggregators, LinkedIn gets traffic by owning the search term of YOUR ACTUAL NAME (not much you can do about that, either, unless you want to learn SEO and create a bunch of content using your name as a targeted keyword). LinkedIn has proven that identity theft is no longer a crime, but a pretty smart business model. So too is putting the customer first, but exploiting them is way easier.
LinkedIn values the intelligence of its users so much that it actually thinks they’re too dumb to either A) use the employee directory that’s already on their intranet; B) collaborate with coworkers to either get this information directly; or C) looking this exact same information up on LinkedIn, which is what we’ve all been doing since 2004. None of us realized that required a stand alone app until this last month when LinkedIn told us we needed one. And they’d never lie to me.
Here’s the Talent Disconnect that Lookup brings up: LinkedIn either doesn’t know what the people using its product actually need so they can align their roadmap with recruiting reality or (more likely) they don’t really care about end users for anything other than the revenue they represent. And if they already have your data, you’re really pretty useless to them, anyway.
Of course, the entire point of Talent Connect is to fool the people writing the checks into believing that an elaborate stage show somehow replaces service and support for a big ticket SaaS solution. Here’s hoping that LinkedIn looks up long enough to realize that this dog and pony show takes more than releasing apps that are more or less giant, stinking turds.
I give this one twelve months, tops. That’s OK – that’s an eternity for a company who can’t see past their current quarter, much less the bigger picture of the true price that the hubris evidenced in the new “products” (yawn) unveiled recently are already costing them.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MATT CHARNEY (mainly the offensive stuff).
About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.
With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.
An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.