Third Place is Golden: a Caffeinated Vision for LinkedIn as a Data Mining Matchmaker

Time for LinkedIn to be the Third Place

Because I want to be better, I want LinkedIn to be better.

The value of a personal network is only as good as the people in it and while it’s up to all of us to add quality content, LinkedIn could add a few features to facilitate better interactions. In fact, I’m sure we all have a few suggestions for LinkedIn, so here’s mine:

A new vision: Become the Third Place.

Starbucks doubled-down on the Third Place concept during its 2008 comeback and what worked there would work here. Just like Starbucks, for professionals LinkedIn is the third place between work and home. What LinkedIn lacks is commitment to understanding freemium user needs.

Less than 25% of accounts login once month and the average time spent is 17 minutes per account per month. Touting two new accounts created per minute is a vanity metric when three quarters of those accounts aren’t logging in.

LinkedIn’s mission statement is to connect professionals to make them successful and productive. Their value proposition to professionals is that by joining LinkedIn you’ll have the connections to people and content to make you great at what you do. Sounds good, sign me up.

By making me more productive and successful, you’ll increase my engagement and engagement for people like me. Today LinkedIn accounts for 5% of social sharing in the US — this can be improved with features that facilitate engagement and better content.

The Professional Network

How to make me more productive

Six New Features:

1) Email: Kill the messenger and create LinkedMail. I have work and personal email, I need a third type to manage my professional development. Gmail hasn’t tremendously improved in the last five years, I can keep it for family and all that spam. Outlook for work is fine, but I would never type anything I didn’t want my boss to read. Now that it has acquired LinkedIn, Microsoft could help with the technology here. The messaging on LinkedIn today is clunky, it needs to be streamlined and elegant. LinkedIn email can be more fully integrated with LinkedIn now and future enhancements below.

2) Calendar: a natural feature pair with email, for the same reasons a third email is preferable, so is a calendar — for those coffee meetups and network events. Make me productive by giving me the tools to schedule and organize my third space.

3) Customizable Dashboard: I need to customize my landing page to be productive. The right third of the LinkedIn Homepage is wasted space, so give me the flexibility to move my interests from the horizontal toolbar to a widget on the dashboard. Here are some more suggestions:

· Groups needs to be revamped, one start is to put the groups on the landing page.

· Optional widgets for companies, influencers, and Lynda.com.

· Real metrics, not surprisingly, ‘who’s viewed you’ and your post metrics, vanity metrics, are the two most used features. Tell me what is trending with a few metrics. What’s trending is one of the better Twitter features.

· Update Icon, instead of having three buttons that are essentially the same — send an update, upload a photo, publish a post — have one button. Tumblr has one post button, when you click it you have seven different options for the type of post you want — quote, text, link, photo, video, etc — LinkedIn could add other types of post like that as well.

4) Customizable Feed: the other major piece of dashboard is the feed. I should be able to change views, like in outlook, do I just view one line or several. I should also be able to set weights to the algorithm they use — let me customize it. I also want to see my posts in my feed, so I know what it looks like, without having to pull it up through recent activity. Like Tumblr does for its recommended posts, allow me three options for every post — like, don’t like, not relevant (the last two are private) — this will lead to a better algorithm and better content.

5) Mobile First: the current mobile experience is terrible. I just found a few months ago that you could personalize a connection request on your phone, but it is not easy. LinkedIn’s peak usage hours are 9 to 5 that means people are only using LinkedIn at work on their desktop — i.e. bored at work. Tuesdays from 10 AM to 11 AM see the most shares, the best time to post is mid-day midweek or at the start or end of the workday. This isn’t engagement. It’s not for busy or successful people. To be the third place, you must dominate mobile.

6) Revamp Groups: The old attraction of groups was that you could direct message anyone in your group, you can’t do that now and so group membership is just a profile badge. Worse, groups take two or three clicks to get to — it’s not on the dashboard it doesn’t get used. Here are some other ideas to make groups work:

· Influencer Status: create a designation for some groups like the Influencer designation.

· Webinars and podcasts: allow the group moderator to run these through the group membership list and on the LinkedIn platform.

· Newsletters: offer moderators the templates to highlight original content and link to curated content.

If your feed is the main conversation, then groups should be the sidebars and breakout sessions. Adding content like webinars and podcasts as well as status of influencer groups would allow for more focused engagement.

Retire to the Shire

Retire Five Features

1) Connections Suggestions: all connection requests should be personalized. LinkedIn shouldn’t even give that option and should drop the how do you know questions because friends is always the answer. I am not sure how LinkedIn finds connections for me, but I rather just do it. It’s more personalized and thoughtful that way.

2) Kill L.I.O.Ns: it may have sounded like a good idea at first, but it just cheapens the quality of the content and experience.

3) Cull Influencers: the Influencer designation should be for though leaders who are building their brand, not a status for celebrities — keep this status elite.

4) Cutout Phony Profiles: at one point you needed to be invited to use Gmail. LinkedIn should do that and require a couple of references from current users before a new person can create a profile.

5) It’s not a dating site: why is there a dating app for LinkedIn? Belinked is causing phony profiles and diminishes actual usage metrics and quality content.

But I am a pragmatic product manager

A pragmatic product manger should only build features that solve widely occurring problems and for which there is a willingness to pay. LinkedIn’s Freemuim model is different from classic SaaS B2B, but this still applies. The features I’ve listed improve engagement. LinkedIn, like Facebook or Google should be focused on usage stats. Usage isn’t about how many accounts, it’s about how many people are logging in everyday, posting, liking, and making new connections. Engagement pays off in two ways:

1) You know I’m all about the data

Microsoft bought LinkedIn and Microsoft has a fourth place CRM. The first place CRM, Salesforce.com is relative newbie compared to rivals SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft. They are a sales driven company that spends more on sales and marketing then their competitors. Salesforce spends 53% of revenue on sales on marketing compared to 35% for LinkedIn, 18% for Microsoft, 12% for Google and 7% for Apple — percent spend on sales & marketing is inverse to the quality the product. The Salesforce user experience is bad and the system doesn’t come with data. To fully use the product, you have to buy a lot of add-ons. Personally, one the best parts of moving from customer success to product management was trading the pain of Salesforce for the joy of Atlassian’s JIRA. (Atlassian spends 19% of revenue on marketing and has no formal sales team)

In LinkedIn, Microsoft has the connection data to fuel their CRM. LinkedIn data can map an organizational chart and is dynamic. With better engagement, more data can be mined. To compete with Salesforce, Microsoft will also have to buy or build a marketing automation tool and improved LinkedIn content, like sponsored webinars and podcasts, can be integrated and used as part of the tool.

From my own experience, making the best use of data is what sets the best products apart and what truly improves productivity for the end user — see my post on Compliance Automation for how to best use data to ensure fair markets and protect investors.

2) Keep On Rocking in the Freemium World

LinkedIn’s power is the number of people who use it and that alone would justify any feature that gets people to login or stay-on longer. However, LinkedIn needs more specificity on how to increase revenues from individuals and businesses; the willingness to pay is not from content consumption, but the job placement process.

In general, the job placement process is horrendous: only 8% of job posts get filled and only 2% of applicants even get an interview.

LinkedIn can help improve success with its corporate and individual user personas with only small changes:

· Make all job postings Apply with LinkedIn profile only

· Limit the number of applications that a free user can have to 5 a month and upsell to a paid package for more.

This give and take two step will ensure better applicants. Limiting the number of applications will ensure that only qualified applicants apply. Some 28% of Americans — including 53% of 18- to 29-year-olds have used their smartphones for the job search process. Improving mobile will help here as will making all jobs apply with LinkedIn profile — being directed to the companies’ Taleo powered circa 2005 website doesn’t work for mobile. Forty-seven percent of smart phone job seekers reported difficulty with application process as their number one impediment.

· Contingent Fee Placement

For LinkedIn live their mission, it should make this a three-way dance by offer a contingent fee job placement model, that’s how most recruiters work, only charge the company if the person who took the job got it through submitting a LinkedIn application. Given the fact the person will update their profile; there is natural check to the process. Since this process would be automated to an extent and leverage existing data, it should offered at lower rate than a recruiter would charge, but much more that the small posting fee LinkedIn currently gets.

A contingent fee will further motivate LinkedIn to do better job engaging professionals and perhaps open up some more reporting capabilities to both job seekers and posters.

LinkedIn does well with the recruiter persona and increasing LinkedIn’s direct share of the job placement process is not a threat to that persona because the best recruiters I work are relationship based and focus on higher caliber, harder to place roles. Lower-skilled job seekers rely more heavily on their smart phones — this a group that recruiters will pass off, but can be better served with an improved mobile, automated solution from LinkedIn.

Time to Mine the Data

It’s a virtuous circle, give us the features that improve productivity, we will mprove content. The more productive and engaged, then the more successful I will be. And the more people who get that then the more people actively using the system — it will improve the data mining and job search. 65–70% of jobs are gained through personal referrals or networking connections

By making a few changes like improved mobile, dashboard, feeds, groups, LinkedIn can be data miner for Microsoft’s CRM and matchmaker for job opportunities — two seriously lucrative revenue streams.

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