A couple of months back I made the decision to delete my LinkedIn profile, a decision greeted with incredulity from all quarters. The most memorable criticism came from my friend Tom when we were in the pub. “You idiot!” he gasped, before exclaiming “IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE!”
By “one”, Tom was referring to LinkedIn’s classification as a “social media” platform, lumped in with Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster and the rest. What sets LinkedIn apart is that it’s considered to be the professional network; a platform you can use to build your career, not your social life. You’re encouraged to develop “connections”, not friends, and there are forums and messaging capabilities to develop cross-collaboration with your network.
Sometimes we seem to forget that at their heart, many social networks are primarily public directories; they hold, and give access to, information on their users. The vast amount of user information they hold have meant that social networks are seen as the oil fields of the 21st century, offering an unlimited reward for prospectors should they strike it rich.
But a user can also choose to reclaim that data should they wish to, and people are getting wiser to that fact. We’re seeing a growth in a movement championing the “right to be forgotten” in the third decade of the age of information.
What this means is that before signing up to a service or platform, more and more users are performing a simple cost-benefit analysis. “What features does this service give me, and what am I expected to offer in return? How transparent is the service being on how they’ll go about using and storing my data? Is my information safe with them? Will my boss get to see my drunken photos?”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll published last Monday showed that 34% of Facebook users surveyed were spending less time on the website than six months ago, whereas only 20% were spending more. The suggestion is that users are displaying a reluctance to access a service whose growth model is built around the premise that they should in some way pay to host their personal content.
As advertising placements get more prominent, expect user engagement figures to start falling further. I’d argue that it’s only right that users should offer some kind of financial contribution to maintain access to functions and features of a platform that they use, but there will come a point of advertising saturation which will ultimately prompt users to turn away and curtail Facebook’s ability to turn a profit.
Facebook may fail to make good gains because, fundamentally, there’s something slightly repressive about being forced to sit through adverts every time you want to see those photos from your university days. I’ve created that content – so why am I expected to pay over the odds to see it?
LinkedIn proved to be the wrong tool for me at this point in my career, and to put it bluntly, I felt that information I was offering outweighed the benefits that LinkedIn had to offer me. What I was looking for was an immediate exchange of information with like-minded people, or checking out links to other people’s work – rapid networking, if you like – and I already get that from Twitter.
However, I could see myself returning to LinkedIn again – provided that they innovate and introduce a new learning and development platform where you could learn skills from the website itself. Surely it makes sense for a professional networking service to align itself more closely with professional growth, teaching and certifying skills taught through its platform?