Remember LinkedIn? The forgotten middle child of the social media world, wedged between Facebook and Google+ - neglected, awkward, and always hitting people up for money. It's always billed itself as being cut from a different cloth than its competitors; a social media site made for business, job seekers and recruiters alike, and could be used to forge connections with fellow colleagues in your field.
The focus on business did not end with its mission statement either. LinkedIn is a money making venture. Its stock is doing way better than Facebook's, despite the smaller profit margin, and it actually sells its services rather than giving them away. For a fee LinkedIn is happy to offer all sorts of 'premium' features to job seekers and employers. Want your job application to be featured at the tip top of search results? Want to know the names of everyone who has viewed your profile, and be able to contact them? Need to make sure the right applicants see your job posting? Pay the small fee to LinkedIn and they'll be more than happy to help you out.
But this fundraising method has done something odd to poor LinkedIn - it has turned it from a social media site into a job and professional referral forum. Now don't misunderstand me, their revenue scheme is ingenious. Most analysts estimate that the number of premium users is only a small percentage of the 161 million accounts on the site, but by the end of Q1 2012 revenue from premium fees ran around $37.9 million. Business owners looking to post a job on the site are charged $295 a month, and made up the bulk of LinkedIn's revenue at an astounding $188.5 million.
Revenue aside, LinkedIn as a website for professionals in the business world is an absolute mess. They are trying to stretch out their arms and engulf so many different services all at once that the site is unwieldy. LinkedIn is all about making connections, and it shows the minute you log in and look at your main page. I immediately found three ways to make new connections (People You May Know, Who's Viewed Your Profile, and Your LinkedIn Network), but only one way to know what my current connections are up to.
Little strange isn't it? Sure, it violates the adage of 'make new friends but keep the old,' but it also makes the entire process of finding new connections pointless. I can amass a web of LinkedIn connections, but I'd have to navigate a slew of menus before I'm allowed to see particular types of updates - they even take me to an entirely new page if I want different types of views!
So should LinkedIn be dubbed with the title of 'social media site'? Not really. It's more of a website built on initial contact and not much else. If LinkedIn wants to be a job site like Monster or Indeed it's on the right path, but they clearly don't want that. They just bought SlideShare, dubbed 'the YouTube of Slideshows,' adding yet another way to discover people to their veritable repertoire of networking tools. They want people to use their site to find professionals in their field, share content, and build relationships.
But I don't use LinkedIn to keep in contact with anybody - Facebook is way more effective for that. And even though Facebook's stock is far below LinkedIn's, people waste hours on Facebook, and just minutes on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is at a crossroads and must figure out what type of site it wants to be. I'd be more than happy to keep my work life to LinkedIn and my social life to Facebook, but why would I? Facebook is easier to use, more intuitive, and, as silly as it may sound, prettier and more functional. LinkedIn needs to focus, lest it become a teetering mess of applications and hidden profiles. After all, MySpace, the now disowned son of social media, has shown us where that road leads.
Until LinkedIn gets through its identity crisis I, and millions of others, will continue to use other social media sites to connect on and check LinkedIn every couple of weeks to see who is sniffing around our profiles.