Many businesses coast along, do reasonably well, but have far greater potential than we sometimes imagine. I really feel LinkedIn is one such company.
So I wanted to talk about what I would do if I was the CEO of LinkedIn in order to capitalise on its potential. I want to use this post as an opportunity to show you how to recognise that potential in your own business and how to get more out of it by taking LinkedIn as an example.
But why LinkedIn? Out of all the social networks still with us today. LinkedIn is probably the oldest. Yet, despite having arguably more time and experience in building a social network, it probably has the lowest engagement rate of the bunch. Simply put, it’s been around the longest yet, has the least fanfare.
Compared to the likes of Facebook, Instagram and even Twitter, I.e. the competition -- the same people spend far more time on other networks than they do on LinkedIn.
In late 2016 LinkedIn had over 430 million users with only 25% of users coming back on a regular basis. That’s around 100 million monthly active users. Facebook, in comparison, has 1.75bn monthly active users. The percentage of the user base and the amount of time spent on Facebook is much higher than when compared to LinkedIn.
That’s not to say that LinkedIn doesn’t create any value for its users because otherwise it wouldn’t still be around today. But it is to say: there are huge gains to be realised.
So my aim is to highlight the areas where those gains could be realised and how that might be done, so that you might use the same principles and apply them to your own business and realise huge gains of your own.
I must make absolutely clear, however. This post is not a criticism of LinkedIn’s current leadership in any way. It is unequivocally not an open letter to their management to ask them to “change their ways” or anything of the sort.
This post shouldn’t be taken as an accurate analysis of exactly what is needed to grow LinkedIn since I do not have a 360-degree view of the business nor am I fully aware of all the variables involved.
I am simply using a well-known example to help demonstrate parallels for you to recognise in your own business to help it grow.
Remember, I can only work off what I am able to observe on the outside, from what is apparent. Thus, this post should not be used as an exercise in predicting where LinkedIn is headed or what is likely coming.
Now, as a CEO, it is impossible to tackle more than a handful of long-term priorities at once. In turn, these priorities are usually categorised into primary and secondary priorities. Especially in a one or two-year period. So of the many things I could choose to talk about, I’ll list the primary and secondary focus only, and then the related sub-priorities or plans of action for each area of focus.
My aim is to discuss those priorities at a high, surface level only since the nuances of execution are often a secondary conversation after the priorities and the plan itself have been decided. And since there are so many variables that are and can be at play here, it’s best to keep this a high-level discussion only.
So without further ado, let’s discuss what those priorities would be.
Primary Focus - The Spiritual Purpose
The Spiritual Purpose of a company is what drives how the product is shaped and how a company relates to its primary target audience.
As far as I have been able to observe, LinkedIn has always found its primary purpose in connecting employers and employees. Thus it’s a good alternative in many respects to the resume/cv for employees and a good recruitment tool for prospective employers or recruitment specialists. I assume that’s the primary way LinkedIn drives its revenue from the premium recruitment tools. I do know that it is also used as a platform for connecting businesses but that focus has always seemed like an afterthought.
For me, I feel like the company is missing a major trick. If there’s one thing LinkedIn has over all the competition; it’s that it categorises people based on their job roles and the companies they work for, far better than anyone else. Which, of course, is why recruiters love it. But – and this is a big but – recruitment is only one way one company does business with another. Businesses interact with other businesses all the time and right now while LinkedIn’s spiritual purpose seems to be to help advance the way recruitment is done or how people find new jobs, I think it needs to have a broader purpose where businesses can connect with other business. More of an umbrella purpose, which still satisfies the need for employers to connect to employees as a subset of the grander purpose.
I do recognise that this is already being done on some level, but it needs more refinement and more focus. Right now, to many end-users, the recruitment angle is quite obvious (and even then that takes some work but I will come back to that in a bit). And while the potential to connect with other businesses can be seen, it’s not anywhere near as obvious or transparent how that should be done. As least not for the likes of you and me.
So the primary focus for me would be to re-evaluate and re-define the spiritual purpose of the company. I.e. what does it stand for and what does it want to help its users achieve.
Again – as I say – for me that would be to help businesses (or organisations if you will) connect with other organisations and specifically people in one type of role to people in other types of roles to build relationships and see them through to fruition.
Now we can discuss what changes need to be made in order for this vision to be realised.
User Purpose – Giving users a reason to keep coming back
Under the current purpose, users mostly use LinkedIn as an enhanced address book of their professional relationships. It also acts as their public resume/cv. This is the reason why the engagement is so low, because updating our address books and resume is not done on a regular basis. While there is a lot of content that is being shared on LinkedIn at the moment, through published posts and status updates. These features seem like a Band-Aid solution, and inspired heavily from Facebook and Twitter without enough thought to actually make it work well.
We need to get clearer about the fact that if our spiritual purpose is to connect businesses and help people develop professional relationships, then what does that mean for each individual user. What does customer success look like for each user and each business and what value can we create for each user to help them on their journey to that vision of their own success.
Thus what we use to pull the user -- to keep coming back to the site needs to change. Under the new purpose there needs to be a long and hard evaluation of what is it that people want out of their professional relationships, what is it that businesses want out of other businesses. Maybe we all want a better way to sell to other businesses. Maybe we all want to look better in front of other businesses. Maybe we all just want the chance of posterity.
There’s no clear answer right now, but without asking this question and giving it some deep thought, we’re not going to find the answer. Instead we risk building out features that have a context that doesn’t really serve our purpose, thus never solving the issue of engagement.
Insights Team – Setting up a team to do deep field based research
In order to answer this question of what the user purpose. I would assemble a team of dedicated field researchers that could do ethnological studies and go out into the field to deeply observe how professional relationships are built and what people really want out of them. I would send people in the team to various parts of the globe and get them to silently observe. Get them into business conferences, events, in sales boardrooms, on skype, on the phone, in coffee shops and so on. Everywhere professional relationships are built. And really get them to deeply understand the habits of the professional individual and organisations in general.
The user experience features then need to be built to create value within this context. Setting up this team – even though it might not seem like it on the surface – will be our most important HR and operating decision. This team will be crucial to all other areas of the business and getting the right people in this team would be paramount. The team would need a good range of discipline from engineering types to creative types to people with psychology backgrounds. What is need is a very well rounded set of insights, thoughts and ideas and holistic conclusions.
Frictionless User Experience – Getting things out of the user’s way
LinkedIn has a user interface that is not easy on the eyes, it makes the user have to think too much and doesn’t play well enough to emotional design. The mobile app is better, but could still do with more work. These kind of issues create friction for the user and if the user has to think, then their willingness to spend time on the site decreases.
Granted every social network has a steep learning curve. Twitter isn’t easy for new users and every time Facebook does a major design overhaul, people get agitated. But, they have a reason to keep coming back and therefore are willing to invest the time and energy to make the experience second nature for themselves. Having a user purpose in place will provide a bigger reason for the user to keep coming back, but it is just as important to get out of the user’s way as much as possible to let them fulfil their own purpose as well as they can. LinkedIn needs to be much easier to use. If my grandma can’t use LinkedIn the way she can use Facebook, then there’s much more work to be done.
So the user experience needs to be improved and made more frictionless and intuitive, with both much older and much younger people used a litmus test to see how well they fare with the user experience improvements. These will be the key indicator that the improved User Interface and experience are on the right track.
Secondary Focus - A Revamped Marketing Platform
Fixing user engagement issues will put the company in a better position strategically but there will be more work to be done in order to drive in the revenue. This would need to come from a better marketing platform.
LinkedIn already has a marketing platform that helps businesses connect. They have things like the Sales Navigator, Sponsored Inmail and LinkedIn Ads that allow people to target other businesses/people in one way or another. But the platform suffers from a lot of issues.
For one, only a small percentage of people really know what to do with it and how to put it to good use. Some things are more effective than others. For another; LinkedIn’s advertising platform is nowhere near on par with its Facebook Ads counterpart. Nowhere as effective, as easy to use or as capable. And last but not least, the more valuable features have been targeted towards enterprise customers. A very Microsoft like approach.
Microsoft has always targeted the enterprise. Businesses with deep pockets. But time and time again, businesses that have democratised their offerings and taken the consumer-driven rather than enterprise-driven approach have often fared better. Take for example, Apple who targeted the individual rather than business with all their product offerings despite having huge take-up in the enterprise. And Facebook that also primarily targets individuals first even if for their business.
The key point is that it’s just as easy for an individual or a consumer to buy-in to a product offering with companies like Apple or Facebook than it is for a business. That’s not the same case with LinkedIn. Take for example their new Sponsored Inmail service.
A service only available companies that could put down in excess of $5k for their first run. That’s a big ask of a small business to run as a trial campaign.
Below, I have explained how I would look to fix all three of these issues to really drive in the revenue.
Redefining The End Goal – To reflect the new user purpose
On Facebook. If I want to get my message out to a few hundred people. I can do so by just writing a status update and most of my friends will see it. If, however, I want that to reach a few thousand people. I can pay for an ad or boost my post. By paying, I get to amplify and accelerate my purpose
By the same token, once LinkedIn is clear about what the user purpose needs to be, the platform needs to act as a vehicle to amplify and accelerate the user’s purpose. If, organically they can reach a certain number of connections and deepen those relationships, then by spending money they should be able to reach more connections and deepen those relationships further. This is already happening on LinkedIn to an extent, but it is not clear to everyone. This needs to be made much clearer, but this can only happen once we’re clear about what the user’s end goal is. Then we can make this experience more intuitive.
Fixing The User Experience – To drive greater adoption
Next port of call – therefore – would be to make the marketing platform experience more intuitive. This would need extensive user feedback and testing. Really trying to understand how users interact with the site. I would use a mixture of soft insights from the Insights Team to get a qualitative feel of what might be getting in their way, and then also hard insights such as user behaviour analytics I.e. hard data. The combination of these should help derive gaps and opportunities to further improve the user experience.
More Features – Creating a worthy alternative
Facebook’s advertising toolkit and feature set is far advanced than that of any other social network marketing platform so far. With things like the Facebook pixel, re-targeting, look-alike audiences and so on, it’s even caused Google to sit up and take notice. Thinking of innovative solutions such as this is one thing, and thankfully a lot of this will get easy having understood the user purpose, but implementing these solutions will require a large amount of engineering resource.
So, I would definitely direct engineering resources here and develop a blueprint for a feature set that drives the user’s goals. Again, this would be largely driven by the Insights Team. Using only an iterative approach though, of course. There’s no point sinking a whole load of engineering budget into something that might work and then ends up being discarded.
Moving Away from Enterprise Focus – For the greatest reach
I would make the pricing and plans easy for the smallest businesses to use and try. With generous plans and plan features. Focusing as much as possible on making sure users only end up spending money when they’re achieving real results. Right now, I can spend a whole load of money on LinkedIn ads and not necessarily get great results. But if the pricing and platform are better aligned to when I get a result then I’m likely to invest more time, try harder to make it work and spend more when it starts working. This will create much more residual and growing income this way.
Invite Major Advertisers from Facebook – To generate broad interest
Lastly. Once all these solutions are in place, I would reach out to major advertisers on Facebook. Big and small and invite them to start using LinkedIn. With generous incentives, maybe even things like a huge amount of advertising credit completely free in the beginning. Just to get people excited and talking. At this point the marketing platform should already be effective and even if one of these major brands using FB makes a switch from LinkedIn because it’s working better for them, then the rest will also start to follow suit.
What I’ve tried to do in this post is show how the simple act of taking time out to re-define the company’s spiritual purpose and setting up a team to do extensive research can make all the difference in driving a workable growth and marketing strategy. The spiritual purpose helps to derive an action plan going forward with far greater clarity and confidence than when attempted without one and an insights team can help find the problems and opportunities and drive workable solutions. Both are equally important and equally valuable.
If you’d like to know how to develop your company’s spiritual purpose, you might like to sign-up for our free 8-day Email Masterclass or watch our free On-demand video Webinar where we explain the importance of the spiritual purpose and how to develop it for your own business.