(A whole bunch of) thoughts on the LinkedIn article in the WSJ

As I promised yesterday, I will try to talk more often about LinkedIn on my blog. So here you go. I decided to start with some (well, many) thoughts on the article the Wall Street Journal published on December 30. Brace yourself, it’s a long post.

I noticed that some marketing news sites, including iMedia Connection and MediaPost covered it as well. However, here is my view if you are interested.

The article in the WSJ seemed rather negative on LinkedIn to me. However, it’s not due to the social business network itself but more because of the increasing success of other social media (well, Facebook) and the use of them for business purposes.

The WSJ writes that LinkedIn is now mainly used for posting your résumé and finding suitable employees. Even so, that picture is not entirely correct, if you ask me. LinkedIn is much more than that, and you can get much more out of it. However, it seems to me many people don’t know how.

LinkedIn versus Facebook: apples and pears?

But it’s true: the use of LinkedIn remains limited for most users despite its many possibilities, including building groups, the integration with other social media like Twitter, adding files, presentations etc.

Maybe LinkedIn needs to provide more advice to its users in order to get more out of the platform, but I fear that this might penalize a (surprisingly) large group of LinkedIn consultants.

The WSJ also looked at some data regarding LinkedIn and Facebook . Now, this is very dangerous, because it’s like comparing apples with pears (although I admit many people are using Facebook for business connections too).

First the data. In November, LinkedIn had 53.6 million users, a quite impressive growth when in comparison to the 31.5 million users the platform had one year earlier. Of course this number is nothing if you compare it, as the WSJ does, to the 350 million user base of Facebook.

Furthermore, people spend more time on Facebook than on LinkedIn. The WSJ refers to data from comScore from October: LinkedIn users on average spent 13 minutes on the site that month while Facebook users spent 213 minutes (and the average MySpace user 87 minutes). For the record: comScore looked at global users older than 15 years (I don’t know many business people between roughly 15 and 19 years young, but they exist, I admit).

LinkedIn is more than a collection of names, Colin

In the article, Colin Gillis, an analyst at Brigantine Advisors said “LinkedIn is not really a community as much as a collection of names”.

I seriously have my doubts. No, it’s not the same kind of community like Facebook but – for me at least – there is a lot going on in LinkedIn. And LinkedIn is much more than a collection of names. I belong to some groups where you see people really collaborating and discussing about specific topics. Often this results in very relevant pieces of content and insights that have been co-created. Yesterday, I saw one of the co-creators of such a piece of group-generated content, asking the others if she could put it on her blog. This looks like more than just posting a résumé to me.

Furthermore, there is a lot of connecting going on there too. Personally, I sometimes invite people that I meet on Twitter to connect via LinkedIn so we can get a step further in the relationship by seeing each other’s interests, etc. Tough to do in 140 characters, right?

Once the relationship develops, it often becomes an “email relationship” or we connect on other communities. As a blogger and journalist, I also sometimes ask people, that joined the same groups as me, to interview them. I don’t pick these people just like that, I look at their profile, business experience, etc. On Facebook you often find that kind of information too, but given the very nature of LinkedIn, it’s much more complete there than anywhere else. And indeed, sometimes I build business partnerships with people on LinkedIn too.

On LinkedIn, you know what (correction: who) you get (and give)

OK, I hear you: you can do all that on Facebook too. I admit to some degree. Let me quote first from the article in the WSJ again: “while Facebook doesn’t specifically target the professional market, hundreds of companies, … use the site to highlight their firms and recruit new candidates, said a Facebook spokeswoman”.

True, but I’m still not convinced. Facebook is great, Facebook has many members, etc. But Facebook, to me, still has that duality of mixed personal connections and business connections.

At least, on LinkedIn I know it’s business and who is who and who I want to connect with or who I want to follow. Regardless of the number of members.

Now, tomorrow Facebook could launch it’s own LinkedIn or LinkedIn could change course. However, I doubt it. If the people at LinkedIn are smart (and no doubt they are), they will continue to invest in tools that make it easier for people to collaborate, to add all kinds of content to profiles and groups, they will move into the direction of social CRM, add connections with other business-related services in the ‘Cloud’, appeal to developers, investigate SaaS lead generation and management opportunities and perhaps even do some acquisitions in some of these areas. 37signals, BatchBook, one of those PDF or presentation lead generation tools, others, I don’t know, what do you think?