LinkedIn: from the Capitoline Hill to the Tarpeian Rock?

The laws of the market are ruthless, especially in the social spheres. From the heights of glory and hype, one can quickly be downgraded to has-been. Is this a risk to LinkedIn? Is Microsoft's platform slipping from the Capitoline Hill to the Tarpeian Rock? Let's dive in. 

A multi-faceted network and signs of annoyance

700+ million users, including more than 260 million active users. Vertiginous. In 2019, LinkedIn earned about $6.7 billion, almost three times more than in 2017 (for comparison, Twitter earned $3.46 billion in the same year). And that's because, unlike most of its competitors, Microsoft doesn't rely solely on advertising, which accounts for about 50 percent of its revenues. The rest of its revenue comes from marketing solutions offered to businesses, HR and premium subscriptions: 39 percent of users have subscribed to a pro offer. There’s also a small, additional strength: 41 percent of millionaires would use the platform. Impressive, isn't it?

It’s no wonder. LinkedIn is a multi-faceted professional network, "Network - Sales - Marketing - Hire and Learn," as the site says. In short, if we stick to numbers, the indicators are green. And yet, as I explained in my article on trend detection, you should always spot weak signals. As it stands, some "patterns" emerge that could warn you that a storm is coming.

  • As Brianne Kimmel points out in an excellent article, LinkedIn is going through its 17th year of existence, so it was designed at a time when professional skills were limited to a resume, when recruiters served as an intermediary between professionals and hiring managers — job forums, networking events, professional organizations ... all this is changing. But on the Linkedin side, few drastic changes are taking place. One Techrunch journalist puts it this way: "LinkedIn has been remarkably unambitious for a long time now.” That’s an opinion that I share and that I will detail a little further.

  • Let's also note a form of fatigue: bullshit pseudo-inspirational content has invaded our LinkedIn feeds to such an extent that parody groups are multiplying, aiming to denounce these practices:  the r/linkedinlunatics subreddit or the @CrapOnLinkedin Twitter account are worth mentioning.

Vertical competition & unbundling

History repeats itself: like Amazon, Craiglist, eBay or, right now, Reddit — it's time to unbundle. LinkedIn shares the splendors and miseries of all these tech giants. Its digital platform has reached a climax, stimulating and training a plethora of new competitors — competition that intends to devour pieces of the existing platform by positioning itself in specific verticals, creating a user experience or business model much more adapted to the unique attributes of that vertical. This is precisely what threatens LinkedIn. As proof, here are a few new players that challenge the firm’s different areas of expertise. 

On the "Network" side first. While LinkedIn is positioning itself as a generalist, others are being created in niches and verticals.

  • Heyneighbours, currently under construction, is positioning itself as a professional network for remote entrepreneurs.

  • The-dots presents itself as the "professional network for people who don't have to wear a suit to work" - i.e., the creative people.

  • Radius targets real estate agents. 

  • Stagetime, currently being launched, targets artists.

  • LeafWire, in the cannabis industry. According to their website: “Leafwire exists to help usher in the new cannabis economy by educating and connecting the entrepreneurs and investors that will build this industry.”

  • Another example is 50intech, which is charting a new course in the technology ecosystem by defining itself as a business and talent gas pedal and encouraging female innovation in technology. Objective? A 50 percent representation of women in tech by 2050, an approach similar to that of the Girlboss community.

For the "Hire" part, here, again, the competition is jostling. There were already the classic portals such as Indeed, Monster and so on, but in this segment, too, we are seeing verticalization and new uses.

  • Honeypot is the European employment platform focused on developers, but, due to a paradigm shift, it is companies that apply to recruit a profile whose skills have been validated by a talented success manager. 

  • Similar to Honeypot, but specialized on freelancers, Thirsty Sprout screens and interviews each developer who joins the platform. The aim is to position oneself in a more qualitative way than services, like Fiverr or Upwork.

And this is just the beginning…

Shall we move on to the learning part? In 2015, LinkedIn bought the learning company for the coquette sum of 1.5 billion dollars. It was a question of competing with potential competitors like Udemy and Coursera. But today, the next generation is different. You know them, I've already told you about them: the actors of the passion economy who leverage services like Podia or Teachable. The model is evolving to be more concrete, pragmatic and adaptable to everyday tools.

New structural concepts

Beyond this verticalization, we are witnessing the emergence of outsiders with structural shifts that could change the game considerably.

  • Learning to learn, but above all, learning continuously and differently! According to a staggering statistic, the completion rate of a MOOC (online course) is around 10 percent. In other words, the model on which LinkedIn and the other traditional players are positioned seems to be compromised in the long term. The new generation of tools will leverage new tactics: it will be necessary to probe the motivation of a candidate by asking him to fill in a preliminary questionnaire instead of the "on-demand" learning. It will be a question of imposing deadlines, while making use of synchronous or asynchronous methods. Communities should be built in order to use peer pressure to move from passive to active learning. An example? LaunchMBA is an invitation-only community where one learns how to create a profitable business by relying on an audience of "doers." Each user has to launch 12 products in 12 months using no-code platforms on the market. As Brianne Kimmel pointed out: “The best networks will play an active role in how users make their next big career move through user conferences, branded Slack channels and curated events.”

  • Valuing "visible achievements." As we know, diplomas are no longer necessarily a guarantee for getting a job or ensuring one's employability throughout one's career. Today, we value any side project, any online initiative that is worthwhile. On LinkedIn, the possibilities in this area are limited, restricted to embedded links, while other services are more creative. One example is Goodwall, dedicated to students who are starting their professional life and want to build strong networks. The baseline of the service says a lot about ambitions that are clearly against the prevailing thinking of the past few years: "Your ultimate goal should not be a degree or a job: it should be to improve yourself." To do this, the platform allows you to build your profile as a personal website to present your achievements, skills and ideas "beyond your grades and work experience" to universities and employers. We see the same approach with the start-up Epilogue, "the professional network where your papers, articles and projects count."

  • A market of remote job offers. As telecommuting becomes more established, employers will be increasingly interested in time zones to recruit or use freelancers. Here too many services are emerging. One interesting example? Noicejobs.

Like it or not, the new generation of professional networks is becoming more specialized, more vertical and more personal even if some companies like Webtalk (go and have a look, it's well worth seeing) intend to create the next generation pro + personal platform. Does this signal the end for LinkedIn? Probably not, not right away, anyway. But this competition should clearly bring Microsoft’s brand out of its lethargy and make it clean up the many sandmen, fortune tellers and happiness therapy coaches who have taken up residence on the platform. A life-saving awakening!


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