There’s no question the rise of social media has been revolutionary, for both businesses and personal relationships, as well as for organisations and individuals working for social good. And it’s still early days. We are absolutely slap bang in the middle of an information revolution and none of us has any real idea of when we will be out the other side, it might take another 10, 20 or even 100 years before the full implications for how we live and do business become clear. The nature of the new paradigm we find ourselves in may in fact mean that things in relation to digital communications opportunities are never clear nor stable again. Technology changes everything. And to thrive we must choose to embrace change in an ever changing world.
Since the whole jolly dotcom boom bust, which some of us rode back in the early naughties, a few brands have risen to massive prominence. Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are four of the most obvious ones, possibly in that order. I’m no business analyst, I’m a participant observer in all of this. Hey, I used to be a sociologist.
There are some who say those brands will be superseded by new players who may be small now or may not even have launched yet. Well yes, of course that could happen. Witness the threat the once untouchable iPhone is now under from Android, look at how Nokia has lost it’s crown and marvel at the rise of HTC, which no one had heard of just a short time ago. None of us has a crystal ball.
But I think those four may be with us to stay and there are a few simple reasons why I think that:
For all that none of them are perfect and Facebook in particular is starting to really alienate some of it’s core users with it’s cack handed “targeted” advertising policy, they all provide a valuable ONLINE UTILITY.
Look at trends on consumer switching other utilities and include a swiping glance at behaviour around bank accounts. Most of us don’t switch. I’m with the same bank I joined as a student more than twenty years ago. I don’t have head space to think about saving £4 a month or whatever tediously small amount of money it is I could save if I bothered to look at my energy suppliers.
We are creatures of habit and unless there’s a very significant incentive or penalty we tend to stick to doing what we’re comfortable with. I use Google to search, always. It works, that’s all I care about. Why would I need a new search engine? I use Facebook to keep in contact with old friends and family. Most of them are on there now and a few additional pop up from time to time which is nice. I can easily disconnect from anyone I don’t want to know anymore, it’s handy. Mainly I’m spotting pics of people I care about having a nice time - and sharing a few of my own - and exchanging little comments of mutual support and admiration, swapping the odd bit of info or humorous stuff - and it adds to the sense we all have that those we care about but don’t have time to talk to regularly are closer than they were when this facility didn’t exist. I use Twitter to network, to promote some of my activities, to be well informed about a wide range of subjects, particularly as news breaks - and generally to keep myself entertained at those rare points in my (mostly homeworking alone) day when I have the time for a bit of social interaction. I use LinkedIn to maintain my professional network. I wouldn’t dream of connecting with someone on LinkedIn that I haven’t had some sort of direct professional experience with, unless they are a very good friend outside of the sphere or work and there may be some possible work related opportunity the two of us might be able to help each other with through being connected on there.
So, as a user, I’m very clear in my mind about what those different platforms do for me and what they stand for. I’m also on Google plus but I haven’t worked that out yet. It’s possible Google Plus came too late to the party and will never become a mass platform, or perhaps it will sweep away all those others in time, who knows? I don’t get the sense it’s going to become dominant in a hurry, because the space it wants to occupy seems pretty much taken.
But do the people managing those sites have the same level of understanding? Right now I’m worried about LinkedIn.
It started with them sending me emails to tell me who’s been looking at my profile. Ooh, interesting, of course it’s interesting, it can feel like someone suddenly put eyes in the back of your head at the school disco and you can see that the boy you like is checking you out from across the room, even though he’s hiding behind the speaker tower and is too shy to let you know. But how useful is that information to me? And is there a risk to the site of not maintaining the confidence of those users who are looking at profiles and expect to be able to do unobtrusively?
I don’t think it’s useful at all and I think the risks are HUGE.
Firstly why do people look at profiles on LinkedIn? It’s not necessarily because they’re interested in offering us a job or asking us out on a date, it can be simple idle, momentary curiosity when a name pops up that sounds familiar from our past, it can be to see how someone else has described their experience to help us decide how to craft our own profiles, it can be an accident for gods sake, a slip of the mouse – it doesn’t necessarily MEAN anything that someone has looked at your profile. And then, if I look at your profile but don’t get in touch, I probably don’t want you to know that I did. If I want you to know something I’ll tell you. If I want to get in touch I’ll make contact.
LinkedIn has been used by those seeking consultants or employees since the outset, this new feature whereby anyone can see if they’ve been looked at is likely to restrict that usage. “Oh get a pro account” LinkedIn will shout. Fine for recruitment consultants, not really what the rest of us are likely to want to do. I’ve also spoken to a contact who’s a private detective who’s had to stop looking at LinkedIn for her work as she can no longer use it discreetly.
Driving away users seems not to be a smart move for a social media platform.
Another thing that worries me about LinkedIn is how rapidly they will snaffle up and email all the contacts a new user may have in their email address book, I’ve heard several incidences recently of this process being so “seamless” that the user had no idea it was happening till it was too late and they’d sent a load of LinkedIn invitations to people they had no intention of connecting with in that way. One of my contacts was dismayed to discover she’s inadvertently added her eleven year old grandchild to the site.
So what are LinkedIn in trying to do here. Grow their database with scant regard for quality? That’s not what their brand is meant to stand for and again seems like something they need to think about a bit more.
Because they were lucky to have a good concept a few years ago, to have been in the right place at the right time and to now own what has become a MASSIVE brand with a powerful identity and strong reason for most business professionals worldwide to want to be on there. To build on that luck and that brand equity they need to be paying attention and playing smarter than they are now. I hope they’re not losing the plot.
To me these two ill thought through development initiatives show a lack of comprehension of what users want and need from the platform.
I'm also turned off by the wording of their latest email confirmation when I add a new connection, it used to say "see what so and so has been up to...", it now says "learn about so and so...", the implication has shifted from an appreciation that you are connecting with someone you know and are interested in keeping in touch with, to implying you are just connecting with random strangers that you need to "learn about" from scratch. It just strikes a bum note to me. Ill thought through, not in keeping with what the brand stands for in my mind.
I hope whoever’s in charge there will get a grip soon and start thinking seriously about what features will add value to users rather than drive them away. And what language they need to be using to maintain their "premium" and professional brand positioning in the social media space. What do you think?