Linkedin reveals what the future holds for its users

By Neil Patrick

In my conversations with my business network a common question is, ‘What’s next for social media?’

There is so much hype and confusing information. Mobile will dominate. Big data is the future. Engagement will fall as platforms are forced to increase revenues and justify their share price. The biggest will kill the smallest.

It may be backed up by data trends, but this is all speculation. I don’t know the answer. But I do know this. Content has always been king. And now with the 2013 changes to the Google algorithm, called ‘Hummingbird’, unique high quality content, peer endorsement, interaction and others sharing your content are more critical than ever.

For professionals the number one platform is and I think will continue to be LinkedIn. But LinkedIn has its fair share of problems right now.

I've observed the transfer of what I call Facebook style content strategies to LinkedIn over the last year or two. You know, those endless ‘inspirational’ quotes, mathematical puzzles, pictures of lions.

If you like to share that sort of content, that’s up to you. But in my view, it does nothing but harm to your professional profile, on LinkedIn at least.

Why do so many people seem to ignore the fact that LinkedIn is professional social media platform? It’s not Facebook and it’s not Twitter. T-shirts and jeans are fine in these places. But on LinkedIn we should all be wearing our business suits.

Sharing your insight and expertise is the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter if it is super-specialised or niche. Your real peers will be interested in it, especially since our LinkedIn connections typically include a large number of connections who for whatever reason have something in common with us professionally.

And LinkedIn seems to be recognising this distinctive aspect of its social media USP. According to comments by LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue made in a recent interview with Ian Burrell of The Independent, this is a critical moment in the evolution of LinkedIn. The idea is that professional people will offer their insights into the fields in which they have expertise, leading to valuable discussion and debate with their industry peers.

LinkedIn sees its future value being massively boosted by the creation of quality content from the most insightful, articulate and prominent people within its membership. And it is already cultivating content from this select few.

To date only 60,000 LinkedIn users have been invited to be LinkedIn authors, a tiny fraction of the 277 million worldwide membership. Many more will desire the opportunity to enhance their LinkedIn profile by being given the chance to publish their insights. LinkedIn has set up a “Waiting List” for the next tranche of authors.

At a higher level on LinkedIn’s publishing roster are the “Influencers”, an elite group that includes Barack Obama, David Cameron and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. This list has been extended to “C-Suite” executives of large or prominent organisations and will, no doubt, be a holy grail for corporate PR people, envious of how Sir Richard Branson has already acquired a LinkedIn following of 4.1 million.

The irony here is that few of these people will actually produce their own content. Sure they may sign it off, but it will be a product of their PR teams, not their own personal work.

This development will potentially become a threat to established traditional publishers. Big name writers for newspaper comment pages now have a new platform where they can reach a coveted professional audience. Smart publishers, such as The Economist, The Washington Post and the Harvard Business Review, have spotted the opportunity on LinkedIn and are curating “groups” where their articles are discussed.

Blue believes this business-oriented content will find its way to LinkedIn rather than rival platforms, such as Facebook. “The difference is the professional context,” he says.

It also helps lessen the negative impact of troll-type interaction; the bane of many other social media platforms. The first authors on LinkedIn’s open platform have reported high-quality responses and interactions compared with the uninformed and even abusive responses which surface on other forums. “You will see hundreds of comments between commentators and the author,” Blue says.

Apparently, LinkedIn’s vision is that in time, all members will have the opportunity to become authors. Currently, all writers are unpaid, but it is likely, as more and more people recognise the value of such material, that large numbers of members will want to mark themselves out as industry opinion formers by posting articles that bolster the visibility and value of their Linkedin profiles.

The difficulty for many though will be over-strict company policies which have still not adapted to embrace the social media world. As I reported here, only 20% of firms surveyed by FTI Consulting, had policies which allowed employees to publish content on their LinkedIn profiles. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle for LinkedIn's vision and one which they can do little directly to overcome.

Blue says that LinkedIn has developed technology which ensures contributors cannot exploit it by writing articles that contain obvious marketing messages. The cherished “professional context” will act as a quality control on articles published.

“If you produce things that people don’t read, they’re not going to get distributed through LinkedIn; and if you produce things of low quality [the members] are going to tear you down in the comments,” says Blue. “People take what they read on LinkedIn very seriously and no one wants their time wasted.”

So just as the adoption of Hummingbird by Google has had a profound impact on the nature of web content, reducing the ranking power of spammy SEO tactics, this latest move by LinkedIn will I hope have a similar impact of the quality and value of content on LinkedIn.

And hopefully, the number of lion pictures in my LinkedIn news feed will reduce soon…

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