When did LinkedIn become the evil love-child of Facebook and Tinder for professionals?

24 Sep 2016

Is Gareth Dunlop about ready to swipe left on LinkedIn? Image: I AM NIKOM/Shutterstock

Gareth Dunlop is not impressed with LinkedIn’s product development strategy (if there is one).

The very best digital products are brilliant at solving problems. Google helps me solve the problem of finding websites, images and locations. Amazon helps me solve the problem of buying products from enormous inventory, inexpensively, cheaply and confidently. Hailo helps me order cabs. Facebook helps me stalk friends of friends. Twitter helps me keep up with online gossip. And so on.

This focus on solving problems doesn’t occur by chance. Go behind the product development keyhole within these organisations and you can be sure you will find a team of researchers, analysts and designers, obsessing about how they can solve problems for users more quickly, more efficiently, more easily.

So, when I reflect on my recent use of LinkedIn, it strikes me as a product that has lost focus on the problems it should be solving for me.

Helping Fathom to hire excellent new recruits. Assisting me with networking, which might help with pre-sales activity. Easily connecting me with people I’ve met at real-world events. Keeping me up to speed with what’s happening professionally in my network. Letting me know the latest blogs and status updates from colleagues.

It strikes me that these are exactly the types of problems the platform should be solving for me and yet, when I use it, it never quite feels that way.

Inspirefest 2016

Consider the process of seeking to LinkIn with someone I have just met, either at a networking gig, or perhaps after a first meeting. If the conversation or meeting has gone well, I’ll always make a point of LinkingIn, whereupon I’m asked how I know this person. Colleague? Classmate? We’ve done business together? Friend? Other? And, ‘I don’t know this person’.

The sheer ludicrousness that anyone would claim to know a person because they don’t know that person assuredly deserves only ridicule, but what about the other options? Surely none of them can be more likely than the single-biggest driver of new contacts?

That is, ‘I’ve recently met this person and we got on well’.

It must only require a modicum of investigation by the LinkedIn product team to recognise that this is a bigger driver of connections than some (or almost definitely all) of the others.

And this sad state of affairs assumes that I have been able to find the individual in the first place. Regularly, even if we have a range of connections in common, it is easier to find the person on LinkedIn via Google than it is via LinkedIn’s internal search.

‘Arguably, LinkedIn reserves its greatest crimes against humanity for its news-feed algorithm’

Arguably, LinkedIn reserves its greatest crimes against humanity for its news-feed algorithm and the content it prioritises.

I am fortunate to be connected with some really smart people who I have met on my professional travels over nearly two decades. These people have run businesses, succeeded, failed, innovated, pondered, taken risks, pioneered, had a go and generally have plenty of useful, interesting stuff to say on a range of topics that I am interested in. Many of the best thinkers blog regularly and post their musings into LinkedIn.

Unfortunately, I rarely see them unless I go looking for them as a result of a prompt.

Instead, my news-feed is cluttered with detritus. Does any of the following sound familiar?

Young, well-presented professional women with some almost definitely apocryphal story about getting hit on by someone on LinkedIn, replete with tens of thousands of shares and self-righteous comments. (Many of these are so see-through they have made their way on to Snopes.)

Images of ‘follow your dream’ motivational comments so twee and lacking in emotional intelligence or even understanding of how life works that I would be embarrassed if our teenage daughter posted them on Facebook.

My own bête noire: mawkish, sentimental, overly simplified ‘this time last year I gave up a six-digit salary and everyone said I was mad and look at me now’ posts. People are free to post what they want, of course, but why does LinkedIn think I would be interested in that? If I’m looking for insecure bitterness, I’ll watch the Father Ted Golden Cleric acceptance speech on YouTube again.

And that’s not to mention bizarre mathematic tests, link-bait headlines and company press releases written in the third person.

Come on, LinkedIn. You must surely be better than this? You have successfully joined up millions of clever people with great things to say. Please try harder to make connections easier. Please put more effort into promoting the very best content to the top of my news-feed. And please, above all, focus once again on solving problems for your users.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile.

LinkedIn image: I AM NIKOM/Shutterstock

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.