LinkedIn’s shareholders have had a bad year. Once as high as $250 a share the firm is now within sight of $100, losing 44 percent on a single day in February alone. Much of this is down to fickle financials. LinkedIn’s revenues were up during 2015 but it still made a loss of $166 million. Since going public in 2011, LinkedIn’s cumulative profits have been tiny compared to many of its rivals despite large jumps in the size of its user base.
But other bigger issues have strated to loom. Privately, the commentariat worry that LinkedIn’s design has problems that limit if not its user growth then its user satisfaction. Indeed, more users might be making things worse. Every service has its detractors right now, including Facebook and Twitter, the two services LinkedIn is often lumped with. Likewise, Google+ struggled so badly with its attempt to make its services more connected and social that it eventually had to shunt the whole thing into the sidings to escape the relentless mockery.
LinkedIn has always been balanced uneasily between the appearance of a social network for professionals and a marketing device for a small subset of companies and users who actually pay to use the service. Servicing these divergent needs has proved incredibly difficult. User engagement appears modest and a feeling has grown among some users that they are now stuck inside a service that serves them little beyond marketing and spam.
It’s a hard-to-resolve paradox; the users that generate most of the revenues for LinkedIn are probably not the ones most of its members actually want to meet. Even for enthusiasts, expectation now runs well ahead of possible delivery. LinkedIn used to be seen as a great way to find a new job or a sales lead but what happens when everyone else has the same idea?
So what issues does the firm have to address? They're not all of its making but it needs to look closely at the following issues before it will answer the critics.
LinkedIn's 10 biggest flaws - Contacts are strangers you’ve heard of
One of LinkedIn’s problems is that it doesn’t easily distinguish between close connections and someone a member chatted to at a conference for five minutes. Some see the ability of strangers to connect to one another as one of the service’s bonuses while others view it as a way of warehousing acquaintances for no purpose whatsoever beyond being part of a pointless numbers game.
There’s far too much spam
A common complaint is the ‘noisiness’ of LinkedIn both in terms of unsolicited emails and connection requests and unhelpful reminders to follow up on these from the service itself. Do users really want to compliment every one of their 1,000 contacts every time they change job? Almost certainly not but LinkedIn thinks that sending you an email about that event is as good idea.
Worse still, LinkedIn itself can be spammy, resending direct mails and reminders until users eventually give up and either mute the user or reply in desperation to stop the pestering.
It’s a social engineer’s paradise
It’s not LinkedIn’s fault that cybercriminals have taken to abusing LinkedIn but there are times when its communications design feels old-fashioned for an era of endemic cybercrime. There are a number of scams from connection requests from bogus accounts to scam confirmation emails that mask phishing attacks. Criminals believe that LinkedIn users are susceptible to these social engineering attacks because the service is based on requests from strangers, emails, confirmations, and constant communication.
Privacy controls can be confusing
LinkedIn offers a range of security options but the service’s design makes navigating them a chore. It’s also hard to tell what others can see. Which settings matter? We’d recommend changing connection visibility from all (the default) to ‘only you’, which limits the ability of possibly fraudulent accounts to use a user’s account to target others. It’s also worth users limiting the types of messages they’re willing to receive and unchecking the box that allows LinkedIn to collect anonymous data for targeted advertising purposes.
It’s too public
Most employees will be linked to colleagues, including line managers, because it’s hard not to be. The problem is that certain updates to a profile will by default be brought to the attention of these connections. Most of the time that doesn’t matter but new connections from recruiters, a buffing up of a CV and even a tweak to educational qualifications could end up being public knowledge. It is possible to turn off activity broadcasts under Privacy Controls or simply mute them for some contacts but not all users pay enough attention to this setting.
It struggles to be social
LinkedIn advertises itself as a professional network although it’s just as often described as a having a ‘social’ function is patently lacks. It’s true that users can create and share content but the people who take the time to do this are often those with a vested interest in doing such a thing, for example marketers, PR people, less often journalists. Most members say very little, assuming they’re even active. It’s social but in a narrow way.
Endorsements have become meaningless
This one has divided opinion since the service first started but are endorsements a useful way of assessing connections or a bogus way for people to ingratiate themselves with one another? Part of the problem is how endorsements work but also what counts as a skill. In fact, it turns out, anything counts as a skill as long as it’s added by the account holder.
Too many groups, not enough content
Groups should be the hub around which LinkedIn focus on content revolves but they don’t enjoy a stellar reputation. Some complain about spam and marketing, others about off-topic posting, others about the paucity of interaction. Sometimes it just seems to be a small group of users with narrow interests selling stuff to each other, including themselves. Perhaps this is too cynical.
The fundamental problem is that the content is only as good as your connections and trying to improve those can have the side-effect of worsening almost all of the other problems mentioned in this feature.
Premium is a niche product
In fact, paying the upgrades fees (up to $120 a year) are worth it as long as you’re working in an industry such as recruitment where the fee buys the facility to send InMail messages. It used to be said that people seeing new jobs should also think about upgrading but the evidence here is much sketchier. But these narrow use cases almost underline why few others shoul
LinkedIn's 10 biggest flaws - The mobile app should be more important
The company improved the design of its mobile apps toward the end of 2015, though why it took so long to get around to fixing a glaring problem is still a mystery. It is still a secondary download on most professionals’ smartphones rather than a must-have which reinforces the perception that the platform is mostly for use on work desktops. It’s not too late to change perception – the firm claims that half of its active users access it on mobile - but the mobile app needs to evolve more rapidly in future.