Getting to Know the Folks at LinkedIn

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2a69006 Since I don’t live in Silicon Valley and don’t attend a lot of tech conferences, I haven’t previously had a chance to meet any of the people at LinkedIn in person. But I attended SXSW a couple 0c5d6edof weeks ago and had the pleasure of meeting Steve Ganz (right), Principal Web Developer at LinkedIn, and Mario Sundar (left), LinkedIn’s Community Evangelist, who you may recognize as the lead blogger on the official LinkedIn blog.

Steve spoke on a panel about using social networks to build your personal brand (summary/commentary at The Email Wars). Mario was on a panel about corporate blogging (afterthoughts from Mario and a great summary from Scott Monty).

I had a chance to visit with each of them after their panel. Besides just getting to know them personally (Steve loves frisbee golf), I also got a little more insight into what’s going on at LinkedIn.

Those of us who are out here evangelizing LinkedIn and participating in power user communities like MyLinkedInPowerForum have, frankly, a very self-absorbed view of what LinkedIn is doing. Don’t get me wrong — that’s OK. We’re the customer, and it’s only natural that we think about LinkedIn in terms of ourselves and whether or not it’s serving our needs.

But when you look at it from your own point of view, it’s not difficult to end up at the conclusion that “LinkedIn isn’t listening to its users”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We just have to remember that there are over 20 million of them, and the group of us who actively blog about LinkedIn and discuss it on forums are somewhat of an echo chamber.

Editor’s note, 4/1/2008: In the section that follows, I’m leaving the text I wrote originally, because I believe in “owning your words”. But the following may make it look like LinkedIn employees said things that in fact they didn’t say. I was reading between the lines and speculating. I’ve since apologized.

What’s clear to me from my conversations with Steve and Mario, as well as past conversations with Patrick Crane and others, plus looking at the latest new features from LinkedIn, is that the main customers they are listening to right now are their corporate customers. Many people may not realize that LinkedIn has a dedicated Corporate Solutions Group that provides dedicated account managers, training and so on.

It’s also apparent from my conversations that there are a lot of voices talking to the design team. There are now well over 200 people working at LinkedIn. They’re getting input from customer service, marketing, investors, corporate solutions and so on.

Personally, I still think LinkedIn could do a better job of incorporating input from all of its customers, and I hope they’ll take steps in that direction. But I’m also now a bit more understanding about pressures they’re going through being in a high-growth stage and needing to focus on their largest source of revenue, which is their corporate customers, not the millions of people who use it for free. I think they have to service the free customers too, because their presence their is much of what creates the value for the paying customers, but I certainly appreciate their need to prioritize what their corporate customers are asking for.

Images: LinkedIn.com

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6 Comments

  1. Scott,

    As I outlined to you during our chat, our priority remains the 20 million unique professionals (as of Mar 2008) who use LinkedIn.

    The blog is one of the key ways we maintain that two-way conversation with these users and my favorite part is that some of these conversations result in new features (http://tinyurl.com/26c4bs).

    And, it’s always good to hear users’ positive response to these as well (http://tinyurl.com/ynovgw).

    Glad you enjoyed the panel discussion.

  2. By corporate customer, you mean the faceless bureuacracies that try to dictate our lives?

    My impression is that individual users whether or not they pay for the service are NOT listened to by Linkedin.

    Personally, I often don’t get much out of Linkedin but everyone seems to use it.

    In other words, if someone comes along with a better solution for the individual then I’ll be gone and I’ll try to take my individual friends and colleagues and fellow alumni with me.

    There’s already the business model that serves only the corporate world and ignores the individuals whose content in aggreagate is sold to the corporistas. It’s called Monster job boards.

  3. @Anonymous can “corporations” really even use LinkedIn? Corporations are made up of individuals, and it’s those individuals that use LinkedIn. And while I know there are some companies that have tried to make it otherwise, generally speaking, the individuals own their data that’s in LinkedIn — the company doesn’t (reminds me – that’s a question I’d like to actually ask their corporate solutions group). Anyway, with my clients, that’s a given and clearly communicated to the company.

  4. @Mario I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth – sorry if it came across that way. You were very forthcoming in our conversation, but there are still a ton of questions that those of us outside LinkedIn can only speculate on. I readily admit I’m speculating. But if you’re going to say that LinkedIn’s priority is its 20 million individual users and not its corporate clients, that raises a lot of questions.

    I know that anon and some of the people complaining on MLPF are not representative of the majority of the 20 million LinkedIn users. On the other hand, some of the things that they’re complaining about, LOTS of other people have been complaining about in the blogosphere and MLPF, and some of the issues have been around for six months to a year or more.

    How do you respond to those people? How does LinkedIn justify the resources that were devoted to these new corporate features when there’s so much low-hanging fruit that would make LinkedIn work better for millions of people?

    I don’t have a problem with LinkedIn focusing on their corporate customers for a bit — LinkedIn’s continued financial success means that it will be around as a useful tool for me, with funding to support future development. And I also don’t think that the feedback from users regarding these ongoing issues is going completely unheard — I know that the Omaha Center probably has quite an archive.

    But what’s NOT happening is either a) resolutions to those issues in the product itself, b) an open, public discussion with users about those issues, or c) an acknowledgment that those issues are being heard and an explanation as to why they aren’t being dealt with.

    I’d love to see a blog post entitled “LinkedIn Speaks: 10 Tough Questions from Users”. Wishful thinking?

  5. Scott,

    You asked “@Anonymous can “corporations” really even use LinkedIn?”

    I don’t know. I was trying to figure out if you meant paying or free-account customers. You’re the one who said they’re listening to their corporate customers. 😉

    I have no reason to doubt your perceptions they listen to corporate customers, but despite what Mario said in his post (which wasn’t visible when I posted mine), I don’t believe for one nano-second that Linkdedin listens to paying individual customers any more than they listen to non-paying individual customers. That is to say that IMHO, Linkedin doesn’t LISTEN to individuals.

    What Linkedin seems to listen to is “potential ‘PR’ problems” and then responds to the ones it appears to fear, e.g. your post.

    Is this the first time Mario has shown up on your blog?

    You hit the nail on the head (Mar 31, 2008 at 1:27 am, a,b,c): Linkedin doesn’t give any sign that it hears or cares about the INDIVIDUAL users. If it looks like a duck, “quack quack”, assume it’s a duck until proved it’s a puma.

    “the individuals own their data that’s in LinkedIn”

    You think so? Better look more closely at the 2nd sentence under “Information Provided on this Website” in their Terms of Use.

    Back to your point though on corporations. Yes, a corporation can be a “user”. They just act through the agent-employee. If Linkedin listens to ACME Widget’s John Doe user but wouldn’t hear John Doe, the individual, blowing a fog horn in their ear then you know the corp is the important customer.

    Oh, and your April Fool’s post is sadly believable.

  6. When you see some of these other sites come out and have a much better design, look and feel its hard not to agree with you. LinkedIn could be a lot more functional i think. Now learning that over 200 people work at LinkedIn (from your post) I do not understand why they have not updated their site. Couldn’t they add a better messaging or posting section too?

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