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 of 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.