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Fixing LinkedIn

LinkedIn has been the winner in the business social network for many years. But over the last few years it’s gone from an asset to a major pain. I have to spend more and more time every few days dealing with LinkedIn messages and requests to connect.

LinkedIn is still the first place I go to see who people are, and because of its dominance most professionals seek to maintain a profile there.

I know that ‘if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold’, but if I am the product being mined I think LinkedIn could create more value for its shareholders by looking after its users as well. To be blunt, its network management tools suck.

Rather than dwell on the problems, here is a list of improvements I’d love LinkedIn to make. In order that the right people see this list I’m going to mention Deep Nishar, Senior Vice President, Products and User Experience at LinkedIn. Hopefully this will pop up in his Google alerts and maybe he’ll even respond. Hi Deep *waves*.

Establish a new circle of ‘People I don’t know, but should meet some day’

I get a lot of people wanting to connect to me. If I connect then people assume I do actually know them and the referral network is broken. There should be a circle of people I actually know, and a circle of people I should know but haven’t actually met yet.

If I can protect the circle of people I actually know then my referral is much more powerful.

When travelling it would be great to filter by my planned trip location to see ‘people I don’t know, but should meet someday’ so I can get to know them. I have hundreds of people in my network that I’d love the opportunity to meet if I have a few spare hours while travelling. That would make trips much more effective and unlock countless opportunities.

Be truly global
LinkedIn is still very US centric. I’ve been a LinkedIn member since the beginning. I live in New Zealand and this is the list of locations that I see on each search.

It would be great if LinkedIn remembered where I was, where I go and gave me some better geographic tools that allowed me to see where my network is and plan to meet people as I travel.

Own Conferences
I meet hundreds of people at conferences. The modern conference starts months before the event and relationships can continue for years after. Being able to quickly create a conference, get people to join that group and making it super easy to see others at the event would clean up a big part of my network.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a timeline view of your network so you can see the events you attended over time and the people you met at those events. It would make it much easier to follow up on opportunities when you’re doing your post-event follow-up.

I’m involved with a number of schools and universities that want to recapture their relationship with alumni for community building, inspiration and fund raising purposes. Making it super easy for schools, colleges, universities and other institutions to create yearly groups and even provide an online certification of  attainments could see a massive network effect.

Each institution should have a set of tools on LinkedIn that allows them to manage their presence. Potentially APIs would allow them to have current and former students log into their page or own website and link their LinkedIn Profile to their Academic register. This would provide massive benefit to the institution as it creates a reason for Alumni to connect. Professionals would be motivated to do it as their achievements would be validated.

In other words create the other side of this. Make this a hard connection to the Institution.

People love badges. Give the institutions tools to manage their Alumini and I’m sure you’ll see a powerful network effect.

Network curation
It’s far too hard to remove or degrade people in your network. With a  set of curation tools the quality of networks can be managed, which must have benefit to LinkedIn.

When accepting requests I want the criteria for a contact request to be strict. They have to accurately link so the contact can be correctly placed in my network and I want to set those attributes. I also want to be able to process 20 connections at a time very effectively. Right now I have to dive into each one to see who they are. A better design that allowed me to  see at a glance how people know me would help. I’d like to not see anyone who tries to connect without a custom message. That’s just contact spam.

From time to time, maybe once a year I may want to move people around as they move in and out of my close network. Google is doing a much better job with circles but this could be so much better and more useful.

Be classy
Please LinkedIn stop pushing dumb stuff into my stream. What am I supposed to do with this …

What benefit does this give me? You must have also done something with start date anniversaries because now I’m getting spammed on that. Please just stop these usage initiatives that are quantity rather than quality. Get your network working.

Design your workflows
LinkedIn now takes me several minutes a day. It’s become painful. Seeing how people use LinkedIn would reveal some obvious workflow improvements that could make LinkedIn a delight.  Some of the recent designs have been shockers.

Sure enough, over the weekend I was checking out someone that emailed me and rather than typing in the Search box, I typed their name in the ‘Share an update…” box. Not just embarrassing for all but you can imagine how much damage that could incur for multiple parties if you broadcast a potential candidate to the world.

Wrap up
I’d be interested in anyone else’s suggestions to make LinkedIn better. I don’t see any realistic competition coming anytime soon for LinkedIn so I hope they see these suggestions and make LinkedIn a delightful experience. Even if we are ultimately the product.

Rod Drury is CEO of Xero.

Comments and questions

NBR have locked this article to subscribers, so I don't know that Google alerts or Deep will ever be able to see it!
Great article - I agree, LinkedIn has lots of unrealised potential, I lead INSEAD's NZ Alumni Association, and would be great to have some better tools to manage networks such as this - at the moment it is frustrating and over-complicated.

Hi Matt,
If it doesn't have a padlock, it means its free to non-member subscribers.
The Publisher

I can see what Rod is saying but he must realise that being a billionaire means he is a lot more popular than most of us - who would never get any benefit out of most of his suggested modifications.

Some great ideas there Rod. The idea of different "circles" for people you've met and those you haven't, but would like to some day, already exists on Google+. Now I'll just wait for 1 million kiwis to join G+ (might be some time...)

You said it yourself, Rod. They don't have any realistic competition at the moment, so where is the incentive to improve user experience?

Some interesting comments Rod and I agree, Google does do things a little better (read cleaner) in the use of circles on Google + as Jonathan mentioned.

Location based search for New Zealand is there - just type in "new zea" and these will automatically be shown however this is user driven and relies on the user to input in their profile exactly where they are located.

LinkedIn CheckIn is a great product that you could use for conferences, building groups and networks.

Lastly connecting to people you don't know is not necessarily a "bad" thing, but this depends on what you use LinkedIn for. As a recruitment tool, connecting to "relevant" people you have not yet met allows you access to untapped talent pools / networks + increases your brand and job posting reach being shared across a wider network.

I agree Rod, also LinkedIn is not describing the real value we offer. Has LinkedIn merely become a hygiene issue? You have to have a profile because everyone else has one? Network effect should kick in here and make the experience more valuable to everyone in the network, or is it now just glorified spam as you mention? Professional network management needs good tools and LinkedIn is not quite doing it, but it could, especially with some of the enhancements you mention.

I agree, its become of marginal use considering the work you have to put into it accepting invitations, making endorsements etc - I've turned off all the updates because they are such a pain in the ass. It is a shame no one is taking LinkedIn on in a big way - there has to be a better way.

Rod, they won't bother for all the reasons outlined above. It is up to you my friend. Xero + is called for.
What kills Linked In for me is that the mine every conceivable connection of mine and then when I come to sign in they make like they don't know who I am!!!!!!

Great suggestions Rod.

Has anyone heard of anyone anywhere getting a job because they were on LinkedIn?

It's a good networking tool and search tool for old work associates, but I'd never take much notice of the skills attributed to people by others and themselves!

Great comments Rod. I particularly agree with the issue of endorsements and I find it hard to believe that people who I now have very little contact with are endorsing me for skills and expertise. I ignore all such endorsements. I also agree with your comments about connection requests from people who I have not met and who I have never even heard of. While I do not wish to appear rude I see no value in simply increasing my contact list just for the sake of it. Let's hope that LinkedIn take notice of your comments.

For me, the only time LinkedIn adds value is when I want a job, want to know more about someone I'm considering for a job, or want to ask for serious business advice rather than the sort of stuff I'll get if I ask on Fb. So broadly, I agree with Simon at #6 - it's pretty much "hygeine" most of the time.

I also agree with Rod on many points - notably those blasted anniversaries. I don't care that Fred has been in his job for 5 years today; it adds no value to me, and if I send him a "congratulations" message, it'll just be spam for him. I understand the motivation for LinkedIn doing that, but the reality doesn't work.

Great list Rod. I share many of your frustrations. The major issue I have with endorsements is the blue box that appears on the home page suggesting you endorse people for skills that LinkedIn's algorithm has deemed they have. If you had to go into someone's profile to endorse them for a skill then you'd be doing so for something they had actually listed and you'd be making a bit of an effort to do so - perhaps that might make this more meaningful.

The other things I'd like to see LinkedIn improve are the ability to easily see others' updates - i.e. the updates a specific person has shared (they've recently taken that away or are in the process of doing so and are testing it with a number of members) and the ability to search across the platform for topics of interest and mentions of you (again, you used to be able to do these things with Signal but there doesn't seem to be a way to do so since it's been deleted). If anyone has found a way around these things, please let me know!

Brilliant article, I really hope LinkedIn see this an make some changes. It has so much potential, but it's failing to tap into a lot of opportunities at the moment.

Yep, Some great thoughts and gets my vote for the type of additional features.

Some great suggestions Rod - particularly the events one, as you know would make my life easier. Totally agree re endorsements - I even posted asking the network not to endorse me but of course posts get obsolete very quickly. Haven't figured out yet how to delete contacts or endorsements - takes way too much of my precious time to mine the site for information.

Great article. The time taken in writg this explains why you haven't answered my last email to you !

Rod's wishlist is quite long. But at least one of his proposals would indeed be a fantastic improvement: That Linkedin knows where I currently am and shows my connections accordingly. And that I can e.g. tell Linkedn that I'll be in NY on the 12th and then see my Linkedin connections in the area.