LinkedIn's Crucial Role in Social Media - Network Week
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Dane Feldman

By Dane Feldman

Photos courtesy of Link Humans UK.

I first activated my LinkedIn account when I was a freshman in college, and in the years since then I have probably logged in somewhere between 50-100 times (though likely far closer to 50). I suppose I did not find much use for it, or perhaps I’ve been using it incorrectly.

In a recent attempt to get myself reacquainted with this social media platform, I spent some time noodling around. During the first 15 minutes, I viewed my own profile, clicked on some of my connections’ profiles, and added a few more connections. My laptop froze once and I received three error messages. Despite my technical problems, when I asked my Facebook community about its experience with LinkedIn, much to my surprise, at least half of the responses were overwhelmingly positive.

The first person to recommend LinkedIn to me was my mother, who, in the professional realm, is Senior Vice President and Director of Public Affairs at a global benefits consulting firm. When I first built a profile, I didn’t realize LinkedIn functions as more than just an online resume. While my mother does not do recruiting, recruiters at her company post job openings on LinkedIn and often hire people who apply via the social media platform.

Again, I was surprised; I have spent years thinking LinkedIn is a platform that never took off – a failed commodity, if you will. Initially, I planned to delve into why that is, but I discovered exactly why that isn’t.

As it turns out, LinkedIn, which first launched in 2002, now has more than 92 million users in the United States alone and 259 million users globally. According to Forbes, the company’s year-end revenue in 2011 was approximately $500,000 million, a number that doubled by the end of 2012. By the end of this year, LinkedIn expects a revenue increase of somewhere between 25 and 45 percent.

LinkedIn may be considered part of the “top 5 social networks“, but it still falls behind Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter in growth, global users, and engagement. It is currently growing at about 30 percent over 9 months, while Google+ is growing at 35 percent, YouTube at 37 percent, and Twitter at an astounding 40 percent.

LinkedIn falls further behind in global users with under 20 percent, while Twitter has over 30 percent, YouTube and Google+ have over 40 percent, and Facebook captures just over 60 percent of internet users worldwide. When it comes to engagement, a staggering 49 percent of LinkedIn users were inactive in Q1 of 2013, compared to 38 percent of Twitter users and 18 percent of Facebook users.

Photo courtesy of Luc Legay.

While it is true that LinkedIn will likely never take off the way Facebook has since the latter’s famous 2004 launch date, it is important to note that LinkedIn serves an almost entirely different purpose. Yes, it’s true that LinkedIn will never be Facebook, however it’s also likely that Facebook will never be LinkedIn.

Some users claim that LinkedIn is far more impersonal than other social media sites, how the interface and userability aren’t nearly as fluid as they ought to be, or that the network isn’t fun like Facebook. I can’t argue with these opinions as I have felt the same way right along. Further, I find the LinkedIn app tedious and the website a bit clustered.

Regardless, LinkedIn offers us something the other sites don’t: it’s a professional platform, and one we desperately need. The New York Times calls it the “networking breakfast moved into a virtual world,” also pointing out that users may not realize LinkedIn’s benefits because they tend to use it incorrectly. It seems I’ve been guilty of poor usage, which is likely why my experience felt fruitless. The network offers us a platform for building the resume of the future or, as co-founder Allen Blue put it, “the next-generation resume.” Providing these kinds of opportunities, and with the community of so many other users, cultivating a notable LinkedIn account is key to ensuring we stand out amongst the crowd, a prospect I’ve been missing out on.

Moreover, according to feedback from my Facebook community, properly using the tools LinkedIn offers has meant not only wonderful job and internship opportunities, but also connections and networks that might not have been made otherwise for people my age.

One Facebook friend, and former high school classmate of mine, worked as a recruiter for Michael Kors, where she used LinkedIn as a tool for “searching for talent,” which proved to be wildly successful. Not only did LinkedIn allow her to bring in interviewees, it was also how she found her own job in the first place “without an interview — just a resume and a referral.” Another Facebook friend landed a paid summer internship with Urban Outfitters via LinkedIn.

Furthermore, I was impressed to find that age didn’t factor in quite as much as I expected. When compared with Facebook, the numbers seem practically interchangeable. Users age 16 to 24 make up 27 percent of Facebook and 19 percent of LinkedIn. Those who are 25 to 34 comprise 30 percent of Facebook and 32 percent of LinkedIn. People age 35 to 44 make up 21 percent of Facebook and 23 percent of LinkedIn. Those second two percentage comparisons are, as I said, nearly interchangeable. The first is almost self-explanatory. High school and college students are far less likely to need a professional profile than people post-college.

Let’s not be so quick to judge LinkedIn from here on out. While the site remains cluttered and a bit far from seamless, its functionality is too important to ignore. Forget job fairs; LinkedIn is the place to be and it doesn’t require a suit – though a professional headshot may help.

recommendations