The Ultimate Sting: Is it time to bail on LinkedIn?

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I have two blogs for which I write on a regular basis – my first one, which I started in May 2007, currently has 22,098 followers, while the second, which was launched in May 2013 for the European market, already has 17,497 followers. The former has been recognized as one of the top 25 blogs in its sector, with numerous posts over the years being picked-up by publications around the world. I also have an Internet radio show in which featured segments are downloaded approximately 30,000 times in the 24 to 48 hours immediately following the live broadcast.

Even though there is no shortage of opportunities to do what I love, when LinkedIn launched its new publishing platform earlier this year, my initial reaction was one of both interest and anticipation.

Interest in that it offered a new venue through which I could write about topics outside of my core industry. In essence it provided an artistic license to share my thoughts on everything from corporate takeovers to Big Brother.

The anticipation part came into play when several of my earlier posts garnered a fairly decent response.

For example, my May 19th article Are Women Really Better At Negotiating Than Men? had more than 18,000 views, 289 likes and 227 comments. Other posts on topics from literacy and million dollar napkins to Walmart, produced equally promising numbers.

As one of the first on LinkedIn to be invited to post on the new publishing platform, I was not only curious as to how this level of activity was being generated but, how it would be maintained once the field of contributors was extended to all LinkedIn members.

In a somewhat vague response to my question, a representative from LinkedIn indicated that being featured in various groups such as Careers: Getting Started was important, and that such placement was determined by a combination of algorithms and editorial review. In short, post success in terms of the number of reads was a product of a nondescript science calculation and an individual group editor’s gut instinct. Something like the science behind the use of a divining stick to locate water.

Once again, given that LinkedIn’s publishing platform for me personally was more of a hobby as opposed to being a vital connecting point with the world, the answer sufficed. But . . . and there is always a but, I could not help but wonder what the impact would be on those who see LinkedIn as an important medium for actually building their brand?

Over the past several weeks I started to get an idea of what the answer to this question would be when I was contacted by an increasing number of people wondering what had happened on LinkedIn. The “what” to which I am referring is the proverbial bottom falling out relative to a steadily declining number of reads.

My first response was to ask them if they were still being featured in groups? Surprisingly many were. The only thing that had changed, was that the numbers which were once in the thousands, were now in the hundreds.

Sting Set-up

The Set-Up

We live and work in a world that is becoming increasingly connected.

In his May 16th, 2014 article The Internet of Things and M2M – Some Predictions for a Bubbly Next Few Years, Tony Rizzo talked about the fact that by “2020 wearable technology alone will be generating 1.2 zettabytes (yes, zettabytes) of data.”

For social networks such as LinkedIn, they have to continuously reinvent themselves to maintain relevance to their membership base.  However, and speaking from the perspective of someone who joined LinkedIn back in 2007, the changes of late have been more pronounced in that they reflect a major shift in platform direction.

Long gone are the polls and Q&A functions that enabled members to connect more directly with one another on important issues.  Instead, and perhaps recognizing the emergence of content-based marketing as a means of building a brand and driving sales, LinkedIn made a decision to become a hybrid publishing platform.  In other words, simply facilitating interaction was no longer enough.  Providing the means to broker content to a potentially large membership base became the focus.

In a world where content is indeed king, they had to do something more than simply place a virtual pen in everyone’s hand.  After all, who wants to read a self-promoting advertisement for the latest gadget, let alone suffer through the intolerable ramblings of the strongly opinionated but ill-informed blow hard.  Or to put it another way, creating a publishing platform in and of itself wasn’t going to be enough,  LinkedIn had to become the defacto knowledge source for business intelligence and insight.

The question is how do you attract true INfluencers while at the same time avoid alienating every ersatz Hemmingway?

There has to be a hook, but what is it?

The answer was surprisingly simple.

Sting The Hook

The Hook

By gradually inviting LinkedIn members to begin writing posts that would provide them with the opportunity to reach a previously unimaginable number of people, the network could test the new model under favorable circumstances.

With an initially smaller pool of contributors, and thus fewer options, reader numbers for individual posts would excitingly skyrocket, thus creating an industry buzz along the line of; “look how many people read, liked and commented on my post”!

Besides becoming the hot medium for not only existing but potentially new members, when the established journalists saw that LinkedIn could provide them with access to a new and bigger audience, and do so with a more immediate gratification return, they too would surely jump on the LinkedIn bandwagon.  After all, whether you are a pro or a wannabe, everyone is looking for that echo of acknowledgement and recognition from an audience.  Considering themselves to be the true masters of literary prose, there was no way that citizen-type journalists were going to bask in their rightful spotlight of big readership numbers!

I am certain that has this new model gained momentum, even those who hatched this most brilliant of schemes did not anticipate the response they would ultimately receive.

But along the lines of the old saying that “what goes up must inevitably come down” – in this instance readership numbers – the other shoe as they say was about to drop.

Sting The Sting

The Sting

Even though I do not have access to the actual numbers, nor am I privy to the ratio of INfluencers to regular member activity in terms of reads per individual posts, one thing is becoming abundantly clear . . . the heady days of literary success for the majority of LinkedIn contributors is definitely over.

Let’s face it, there is only so much room in the collective spotlight, especially when you are trying to build a true knowledge-driven platform that is recognized as a legitimate source of information and insight.  So with little more than a dismissive pat on the head and a you should be thankful for the 15 minutes we gave you – now move on, cold shoulder, the traditional publishing world’s equilibrium within the LinkedIn platform has returned to its normal tilt.

I am certain for most, this will have been a blip experience that conjures up wistful reminiscences of the good old days when they were, if only for a brief moment, a real writer.

For many, many more however, their LinkedIn experience is just beginning.  For these later contributors who, like someone showing up for a New Years Eve party after the clock has struck twelve, the realization that they missed the big event will likely hit them hard.  I am certain that the good people at LinkedIn may not have fully considered the potential backlash of disappointment and frustration, and what it may ultimately mean to their brand down the road.

In this regard, I believe my father was right on the money when he used to say that the ends rarely justify the means.

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