Will LinkedIn Leapfrog the Competition or Lose Its Differentiation?

We are witnessing a fairly rapid evolution of social media networks as Facebook, Twitter, and now LinkedIn make substantial changes to their features and appearance. The most dramatic change, however, may well be to LinkedIn, the network that has long distinguished itself as strictly for business and professional use.

LinkedIn introduced a new feature in early 2012, LinkedIn Today, which effectively served up news tailored to a user’s preferences. The site upgraded the look and feel of the product in May, and just last week added two new features to LinkedIn Today: “Commenting & Liking,” and “Trending in Your Network.” According to the LinkedIn blog, “These two new features, together with the existing customizable news feed, allow members to not only narrow down the most timely and relevant information when needed, but to also gather valuable insights about other like-minded individuals within their professional networks and beyond.”

A Redesign with an Eye Toward Reinvention

But that isn’t the biggest news. LinkedIn is in the process of implementing a redesign that may help to reinvent the social network. TechCrunch first reported  last week, “Judging by the number of tips we’ve already received on the new look (and those that we’ve spotted discussing it online), it could move from test phase to wider rollout in a matter of weeks.”

What’s the big deal with the redesign? As the “first major update in years,” the redesign is part of a “bigger strategic move… towards more simplification,” writes Ingrid Lunden of TechCrunch. Lunden says the “aesthetic improvements” are just part of the story; there are likely to be “alogorithmic changes, where ease of use will be coupled with content that LinkedIn members actually want to use…”

The new design was publicly revealed via at least one user who discovered a changed home page. Several modifications were obvious, such as a new menu bar with greater contrast in the navigation areas, more prominent images in the LinkedIn Today section, and more opportunities to send messages.

On July 16, Caroline Gaffney, a product manager at LinkedIn, admitted on the company blog that “we’ve started to roll out a simpler and easier way to navigate [the] Homepage experience that offers quick access to the relevant information and updates that help you be great at your job,” among them, “a newer, simpler, and more modern design”… “more relevant updates on top”… and “a richer, cleaner update stream.” She added that the new homepage is “rolling out to all members over the next few weeks.”

A Break with Twitter

Adding functionality that allows for more information sharing within LinkedIn was an impending necessity. Just recently, LinkedIn announced to its members that tweets from Twitter would no longer be automatically posted to the LinkedIn social network. The reverse, however, is still possible: LinkedIn updates can be automatically shared through Twitter.

Why the change? Lunden writes, “Those tweets, we’ve heard, produced a ton of content on LinkedIn, but not necessarily content relevant to the professional network. That says two things: there is a hole to be filled, and an opportunity to fill it in a way that is better than what came before.”

Facebook Faces LinkedIn Head On

When it comes to members, Facebook dwarfs LinkedIn (900-plus million to 160-plus million), but Facebook’s recent actions suggest it is well aware of LinkedIn’s specialized networking power. According to Forbes, “Facebook announced that it has partnered with at least three jobs sites – BranchOut, Jobvite and Work4Labs – which could slowly transform the world’s most popular social network into a full-scale job site.”

Facebook’s move into job-posting might seem to present a competitive problem for LinkedIn, but Facebook would have to make a dramatic shift in its business model to be able to trump LinkedIn’s business/professional orientation. LinkedIn’s profile system alone, which essentially allows members to build a rich electronic resume complete with recommendations, would likely be challenging to replicate.

Uneasy Coexistence

Right now, LinkedIn has its place among social media networks. It owns a well-defined, differentiated position. But by starting down the path of redesigning its look and adding more messaging capability, the business and professional network may start to feel a lot more like Facebook. That leads Forbes to wonder: “Will this be what the company needs to rise above its social media competitors? Or will it prove to be a mistake that tarnished the company’s impeccable image?”

Here’s what Caroline Gaffney wrote on the LinkedIn blog: “This is just the beginning of many more exciting, new features we plan to bring to the Homepage to offer more customization and functionality this year.” Sounds like LinkedIn isn’t afraid to mix it up with the other social media big guns.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

One Response to Will LinkedIn Leapfrog the Competition or Lose Its Differentiation?

  1. The key to staying relevant in the social media space is to continue to evolve or you run the risk of going the MySpace route. LinkedIn is a useful social network that stands apart becuase the content is much more focused. The new layout could generate more frequent visits from users.