LinkedIn: The “upgrade” that wasn’t…

Apply linkedinThe last time I wrote something critical about LinkedIn, their PR company at the time approached me and asked me to “come in and share your ideas”. I did and met some very nice people, including some folks from LinkedIn. It was a nice session but somehow it felt like I was being talked at rather than listened to. Suffice to say not much changed.

Fast forward 4 years and I’m doing it again, although this time I don’t expect to get a tap on the shoulder, let alone be listened to. One look at the current (new) activity stream and there is one common thread running through it – the new interface and, possibly more controversially, the new structure for paid linkedIn accounts and what you can expect for your money. Not a lot it seems if, like me, you have been a member of LinkedIn Since 2004, one of the first million members in the UK and a paying “Business” account member for most of that time.

There’s not much to say about the new interface except its been a long time coming as a result, feels very web 2.0. It feels like they are just catching up when the rest of the digital world is about to move on again. The handoff and integration between mobile and the desktop is still clumsy and page rendering now seems to assume everyone has a fibre pipe running into their laptop. Perhaps by the time LinkedIn delivers us something truly amazing we might have. But by then…

I also don’t have much to say either about the popular complaint that “LinkedIn is getting more like Facebook everyday”. (Actually, the truth is, Facebook is probably getting more like LinkedIn, but that’s another story.) LinkedIn’s progression to cat video’s is nothing more than, well, progress. As the social web matures – and it’s still happening – the blending of the different platforms is inevitable. In fact, expect the social landscape to look very different in 5 or 10 years. I have my doubts that distinct brands won’t even exist as they do today. But that too is another story.

What I do feel compelled to have a say about is the way the account types have changed and, more importantly, the way the standard features have changed across the account types. I’ve been a ‘Business’ account holder for many many years, enjoying a reasonable array of features that allowed me to build and extend my network. The search facility allowed me to find interesting people and all in all, I thought the roughly £16 I was paying a month was worth the investment. Even though, in engagement terms, LinkedIn was not, and has not been, a destination I spend a huge amount in.

But now I face a real dilemma. Whilst my Business account status remains, without warning my account has been stripped of key features that I have enjoyed for these past years and the only way to get them back is to upgrade to a new ‘Premium’ account. At a not too shabby cost of an extra £20 per month. Yes thats £36 in total. an increase of around 125% For what, exactly? Where the rest of the world add features in return for additional subs, LinkedIn seems to have cornered a new business model. Take them away!

Maybe thats the problem here. Maybe there were no new features to offer, no more innovation, leaving them with no choice but to simply implement a huge price hike and cut loose ‘unprofitable’ accounts such as mine under the guise of an “upgrade”. Who knows. The point is that LinkedIn seem to have forgotten what made them great in the first place, what provided for their growth and status as the world’s number one business network. Yes, the “network”. It appears the lure of monetising the network has lead to a complete failure to acknowledge that without it, they are nothing.

LinkedIn are merely a bunch of curators with some average software, profiting on the back of you and I. And you know what?  I would be ok with that as I potentially have a lot to gain from it. So much so I don’t mind paying. But to lose sight of me and what I represent, and instead focus all your energy on how to exploit the network for fiscal gain is just plain arrogance. Or stupidity. I cant make up my mind which it is.

But who am I to criticise? I’m merely a lowly member, scratching out a living over here in London. No doubt Reid Hoffman and his fellow board members would say that having just pocketed $26bn, in cash, they must be doing something right. LinkedIn has the potential to be my personal kick ass CRM, to be omnipresent in my daily activity and to drive such value that, yes, I may consider paying a decent premium for. Even £36 a month. But it completely fails to live up to that potential and, with this new “upside downgrade” has just moved a whole huge step further away.

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