Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Saving LinkedIn

Don't get it twisted -- I am a huge fan of LinkedIn. Quite frankly, when I watch eager young recruiters work their networks of middle-management players from top notch companies, I get a little jealous. Back in the 90's, when I was a researcher for an excellent executive search firm, I would have given my left shoe for a tool like LI. Instead, I found candidates by searching outdated CD-Roms (the updates would arrive monthly), old vendor directories and college alumni books. Mostly, I used the phone. It was painstaking work, but I loved it. LI makes it too easy for the young 'uns.

So why am I griping about LI on the day it proudly announces that it has secured a boatload of benjamins from the venture capital peeps and is coyly avoiding the topic of IPOs? Because I am afraid. I am afraid that LI's value proposition is eroding, even as I write. Those young whippersnapper recruiters...they are promiscuous networkers. Which means those legions of middle-management types from top notch companies will soon tire of the endless requests to network, the irrelevant inmails, the e-mails begging them to pass along the long-winded job descriptions.

In today's interview on CNBC, the new CEO touts LinkedIn's solid revenue streams: advertising, subscriptions, job postings and corporate sales (we will reserve my thoughts about the corporate product for another time). Danger, Will Robinson. Your revenue streams are dependent on an active and engaged population of networkers. But your core customers -- recruiters and sales people -- threaten to chase away the audience. Remember listservs? They were great, until a couple of blow-hards and the sales-bots would join and render the lists uninteresting.
So what's missing? First off all, LinkedIn's core management team lacks anyone from the industry it serves. Lots of smart folks with experience at hip companies, but absolutely no one with a background in staffing, recruitment technology, or sourcing. What up with that? We're good enough to spend money on your products, but not good enough to help you develop and market great products?
Second -- and I hate to say it -- but the serial networkers have got to go. This shallow bunch will ruin it for the rest of us. Send us back to the days of CD-roms, phone books and rusing (which I never did; however, I did once buy a hardcopy corporate directory from a guy known simply as "Danny from Brazil". I never knew how he got the directory. I hope St. Peter doesn't hold this against me.)
Lastly, I am afraid LI will have to start thinking about content. Keeping those middle-management types engaged enough to invite their cubemates. Recruiters need a constant supply of fresh meat.
So, Dan Nye, I've got more of these useful tidbits -- accept my invitation!

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