LinkedIn just joined the elite double digital social networking club, celebrating its 10th birthday.
This is no easy feat in a world where digital users are fickle and Internet communities turn uncool over night. While once a job-hunting destination, the site is redefining its offerings to include mobile apps, integrated ads, content channels, and so much more.
LinkedIn has more than 200 million users and a staff working away in some 25 offices around the world. Your account now features news from mainstream organizations and influential bloggers, with recommendations about who you might want to follow and which jobs you might like. The newly added channels feature a couple of dozen content categories, including Social Impact, Higher Education, and Big Ideas & Innovation. One classic feature includes your whopping LinkedIn stats, connections often reaching far into the tens ofthousands if you include your broadest digital network.
Spreading one's social networking wings is a must to stay fresh in today's economy. However, there is always the risk of doing too much too quickly, especially from a design standpoint. Think back to (gasp) Myspace. The site eventually looked like it had been in a barfight, dripping with ugly custom pages and flashing animated GIFs. They've since cleaned up their act, but they have still fallen off the list of top social sites over the past few years as they too celebrate 10 years online.
Facebook hasn't exactly figured things out, either. Part business platform. Part high school playground. Part reality TV show. The site just for friends has endured its own identity crisis since its inception, perhaps due to Mark Zuckerberg's preference for hacking together new features and launching them even if they are far from perfect. As for privacy? Ha, the privacy setting labyrinth takes no prisoners. Fortunately for Zuck and his team, more than a billion people are willing to play along. For now.
Clearly there is much more value in LinkedIn for business professionals than either Myspace or Facebook, so to compare the two is somewhat unfair. What is interesting is how each of the sites is maturing to serve new audiences, or at least old audiences that are getting older.
LinkedIn has always run the risk of being like a glorified Yellow Pages for professionals, a place to look people up and click to connect (and then move on to having conversations on Twitter). With newly added content channels keeping users engaged for longer, the company is learning how to gain that elusive online sticky factor. Their mobile upgrades as of late are compelling, offering a beautiful experience for on-the-go networkers. As for ads, online communities are proving patient as they still get many features for free. Speaking of which, LinkedIn has done the best job of any social network to date in generating membership revenue.
As LinkedIn moves into the next decade, the risks right now include churning out a large quantity of content that falls short on quality. They are already regularly using their roster of high-profile bloggers to drive users to check out new posts, but upon arrival the depth of the content doesn't necessarily live up to the hype, instead you're greeted with a 200-word brain dump and a pretty picture (before you count, this post is closer to 700 words!).
The other risk is proving the site's value. When paying for a membership, it takes time to see a return on that investment (and some never stick it out long enough to see that return). LinkedIn could do more work on that end to educate users about tactics for doing business and getting business done within its community.
Finally, too many LinkedIn users still ignore messages and connection requests, opting instead to continue to focus on email as their primary form of communication, which is not an easy habit to change.
So what is LinkedIn today? The truth is that, if you look past the bells and whistles, it's still the place for savvy business professionals who want to connect. If they stay on that course and cater to that community, they could be the first big Web 2.0 social network to hit the big 2-0.
[Image: Flickr user Mark Rowland]