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10 Things LinkedIn Won’t Tell You

What you don't know about the professional networking site can hurt you 


(This appeared previously on MarketWatch.) 

Even the most-seasoned LinkedIn users may not know everything about the professional networking site. Here are 10 things you may not know and how to make the site work better for you:

1. We say social network, you say jobs site

LinkedIn markets itself as a “social network and online platform for professionals” and is often mentioned in the same breath as Facebook and Twitter, but analysts say that it’s more of a traditional jobs site than a social network. Indeed, many people spend time rejecting “I’d like to connect” invitations from total strangers.

“It’s not a social network at all,” says Jeremy Roberts, editor of SourceCon, a blog and conference series for recruiters. “You’ve got Facebook for family, Twitter for reading the news and sharing opinions and LinkedIn for work. But LinkedIn is not a social network.” He compares it to a jobs board such as Monster, CareerBuilder and Glassdoor. “It’s more of a human resources tool serving corporations rather than consumers,” Roberts says.

(MORE: 13 Ways to Get the Most Out of LinkedIn)

 
A jobs site doesn’t earn as much money from advertisers as a social network. Last October, LinkedIn reported third-quarter revenue growth of 45 percent year-over-year to $568 million; 61 percent of that came from “talent solutions” where recruiters and corporations pay to engage with potential talent. “Marketing solutions” (advertising sales) contributed 19 percent and “premium subscriptions” accounted for 20 percent. In contrast, over 90 percent of Facebook’s third-quarter $3.2 billion in revenue came from ads. LinkedIn reported a net loss of $4.3 million in the third quarter versus a net loss of $3.4 million for the same period a year ago (but posted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $151 million versus $93 million a year earlier.)
 
Others say LinkedIn — which has over 330 million members worldwide, 100 million of which are in the U.S. — meets the definition of both a social network and jobs site, as people join online groups within their industry and keep tabs on professional contacts. “You might be looking for a job, but we want to be able to give our members the tools to be better at their job as well,” says Crystal Braswell, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn. Sharing volunteer work, blogging on LinkedIn’s publishing platform and/or promoting causes close to your heart might bring you to the attention of a hiring manager, she says. “It’s not just about the skill fit, but also about the cultural fit,” Braswell adds.
 
2. People don’t really hang out on LinkedIn
 
LinkedIn may have more members than Twitter’s registered 284 million monthly active users (although less than Facebook’s 1.35 billion). But people don’t spend very much time hanging around — and more time spent on a website means more ad revenue. Members using mobile devices spent between 14 minutes and 20 minutes a month on LinkedIn during October, November and December 2014, according to the “Electronic Mobile Measurement” released to MarketWatch by research group Nielsen, a survey based on passive monitoring of 30,000 mobile subscribers and 5,000 panelists. This compares to more than one hour on Twitter and around 10 hours on Facebook.

(MORE: LinkedIn Mistakes That Make You Look Bad)

 
“People don’t really spend a lot of time on LinkedIn,” says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. People browse Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds for the latest news and updates from their friends and celebrities, but LinkedIn’s newsfeed tends to trend more toward work anniversaries, updates about the latest work/life issues and stories about using LinkedIn to network.

“I get about five emails a day that I just delete without reading,” Sackett says. “Certain in-demand professionals like IT professionals get swarmed with recruiting requests and they try to make themselves as private as possible.”

 
The quality of the time spent is more important, especially on a mobile device, Braswell says. “LinkedIn helps people to become more productive,” she adds. “The length of time is less of a focus than making sure we’re delivering the right value for that moment.“ LinkedIn holds its own when it comes to the percentage of adults with an Internet connection using the site (28 percent in 2014 and 20 percent in 2012), according to the Pew Research Internet Project. It ties with Pinterest (28 percent in 2014 and 15 percent in 2012), and has more adult users than both Instagram (26 percent and 13 percent) and Twitter (23 percent and 16 percent). Facebook rules the roost: 71 percent of adults were on the site in 2014 versus 67 percent in 2012.

(MORE: How Recruiters Screen You on LinkedIn)

 
3. Thanks for all the free content
 
Many LinkedIn users try to gild their professional reputation by publishing blog posts on the site, but few of these would-be viral publishers are likely to get the impact they’re looking for. “The number of connections you have does matter,” says John Bonini, content marketing manager of Impact Branding & Design in Wallingford, Conn., “but they probably don’t want people focusing on vanity metrics like that.” If you want to improve the search engine optimization of your name, company or blog, he says, it’s better to publish on your own site than on LinkedIn.
 
One reason is the sheer volume: LinkedIn publishes around 40,000 longform posts a week. Given the competition, LinkedIn’s news aggregator “Pulse” — which members can receive via email (depending on their settings) — is the golden egg for those hoping to go viral. The hope: They write something that catches the attention of their connections and, subsequently, it gets picked up by Pulse algorithms.

“It gets aggregated into everyone’s news feed,” Bonini says, “kind of like being on the front page of a newspaper. Your article can go from 100 views to 100,000 very quickly.“ But it isn’t easy to get that distribution. One solution: Many users “syndicate” posts on their own site by also posting it on LinkedIn, effectively giving away their content for free. “It’s a trade-off, especially for smaller companies,” Bonini adds.

 
Posts by regular members with just a few hundred connections can go viral, LinkedIn’s Braswell says. Kathy Caprino, a career coach and speaker, last year published “6 Toxic Behaviors that Push People Away,” which has garnered more than 2.8 million views. “Once they begin to post on LinkedIn and see the engagement that their posts can generate, a lightbulb goes off,” Braswell says.

LinkedIn has also handpicked around 500 “Influencers” like Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Posts like a recent one from Gates on three things he learned from Warren Buffett will almost always get bumper traffic.

 
4. Endorsements are only good for your ego
 
LinkedIn has made it easy for you to endorse people on the site, clicking on skills that you can add to a contact’s profile. When you accept an endorsement on LinkedIn, a new panel pops up: “Now it’s your turn. Endorse your connection.” But the more you endorse people for suggested skills, the more members pop up in their place.

Critics say this virtual back-scratching turns into a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole that might keep people on the site longer than they would have otherwise stayed, but results in having less meaning than Facebook’s “Like” button. “Because it’s so easy to endorse people, it’s a worthless metric,” Bonini says. “It creates this circle of reciprocation.”

 
There are other, better ways to make an impact on LinkedIn in the eyes of recruiters and — for those who do regard it as a social network — in the eyes of your peers. Employment experts suggest job hunters fill out any gaps in your work history and spell out your exact location so recruiters can find you. They suggest focusing on other parts of your profile: Using keywords (“president’s club” or “project manager”) instead of buzzwords (“marketing guru” or “sales ninja”) and making sure your job title is detailed (“mutual funds analyst” rather than “financial analyst”). They also advise joining groups on LinkedIn and participating in the conversation.
 
“Valid third-party recommendations are useful,” says Jenny Foss, president of the Ladder Recruiting Group in Portland, Ore. Recommendations — more detailed mini-references that appear on your profile — are especially useful if they’re written by a well-respected figure in your field.

“I have to take time out of my day to construct a recommendation for you,” Foss notes. “Sometimes they’re so good I will tell the corporate client to take a look at these recommendations.” LinkedIn’s Braswell says endorsements and recommendations help create a three-dimensional profile, but for those who are shy about endorsements, it’s possible to hide them without the person who gave the endorsement realizing it.

 
5. Our site is confusing
 
If the difference between endorsements and recommendations sounds confusing, it gets worse the deeper you get into the site. “Most people are very confused about how it works,” Foss says. “We all just grew up thinking about it as just an online resumé.”

One theory: LinkedIn can be overwhelming to users partly because it tries to fulfill so many different services for job seekers, companies and recruiters. LinkedIn rated No. 84 out of 90 on the “Global Brand Simplicity Index 2014” by New York-based brand growth firm Siegel + Gale. Users complained about the complex navigation and excessive emails from the site. (German discount supermarket Aldi was No. 1 for brand simplicity while global insurance giant AXA Insurance was No. 90.)

 
Online forums are full of complaints about how confusing it is to sign up. Jamila Rizvi, editor in chief of the Australian-based site Mamamia, wrote a comical account of her attempt to join, and inadvertently spamming her email contacts with invitations.

LinkedIn has memberships for job seekers or freelancers and recruiters or corporations. The former can choose free membership, “Job Seeker” ($29.99 a month) or “Business Plus” ($59.99 a month), which give varying degrees of access to other people on the site who are not among your contacts. The latter can choose “Sales Navigator Professional” ($79.99 a month) or “Recruiter Lite” ($119.95 a month).

 
Braswell says the perception of LinkedIn as a confusing site is “probably not an uncommon sentiment,” but says it’s been working over the last year to simplify navigation tools, declutter the newsfeed, make it easier for people to edit their profiles, redesign the home page “and bring the most useful information front and center so that people don’t have to do so much guesswork.”

Case in point: There used to be 12 premium subscription options and now there are only four. And earlier this month, LinkedIn rolled out a new search function that helps predict people you’re searching for based on your shared interests and groups, Braswell says.

 
6. We get a free pass when it comes to privacy
 
LinkedIn’s privacy policy is just as long as Facebook’s and is regularly updated, but analysts say the site’s constant data-mining doesn’t get as much attention as dating mining gets on Mark Zuckerberg’s social network. “We have this illusion that it’s an online platform that’s serving us,” says Bonini, the marketing manager. “We can publish our opinion, get known and apply for jobs. But it gets a free pass because it seems like there’s more in it for the user from the professional standpoint.”

LinkedIn has been successful at convincing users that public is better than private, he says. “It brings out the vanity in all of us,” Bonini says. Hence, all those unwanted invitations from networkers, salesmen and recruiters.

 
LinkedIn will collect information when you fill out a profile, sync with non-LinkedIn content, visit the site, use your account to sign in to other sites, and will collect information from devices and networks you use to access its services. Unlike Facebook or micro-blogging site Twitter, you can’t restrict access to your LinkedIn profile to just your own friends or contacts. “Any information you put on your profile and any content you post on LinkedIn may be seen by others,” the privacy policy states. Anyone who buys LinkedIn’s “Recruiter Lite” premium subscription has unlimited profile views in their extended network up to three degrees of separation (“3rd degree”) from their own contacts.
 
Of course, LinkedIn and Facebook are two very different animals. Facebook makes money from targeted advertising based on the family photos of its 1.35 billion members around the world, which brands they “Like” and where they’re going on vacation. LinkedIn profiles don’t typically contain such personal information and, as such, it makes money from selling access to recruiters. “We try to give you a level of control,” Braswell says. “Do you want your profile to be publicly viewable or locked down? For the most part, people want to be visible. You want opportunities to find you. What we do from there honors the settings of our members.”
 
7. Our needy members will creep you out
 
LinkedIn members often have something to sell when they contact you. Members usually connect with potential business contacts, people in their industry and/or potential employers. “People do want something when they email you,” says John Derrico, vice president of sales operations and client services at StatSocial, a social audience data and analytics firm in New York.

Only premium members get to see all of the people who have looked at their profile. And the mysterious silhouettes under “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” can spook some users. “That lack of visibility sticks out,” says Darren Hayes, director of cybersecurity and assistant professor at Pace University.

 
Some users crack under the pressure, and ignoring a request just isn’t enough. Last year, the International Association of Business Communicators in Cleveland revoked the “Communicator of the Year” award given to Kelly Blazek, who ran an online jobs bank. Blazek wrote a stinging rejection to a LinkedIn connection request from recent college graduate Diana Mekota: “Your invite is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old job seeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job.“ Blazek later apologized. Others want to help. “If I get 10 people looking at my profile and there’s one I can truly help, then it’s worthwhile,” Derrico says.
 
And it works both ways. Today’s overworked executive could be tomorrow’s job hunter, and LinkedIn members can adjust their own settings so people can’t see whose profiles they’re looking at. What’s more, members with free accounts can only see the most recent five people who’ve viewed their profile within the last 90 days, while premium account members can see everyone (as long as the other person’s settings allow people to see who they viewed).

Job hunters can also view the profile of the interviewer and make the most of those people who view them, Braswell says. “Don’t you want the potential hiring manager to know that you’ve done your homework?”

 
8. Fake profiles are getting out of control
 
LinkedIn is full of fake profiles, and some recruiting pros say the problem is getting worse. If a very attractive executive (physically and professionally) tries to make a connection with Sackett, the Michigan-based recruiter, he assumes it’s a “catfish,” a company or person that’s masquerading as an influential potential business contact. “They connect and start relationships, and then steal profile pictures from other people and pass them off as their own,” he says. They could also be salespeople or recruiters looking for contacts in the long grass.

“All you need is a Gmail address to sign up,” Sackett says. “There’s no way for LinkedIn to know how many of their users are fake.“

 
That said, there are ways for users to spot a fake LinkedIn profile. Suspicious members can do a reverse image search on TinEye.com or do a Google Search to see if it’s a stock photo, or if the same photo has been used elsewhere. If the profile’s work experience looks too good to be true — two jobs away from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, for example — chances are it’s fake.

They may have spelling mistakes, vague work experience and/or just a couple of endorsements (fembots or manbots don’t inspire compliments like real people). The drop-dead gorgeous fake profile might also ask for your resume, which contains the kind of information that is gold dust for scammers.

 
LinkedIn is not alone in facing a flood of phonies. Facebook recently estimated that between 5.5 percent and 11.2 percent of its profiles are fake; if that percentage applied to LinkedIn, it would equate to between 18 million and 37 million fake profiles. LinkedIn has also acknowledged the existence of fake profiles and says it’s trying to fix the problem.

The site has instructions on how LinkedIn users can report fake profiles. “We do not have a reliable system for identifying and counting duplicate or fraudulent accounts,” it said in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing. But some experts say fake profiles are a bigger threat to LinkedIn than Facebook or Twitter, because LinkedIn asks members to pay for subscription services.

 
9. We need to attract younger users
 
Younger users are key to membership growth, but LinkedIn is the only one of the top five online platforms where members are more likely to be aged 30 to 64 than to be 18 to 29 years old, according to a Pew Research Internet Project survey of online adults aged 18 and over. Only 23 percent of LinkedIn users are aged 18 to 29; 61 percent are aged 30 to 64, while 21 percent are aged 65 and over. Other sites have far more members in the 18-to-29 age bracket: Pinterest (34 percent), Instagram (53 percent), Facebook (87 percent) and Twitter (37 percent).
 
LinkedIn has been keen to attract younger users — even those who have yet to finish middle school. It may never be too early to start networking, especially for spelling-bee champions, paper-cutters or children who love to color within the lines. In August 2013, LinkedIn updated its terms of service to extend membership to those as young as 14 years of age in the U.S., Canada, Spain, Germany, Australia and South Korea, 16 in the Netherlands, 18 in China and 13 in all other countries.

“Smart, ambitious students are already thinking about their futures when they step foot into high school,” wrote Eric Heath, director of legal, global privacy and public policy at LinkedIn.

 
LinkedIn’s Braswell declined to give the company’s own figures for age demographics of its users, but said the site currently has around 40 million students and recent college graduates. “It’s one of our fastest-growing demographics,” she says. Indeed, the site continues to be particularly popular among college graduates, those in higher-income households and the employed, the Pew report found. Around 50 percent of online college graduates use LinkedIn, a 12-point increase between August 2013 and August 2014.

That said, the Pew report also noted that LinkedIn use by those who were unemployed almost doubled to 21 percent in August 2014 from 12 percent from a year earlier. Though that may be expected for a jobs site.

 
10. Our share price has plateaued
 
LinkedIn’s share price has more than doubled since its initial public offering in May 2011, but it’s barely budged (rising about 2 percent) in the last 12 months. The company sells products to recruiters and premium subscription services, says Rick Summer, a senior equity manager at Morningstar, and must continue to convince subscribers that those options are worth paying for if it wants to grow the site’s profits, membership and share price. And, he adds, LinkedIn still has a lot to prove.

“It’s not as easy as a Facebook or Google model where everything is advertising supported,” Summer says. “The challenge [for analysts covering the stock] is figuring out what it’s all worth.”

 
The company is trying to expand beyond recruiting. “There are early signs of success around a Sales Navigator product,” says Summer, who has a $190 “fair value estimate” and two-star (slightly overvalued) rating on the stock. That product, launched last year, recommends business and sales leads, tracks news and updates on these leads and finds mutual connections to facilitate a warmer introduction. A medical device salesperson could target hospital administrators by region, and filter out less relevant contacts.

But the jury is out on whether this — or any of LinkedIn’s new products — will be blockbusters. “It’s too early to talk about things that haven’t been successful yet,” he adds.

 
However, several major brokerage firms remain bullish on LinkedIn’s prospects. Membership of the site grew more than 6 percent in the third quarter over the previous quarter, the first time in a year that growth had exceeded the previous quarter. Several major brokerage firms have a buy rating (including Stifel Financial and Cantor Fitzgerald) or an outperform rating (including Wells Fargo and RBC Capital) on LinkedIn’s stock. Still, Summer remains more circumspect on the stock. “LinkedIn will continue to roll out new services and features,” he says, “but they will have to be successful to really justify where the stock is trading today.”

Quentin Fottrell writes for MarketWatch. You can reach him at [email protected]

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