I love Monday Note. It is one of my favourite media + tech blogs (along with Benedict Evans and Stratechery). I like it so much that I even adopted the wordpress theme that they use, for this blog. Imagine my disappointment then, when I came across their recent article on Monday Note – lamenting LinkedIn’s failure to become a publishing major domo. The article clearly missed a few key truths about LinkedIn, and Filloux fell into the same trap that has ensnared many commentators – understanding LinkedIn. My post is about correcting his misperception, rebutting his thesis, and also sharing a framework through which we can understand LinkedIn better.
With regards to Filloux’s article, I do think that Linkedin never wanted to become a major player in the business news sector. Rather that was the narrative they put out. The sizzle to sell a steak. Filloux like many others got taken in by the sizzle. It is not surprising for Linkedin is a difficult co to understand, and many commentators do stumble when it comes to LinkedIn.
So what is LinkedIn? LinkedIn is best understood as a rich CV co. Their primary consumers are recruiters, and the content they sell is an info dense CV. How do they enhance the value of this CV? Somewhat like page rank which has links going in, this has links going out, to info which will signal something about the LinkedIn page owner – I am interesting; hey look boss, I have insight etc etc.
In this case, by getting people to write, they are selling insight generation in the article as a signal or credential (the article as representation of ability to think). By having more and more articles (aka insights), they are enhancing the page rank value of the linkedin owner’s page and sending a richer signal for recruiters. The recruiters are delighted by enhancement of the CV and increase in signal value; additionally these articles also raise discoverability of a user and surface interesting profiles to recruiters.
Now on to all of that influencer editorial (Branson, Gates, Sorrell etc). Clearly that was the sizzle, in order to position the platform, so that a CXO or GM / VP of a co would see it as aspirational to write for this platform (because LinkedIn cant tell him to write so that his profile value improves!). The steak is all those articles written by faceless middlemen. LinkedIn is not a platform to aggregate content for their users; it is instead a platform to aggregate their users’ content for recruiters.
Seen from this angle (as a rich CV co), all of their acquisitions start making sense (Slideshare follows the above logic. After all presentations are nothing but articles + data; Lynda enables them to understand and gather learning credentials to help their users signal better to employers. Another advantage of Lynda is that LinkedIn can use machine intelligence to examine profiles and sell relevant Lynda courses to them, thereby enhancing the info density of the online CV and boosting the value of the Lynda credential which inturn boosts demand for certification courses from Lynda, and so on with this virtuous circle).
There is also another important aspect – Linkedin is surfacing or distributing a kind of content that was impossible to discover earlier. Benedict Evans says it very well in his recent post (Platforms, Distribution and Audiences) : “Now, suppose you don’t have 2-3 posts a week in you, but 1-2 every six months. That is, suppose you’re actually busy doing something else. You could publish on the open web, like me or Justin, but frankly, you’d almost certainly be wasting your time no matter how good they are.” For the writers who publish these infrequent but interesting posts, relevant largely to their industry (trends in refrigeration in perishable industry, newsprint price trends etc), there is no better medium than LinkedIn (sorry couldnt resist!).