How LinkedIn is hurting your business

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy May 15, 2015
In closing access to their APIs LinkedIn is biting the hands that feed them. Here's what it means.

If you've been an active member of a LinkedIn group then you probably know that people post a lot of content onto those areas. Sharing is an incredibly useful thing to do, made more so by the fact third party services were able to use interfaces LinkedIn provided to build fresh services.

LinkedIn used their open access arrangements to encourage people to share wildly while at the same time spawning an entire generation of developers who have thought up new and interesting things to do with the resulting social graph. It was a win-win-win where LinkedIn emerged as a primary go-to destination site.

But once they achieved massive scale, their business models prevented them from maintaining that open position. LinkedIn needs users to spend time on the site in order to persuade advertisers that they are worthy of investment. The best way to ensure that is to force people onto their property. That's relatively easy once you've become a 'go to' site but it has unintentional consequences. Closing API achieves that goal in a heartbeat.

Here's how the latest moves at LinkedIn impact us. It likely impacts you in much the same way.

We have used a service as a way of distributing content more widely and on a selective basis. Much of that ability got flushed on 12th May when LinkedIn, which we see as a valuable service, closed access to the API which allowed us to automate the distribution process. Now we're faced with attempting to manually post into those same groups. That's massively inefficient and counter to the essence of the open web and open social graph.

LinkedIn argues that it was having to handle too much spam and I get that. But then group moderators always had the ability to reject or promote content in the same way that Facebook page moderators could do the same thing. Long story short, LinkedIn is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut but in the process ensuring that we all spend more time on the site. Facebook has done much the same thing. Most of the time, I've no idea what Twitter is thinking.

My sense is that this tactic will not work out in the long term where business is concerned. LinkedIn will claim higher dwell time but as we know, not all visits are created equal. We know a lot about how people interact with our content and while nothing would please us more than to know that 100% of people spent oodles of time here, we are equally aware that conversations will go where they will. In our case, we see much valuable discussion on LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent on Facebook.

While that doesn't necessarily benefit us directly because we can't count that comment 'hit' as 'ours,' it does so indirectly by helping ensure that our information is the best it can be from discussions with practitioners who live in the weeds of much that we discuss. It's a win-win-win and is especially true in the field of HR where LinkedIn has its roots. It is a win for LinkedIn because we turn up when we need to and engage where it is appropriate to do so. That is always a more compelling and valuable visit than someone doing a fly by.

LinkedIn recognized this, providing moderators with tools that helped them organize and promote the best content. The HR groups are fine examples of that, fulfilling the purpose for which both sides see value. Closing the API actively discourages content creators from posting to their property and will mean less value for LinkedIn in the long run. If perceived loss of engagement value was an issue, then closing off automated posting is probably a step too far for many.

I along with others have long argued that access to API services should NOT be free but should be managed. The old adage that when the product is free then you are the product holds true and millions of people have become just that - the product that the advertising model feeds upon.

In the commercial world, we see a different and more sensible model where developer tools are free for development but that you pay the service provider on deployment. We are of the view that LinkedIn would be much better served if they adopted the same policy. It would make for a clear distinction between the different commercial interests and provide a fresh revenue stream that does not exist today. It would also ensure that developers continue to innovate commercially useful services.

As a provider of information, we would be happy to pay for that service on a metered or stepped basis. LinkedIn has nothing to lose because like any paid for service that has value, we would be encouraged to ensure that content sucks less every day.

In the meantime, we, like many others and that includes you if you are transforming to become a media driven business, will feel the pain of increased cost to achieve the same result we were getting when it was possible to automate distribution.

We don't believe LinkedIn 'gets' this issue and don't anticipate an early resolution to an issue that is impacting many service providers and information creators. But - this represents an opportunity for new entrants to find a more compelling model that serves the interests of business. Who's going to step up?

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