Is the “Professional Network” Becoming More Social?

In December, fellow Slaw marketing columnist Doug Jasinski wrote a great post about LinkedIn’s new makeover. His post walked you through the Skills and Endorsements feature (that LinkedIn is placing a lot of emphasis on), and the new look for LinkedIn Company Pages, with their new large image-based banner and prominent status update box.

But there have been even more changes to LinkedIn’s platform that may have gone unnoticed, particularly in the legal community. These changes are making LinkedIn more interactive, and more akin to other, more ‘social’ networks.

Sharing Options

In the past, publishing Updates to LinkedIn was largely a one-way endeavor. Updates were posted and there was rarely any interaction or reaction . Most of the interaction on LinkedIn took place either privately, through invitations to connect or messages through LinkedIn’s Inbox or in Groups.

Now when you go to your LinkedIn Home Page to share an Update, LinkedIn lets you customize who you want to share your Update with. You can share with just your first degree connections by selecting “Connections,” or you can choose a wider audience by selecting “LinkedIn,” which will share your Update with everyone in your extended network, including first, second and third degree connections. If you have connected a Twitter account to LinkedIn, you can also share with your Twitter followers (see below).

In addition to these options, you’ll see social features when you view the Updates of the people in your network:

As you can see, you can click to “Like” an Update, add a comment of your own, or Share the Update with your own Network. Before these changes were made, viewing a connection’s Updates were a way to keep you informed about your connections, but it was rare that those Updates prompted further interaction unless you took the time to connect privately, either through LinkedIn or through some other method. Now, by providing opportunities to simply click a button and interact with a connection right on the page, LinkedIn has made it easier to further relationships with LinkedIn connections with minimal effort. And the ‘social proof’ of seeing others liking or commenting on a particular Update encourages even more interaction.

Making Groups More Social

Social features have also appeared in Groups. If you navigate to one of your Groups, under the box that allows you to start a new Group discussion, you’ll see some of the most recent (or most popular) Group discussions. Immediately below, you’ll see options to Like or Comment. You’ll also have an opportunity to flag Group discussions that are inappropriate or too promotional (a common complaint in LinkedIn Groups).

If you click on the title of the discussion to view the entire thread, you’ll see even more options, including a “Follow” option, and a chance to reply privately, rather than commenting publicly within the discussion thread.

Although the options to join a discussion within a Group or to send a private message to other Group members existed before, the new icons and the prominent buttons make these options more appealing and easier to accomplish with one click.

Social Proof and Endorsements

Perhaps the combination of making things easier and social proof was what led to LinkedIn’s Skills and Endorsements feature, mentioned above and in Doug Jasinski’s post. Before, the only way to express your opinion about a connection’s expertise was to write a recommendation. Now, LinkedIn has made it exceptionally easy to endorse a colleague or connection by suggesting that you endorse them with a large blue box when you view their Profile. And when viewing your own Profile, you may see that others have endorsed you for Skills you did not add to your Profile. When you accept those endorsements, LinkedIn then prompts you to endorse some of your connections. Although it’s hard to see whose photos are in the tiny thumbnails that appear next to the Skills in a LinkedIn member’s profile, it’s just as hard to miss them when viewing a Profile.

But is there a drawback to making things too easy? Many people use LinkedIn as a way to reach out to or connect with people they don’t already know, but that they would like to get to know. That makes it less likely that you’ll know much about your connections or be familiar enough with their work to endorse them. But if they endorse you, do you feel obligated to endorse them? If it’s too easy to endorse others, do those large numbers of endorsements – that ‘social proof’ we’ve been talking about – have much value?

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