Will LinkedIn’s Content Strategy Clash with their Core Values?

Before we endeavor to answer this question, I'd like to make a disclosure. I’m a BIG fan of LinkedIn’s service. More than any other social media platform, I believe LinkedIn has “flattened" the professional world, reduced barriers to access, and helped professionals more efficiently reach others with common interests. And their adherence to member-friendly core values (outlined in their 2014 Annual Report) is outstanding. The first core value listed?  

"Members First. We encourage employees to know and understand our members and to ensure that we foster the long-term vitality of the LinkedIn ecosystem.”

But wait, LinkedIn goes further. They disclose to their shareholders that:

"Our core value of putting our members first may conflict with the short-term interests of our business."

Bold. You’ve gotta’ love it when a $25 billion company tells their shareholders to bug-off in the short term because they are member-focused and building to deliver sustainable, long term value.  

And LinkedIn clearly makes efforts to practice their core values. For example, despite the industry wide trend of pumping MORE email content to subscribers or members (a la HubSpot), LinkedIn announced on July 27th a 40% reduction in notification emails. That’s right, a reduction. Everybody can breathe a sigh of relief with that change.  
 
Once in a while though, LinkedIn pulls a move that seems misguided and against the “member’s first” core value -- but they later come clean and are able to course correct. For example, during the week of July 23rd it was discovered that LinkedIn had quietly removed the ability for a member to instantly export a CSV file containing their contacts -- and instead created a 72 hour waiting period for members to get access to their own contacts. Following a backlash, LinkedIn reinstated the export feature citing "anti-scraping" concerns as the reason for the original change.   

At the same time that LinkedIn works to adhere to core values, they have strategic ambitions (also outlined in their annual report) to:  

"Become the Definitive Professional Publishing Platform. We strive to make members more productive and successful by creating the web’s definitive professional publishing platform, which enables members to publish, discover and consume relevant professional content at global scale.”  

They are seeing success in this arena and indicate they’ve surpassed more than 1 million unique long-form member publishers. That’s impressive and will no doubt continue to grow rapidly as more LinkedIn members understand the benefits of this publishing format.

But as their content strategy evolves, are they at risk of putting their own interests first and ahead of their members? Perhaps. Many value LinkedIn as a tool for discovery - but LinkedIn seems to increasingly see itself as a place to publish and consume content. While these goals shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, they can be if LinkedIn pursues a "walled garden" approach. And that appears to be where the company is heading.  

LinkedIn Pulse - a canary in the coal mine?

Witness the newly redesigned and recently released Pulse app for iOS and Android, which LinkedIn indicates should "deliver a more personalized news experience” but which is hated by many Pulse users.  

First, a bit of history. In April of 2013, LinkedIn acquired Pulse, a news reader and news aggregation app, for approximately $90 million. At that time, more than 750 publishers distributed their content through Pulse so it was a diversely sourced platform for users to aggregate custom content. But it now appears that Pulse users are being placed inside a walled garden of LinkedIn member generated content -- thus ending the ability of Pulse users to customize their access to third party content.  
 
What do Members think of this change? Consider the iOS reviews from the App store.  

6 Unfavorable Pulse Update Reviews. All 1 Star.  

LinkedIn RUINED the Pulse App
by Fruitnewton - Jul 29, 2015
Pulse used to be a fantastic app that had a great UI and let me choose what content I wanted to read, with great selection from serious news and stories like The New Yorker to silly and entertaining like Reddit and BuzzFeed. NOT ANY MORE!! LinkedIn's update is a horrible step BACKWARDS. UI is horrible and I can't pick from great published content- only crappy LInkedIn posts. If I wanted to read LinkedIn posts of visit LinkedIn. Why LinkedIn chose to buy and ruin this app and alienate it large user base tells me that ironically the idiots that run LinkedIn don't know anything about business. I'm signing out of this crappy Pulse App, deleting it from my phone and iPad, and looking for an alternative app to replace this piece of sh*t. If I could do the same for LinkedIn I would. Way to go morons who run LinkedIn!!!

Horrible Update, Deleting App
by Emanated - Jul 22, 2015
Absolutely the worst update I’ve ever seen. The app is not only unrecognizable from what is used to be (slick, fun) but it’s unstable and not user-friendly. It went from being one of my top five favorite apps to one I’m deleting now. Why developers have to ruin a good thing is something I’ll never understand. RIP pulse. [Authors note: I don't think it's fair to put this on the shoulders of the “developers." This kind of transformation is likely strategic, not technical].

Poorly Planned Update
by Chris Lowdermilk
While I am all for progress and advancing the functionality of things, this update is a major step in the wrong direction. If I wanted trending stories based on my LinkedIn profile I would just use the LinkedIn app. But the thing I enjoyed about Pulse it that I could select the type of news I wanted to read and have it synced across my devices. Please, if trending news is where you see the service moving, give us the functionality to choose between two views; discovery and selection.

What happened?!
by Rusty Bucket 34567
I loved this app when I first downloaded it several years ago, then kind of forgot about it when I updated my phone. Thought I'd check it out again and discovered it had been completely overhauled for the worse, incorporating LinkedIn, and taking away all of the features that I'd originally loved about it. I immediately deleted the app, then got so mad that I downloaded it again just to write a review. I hope someone comes to their senses and fixes the app for the better next time.

Bad update
By IAP Issues - Jul 27, 2015
This used to be my go to news app but since LinkedIn bought it the app has gone down hill. The last update made this app WORTHLESS. Now it only shows trending stories based on your LinkedIn profile. I like LinkedIn but this was an app that I could taylor to design to show news stories that I liked. Deleted the app today.  

Terrible
by Jkiry123 - Jul 21, 2015
Seriously, what is going through your heads..? The old app was great, but the new app is one of the worst.

For a company that invested so much in Pulse, it might be an embarrassment to watch the new version gets trashed so thoroughly in the ratings. But the reviews on the new Pulse app don’t follow a normal bell curve. It appears from the ratings that users either hate (1 Star) or love (5 Star) the new app -- in roughly even numbers.

Such contrasting responses! It makes you wonder if a desperate plea went out within a division of LinkedIn requesting that friends or employees rate the app highly to prevent the Pulse ship from sinking. Are the 5 star ratings authentic? Here’s a sampling to consider:  

8 Favorable Pulse Update Reviews. All 5 Stars.

Need to know news
by Natty L - Aug 2, 2015
LinkedIn pulse makes it super easy to stay on top of news people are talking about. Awesome

Awesome Personalized news
by Mike Conover - Aug 4, 2015
This gives me exactly the information I need to start my day!

Love this app
by FoReal3 - Jul 23, 2015
Great app for my busy morning and allows me to get all of my news in one place!

Great App
by MJ-23-1122 - Jul 22, 2015
A lot better than the old Pulse App. Love the new version.

Awesome
by Tarzan Klein - Aug 8, 2015
Simple, easy to navigate, really enjoy ...

Awesome
by MentalDetox - Jul 23, 2015
Easy to navigate!

Interesting move for Pulse
by zilla151 - Jul 24, 2015
Different from before. But I find I like the curated content. Interested to see how it learns what I like to read and what I don’t. Good job.  

Great App
by Ravi Mulani - Aug 4, 2015
Really enjoy the new Pulse app!
[Author note: it could be a coincidence, but there’s a LinkedIn employee with the same name .. https://www.linkedin.com/pub/ravi-mulani/10/206/b57 ]

So considering that LinkedIn -- which lists “Members first” as a primary corporate value -- didn’t seem to consult with any members / users before making strategic (and drastic) changes to a content aggregation app that people clearly loved in the prior form, is this a mistake that LinkedIn will be able to course correct or, and I’ll ask the opening question again, will LinkedIn’s content strategy conflict with their core values?  

You decide.

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Comments

Ray Garcia 11/30/2016 10:23:33 AM
This is an interest analysis for where linkedin is now.   I am predicting that a new business social network will emerge soon that leave linkedin as a another media platform but not useful for actual business.  It has a reputation network that is established but the media play corrupts its usage.