What LinkedIn will do next

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on August 20th, 2013

LinkedIn’s always had a simple but maddening problem: nobody uses it. Everybody’s on it, because it’s useful to have a résumé with good SEO. But that’s basically it. Meanwhile, what makes The Other Social Network – Facebook – stand out is that people are, in some cases literally, addicted to it, spending all their time there.

This doesn’t mean that LinkedIn isn’t valuable: it has an enormous asset by virtue of being the only professional social network, and having the résumés of hundreds of millions of professionals. But building up engagement is the only way to safeguard that asset in the future. LinkedIn needs to figure a way to become as essential as Facebook is: to make every professional want to log in to LinkedIn first thing in the morning.

For a while, I was a lone voice in the desert in arguing that LinkedIn should become a media hub: where you come for the news on your industry. LinkedIn has actually outpaced my expectations, not only building an aggregator but by becoming a hub for original content, getting lots of people (including some big names) to write for it.

Another obvious move was its acquisition of the iPad news reader Pulse. (I was aghast that LinkedIn didn’t have a news reader app ready when the iPad came out.) LinkedIn’s media strategy has been a terrific success, beyond expectations. Yet, it’s still hard to say that LinkedIn has become indispensable, or that professionals check it obsessively the way teens check Facebook or journalists check Twitter. So, what’s the next step?

Well: think of the dashboard a professional would want to check out every day. Right now, LinkedIn is a great place to check out people, but it’s not such a great place to check out companies and industries. And there isn’t much of another place where that’s true.

Here’s what I envision: “Wikipedia for businesses”: an encyclopaedia of companies that doesn’t have the parcellary, useless information you can find on their actual Wikipedia entries, or the mere links you find for start-ups on CrunchBase, but analyses (driven by a combination of crowdsourcing and experts) of their strategy, their history, as well as easy access to their financial data. (You find this on Yahoo! Finance, but the interface is pretty dated and the site focuses on stock data, not company data.)

Add in their various public government filings, make the whole thing easy to parse, and you have a winner. Imagine a repository of market data on all industries and all around the world. There are tons of market data (how big the online advertising market is in Europe and how it’s been growing and how it will grow, that sort of thing) that are available on the internet but are aggregated nowhere. Think of all the analysis on companies that is available but nowhere aggregated.

And imagine a smart aggregator of news and social media about companies and industries. And then imagine topping it all off with LinkedIn’s own data on who works where, which companies are hiring and where, and which are laying people off.

There’s some very pricey software like Capital IQ that does this, but there’s no website that tries to approximate it, even though the content and the potential are clearly there. A tool like this would be like crack to any competent business executive: data, information, analysis, curated news on your industry, all in a nice package. You can bet that every executive would check such a dashboard first thing in the morning, every week day.

That’s what LinkedIn needs to build next.

Can it? As noted, much of the data and material required to do this is either available online, or easy to get. LinkedIn already has the contacts and platform for publishing content.

Will it? As I’ve said, it needs to build engagement: it needs to be the platform that businesspeople will want to check in on every day. It needs to become useful, not just for recruiters and sales-people (and, now, social media mavens), but for the everyday businessman. For this, it needs to become a resource. What’s more, LinkedIn’s product has been improving by leaps and bounds. Its website used to be embarrassingly ugly, but now it is really quite pleasant to use.

LinkedIn has clearly and finally understood the importance of focusing on product, and has hired top-notch product people to do so. So in my mind, it’s not a question of if: it’s a question of when, and how.