Bill Gates has just joined LinkedIn, and I can see why. I just visited LinkedIn and was pleasantly surprised to see their amazing new interface. The modifications to the interface, and the addition of new options and features has made it into a serious business networking tool that I could see myself visiting on a regular basis.
Before the changes were made, having a LinkedIn profile was like being at a party where everyone was deaf and mute. You could wave at people and/or shake hands (i.e. create and view connections), but aside from moderate signing (“I recommend you,” “Will you be my friend?”), nothing much happened. You couldn’t see your friends’ activity, the groups feature was weak-to-non-existent, and communication was sparse. The open bar (free membership) could only keep people interested for so long.
Now, LinkedIn has added a lot of the features that people look for in social networking sites, thanks to the innovations made by facebook in this area. As a result, LinkedIn is now a full-fledged social networking site, with all the goodies that can make it fun…I mean a good tool for developing productive business relationships.
Here’s an overview of the new features and design:
A more usable interface
With two simple menu bars, one horizontal and one vertical, the LinkedIn user can now reach all the information and participate in all the social activities with ease. You can find people, jobs, ask and answer questions, and find and recommend service providers on the top menu bar. On the sidebar, you can manage your profile, contacts, Inbox – which has many more features (see below), and groups.
This page is under Contacts on the vertical sidebar, and gives you an overview of your network. You can see your first degree, second degree and third degree connections, where your network is located, which networks you have access to, and more. This information is cute, but not really useful. For example, my Network Statistics page told me that my connections are in 23 industries, but my network gives me access to 147 additional industries, such as…Ranching. If I ever buy a farm, I’ll know where to turn.
Better organized Inbox
Your Inbox is now organized according to sub-topics. The most interesting and useful ones in my opinion are Introductions, Invitations, Profiles, Q&A and Recommendations. Introductions is a way for people to get introduced to people they’re not connected to on LinkedIn via that person’s direct connections. Invitations is where requests to connect appear. Profiles enables people to send other people profiles of people they think they’d be interested in. Q&A allows you to organize and track your questions and answers, and Recommendations is a place to see who has recommended you, and easily recommend them in return.
Network Updates let you see what your network is up to
The new Network Updates that appear on your home page allow you to see what your network has been doing lately, like who has added new contacts, joined new groups, changed their profile picture, etc. This is very similar to the facebook news feed that we all love.
You can now have a status in LinkedIn! This is like the facebook status, and is a way for all your connections to see what you’re up to. This can be a very powerful way to passively announce new business developments, requests for meetings, and other notifications. I just hope there’s some way to eventually import my twitter updates automatically like I do for facebook so that I can update everything at the same time. Also, it’s pretty annoying now that every status automatically starts with the user’s first name, not even “Miriam is,” so the status doesn’t make sense unless you make sure your status starts with a verb like “is” or “thinks.”
LinkedIn emerges as the true business networking site
Until now, I and many other people were using facebook for business. Thanks to facebook’s news feed, events, status, posts, and more facebook is a great way to communicate and connect with business associates. The drawback to using facebook for business is that it’s not intended for business. On facebook, my “friends” include family (even my Dad is on facebook), old school friends, and other friends, along with business connections. That means that it’s hard to strike the balance between a profile that is both professional and personal. For example, I’ve hesitated to post photos and news about my kids and family on facebook because I don’t want my non-personal “friends” to see that kind of stuff.
In short, LinkedIn has just moved up a notch in the social networking world. Based on what I find useful in facebook for business, I’d like to see LinkedIn eventually add the following features:
- Importing blog posts and other feeds – my blogs are an important parts of my business communications, and I’m sure that’s the case with many other people. I would want my connections to be able to see my new posts as they are published, as well as my activity on other social media sites. Plaxo Pulse got this right with their ability to add unlimited feeds of your activity around the web. With our web identities becoming increasingly fragmented as we participate in myriads of sites, the ability to unify it all in one place for business could be very useful.
- Events – The option to add business events, and RSVP so that others can see if you’re attending could help people publicize events to a broad audience, and connect to people they’re interested in meeting. If done properly, LinkedIn could potentially take over all business events from Meetup.com.
- Photos and videos – I love seeing pictures from events, whether I’ve attended them or not. Videos from events, as well as business related videos could provide useful content to my network.
- Documents – Here’s where LinkedIn could stand out in the business networking world: documents are an integral part of running a business. If there was a document sharing area of LinkedIn, people could share and recommend templates for contracts, MOUs, NDA, letters, emails, invoices, work orders, and more. In addition, authors could share their e-books or articles on business topics.
LinkedIn has come a long way, but it has a lot of potential beyond adapting facebook’s features in a business setting. facebook succeeded by thinking outside of the box, and I’m sure there are ways that LinkedIn could become a leading business networking site in ways beyond copying facebook.
Oh wait, is that a question for me from Bill Gates? Bill, I’m flattered, really.
So what’re you waiting for? Connect with me on LinkedIn!