In my view, the future of LinkedIn depends on finding ways to get itself inside of business workflow – the essence of infocommerce – because the history of databases that remained standalone reference products is a sad one.
LinkedIn’s first big push to build ongoing user engagement was to add user-generated content, lots of it, creating a B2B Facebook if you will. This is certainly a valid approach, but with the Internet already groaning under the weight of endless content, much of it free, this is a tough road. I think workflow integration is a lot easier and ultimately much stickier. It is, fundamentally, the difference between logging into LinkedIn to “stay current” or perhaps find a useful morsel of information through sheer serendipity, and logging into LinkedIn because you need it to do your job.
Well, LinkedIn took a small but important move in the direction of workflow this week with the launch of LinkedIn Lookup. Very simply, this new app allows you to turn LinkedIn into an internal company directory.
As you can imagine, if you were to filter all LinkedIn profiles by current employer, you would essentially get an internal company directory. And it would be better than almost any company directory that exists given the depth of its profiles and the high level of data accuracy. But the new LinkedIn app does more than just filter listings, it also prioritizes fellow employee listings over your own connections so you’re really using it as an internal directory. Corporate email addresses are shown as well.
Overall, LinkedIn Lookup is a fairly weak version 1.0 app. But if LinkedIn sticks with it, it could take this product in some very interesting directions. Consider:
· Setting up the product with a corporate administrator could help make listings more accurate (many people don’t update their employer information if they are not immediately going to a new job). In addition, LinkedIn could make this administrator the point person to maintain the company web page as well, helping to insure deeper and more accurate data
· With listings now used for employment purposes, employees will be more diligent in maintaining their listings to the benefit of both the company and LinkedIn
· By letting employees see all the connections of other employees, an extremely powerful networking tool along the lines of those offered by Reachable can be offered.
· Non-public fields could be made available for corporate directory purposes such as reporting relationships, and this could in turn enable real-time organizational charts
· The product could offer links to a company’s payroll system (as many internal company directories already do), to help insure even higher levels of accuracy
And that’s just a starting list. Indeed, an enormously powerful product platform exists for LinkedIn to exploit with only some additional programming effort. And this product, properly evolved, is certainly one LinkedIn could charge for. No company wants to maintain its own internal directory if it can avoid doing so, and LinkedIn would bring to the table features and functionality no company could duplicate on its own because of its connections data.
Best of all, as companies adopt LinkedIn as their internal directory platform, LinkedIn automatically becomes a stronger database as a result. Employees who haven’t yet built a profile will do so; and those with existing profiles will be motivated if not required to keep them current.
Sure, there are some data governance issues that will need to be addressed and doubtless some technological and structural bumps in the road will emerge; as the saying goes, “hierarchies are hell.” But these issues will come to the fore because LinkedIn is simultaneously becoming more important and the end result of that is a more comprehensive and accurate database for LinkedIn, that will give it the basis to chase even more data-driven workflow opportunities.
If LinkedIn wants to offer high quality user-maintained data that gets accessed frequently, there’s no better way than to help it enable daily business activities. LinkedIn Lookup can be an important first start in this direction.