Last week, business networking platform LinkedIn announced a beta version of a major enhancement designed to create deeper engagement with its 90 million members. The new LinkedIn Today gives users a customized view for consuming trending news relevant to their industry, and makes it easier to share pertinent news with their professional networks. LinkedIn Today enables members to customize a front page and to view the day’s professional news as curated through three different lenses: industry, professional connections, and the broader LinkedIn network.
LinkedIn senior product manager Liz Walker says that the core idea driving the development of LinkedIn Today was to help users get the insights they need “to be great at their job.” Walker says, “When we talked to users about how they gathered news, they told us they might read an industry newsletter once a week, check industry specific sites, visit horizontal news sites, check Twitter, and check LinkedIn. But they always worried that they might be missing out on some important piece of information.” LinkedIn Today is designed to be a single stop for viewing timely and relevant news based on what a member’s industry peers are sharing most.
The LinkedIn Today release also features tighter integration with Twitter and StumbleUpon, enabling LinkedIn members to more seamlessly share updates and content with their LinkedIn connections. These reinvigorated social sharing features are immediately available to mobile users of LinkedIn who download the latest version of LinkedIn (3.6) for the iPhone.
The release is widely regarded as a means of shoring up defenses against Facebook’s popular news sharing feature, which has become a de facto news curation tool for many users. A February 2010 report in TechCrunch found that 44% of shared web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc., were passed along via Facebook, which at that time accounted for 20 billion pieces of content per month (5 billion per week). Just over a year later, Facebook reports that the number of pieces of content shared each month through the platform has risen to 30 billion.
Clearly, end users find social sharing compelling; it leverages aspects of relevancy, timeliness, and trusted relationships to help readers manage information overload by focusing on those items pre-screened by friends and contacts. Done well, it could change the perception by many users that LinkedIn is a site to visit only to update an online resume, extend one’s network of professional connections, and research job leads.
The question is whether LinkedIn may be too late to the news sharing game. Walker says, “The big difference from Facebook’s news sharing is that LinkedIn Today prioritizes the content that matters based on the wisdom of the professional crowd, not based on what someone you may not have seen since high school thinks.”
In terms of enabling that member-specific view, LinkedIn Today offers users 22 industries for users to follow, from Internet and Online Media to Hospital & Health Care and Real Estate. Selecting specific industries means that articles shared by professionals in those industries will have higher visibility on the member’s LinkedIn Today view. Walker says that there are plans to add additional industries—Legal being a top priority—as well as to expand customization by titles and locations.
Similarly, members can “follow” specific sources that are particularly relevant to them. Some of the 77 sources currently available on LinkedIn Today include general business publications like The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg.com, and CNET.com, as well as more specialized publications like HollywoodReporter.com and HealthLeadersMedia.com. While LinkedIn spokesperson Julie Inouye couldn’t provide specifics about other content partners in the pipeline, she says, “The product is evolving, and we’ll see that list lengthen in the coming months.”
It’s clear from a design standpoint that the LinkedIn product team was striving to offer meaningful functionality to business professionals, like the integrated “Save to read later” capability. Users can easily save pertinent articles to a folder for reading later, perhaps from the LinkedIn mobile app while waiting for a meeting to start; they can also choose email alerts for their selected industries and can, of course, share articles with their networks.
Another intriguing feature is the ability to see at a glance who has shared a particular article, as well as what a member’s LinkedIn contacts are saying about that article, either on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Utilizing LinkedIn’s Signal faceted search tool, users are also presented with facets to narrow the view of article comments by specific companies, industries, or locations. This could be particularly useful to a LinkedIn member prepping for a meeting or conference who wants to get a quick pulse of what attendees are reading and discussing prior to the event.
In terms of future developments, Walker says, “We are going to continue to pull information from other LinkedIn tools into the industry view,” citing, for example, top skills needed for a specific industry, popular industry group discussions, and relevant LinkedIn Answers.
Though it is a bit late to the news sharing game, LinkedIn’s tight focus on business news shared by professional contacts does give it immediate utility; the attractive layout and easily accessible comments make it a more user-friendly means of getting a quick overview of the day’s news than, for instance, Twitter. As long as LinkedIn continues to keep a focus on the needs of the business end user, there’s every reason to think that LinkedIn Today will keep its members coming back for more.