Why LinkedIn Is The One Good Social Network

What the professional social network gets right. And what others can learn from it.

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LinkedIn is something of an enigma as a social network. Despite its massive size — nearly 800 million members — it isn’t filled with the same type of misinformation, trolls, and engagement baiting algorithms that define its peers. The tone on LinkedIn is, actually, kind of friendly. It’s a place, as Scott Galloway recently put it, where people assume you’re engaging in good faith, not bad. “I no longer respond to people on any platform except LinkedIn,” Galloway said. “People are much more civil.”

LinkedIn’s built a friendly, productive, and scaled network by developing the right incentives and taking genuine action when things go wrong. It’s not perfect, of course. But given that the network’s peers seem to live in perpetual scandal, there’s a lot we can learn from it. Here’s a brief rundown of what LinkedIn gets right:

Real consequences for being a jerk

On most social networks, you can be a jerk with little consequence. Twitter is filled with anonymous, bile-spewing users who corrode the network’s tone. Facebook may require you to use your “real name,” but being a jerk can mostly cost you Facebook “friends,” and since you likely have more of those than friends in real life, you can spare a few. On LinkedIn, being a jerk has consequences. It threatens your ability to get your next job, strike your next partnership, or find your next customer. You use your real identity there, and what you say has ramifications. This encourages people to pick their fellow users up, not tear them down. 

Long term product health > engagement 

LinkedIn’s product team makes substantial changes to address bad things on its product, even when it costs the company “engagement.”  While I was at BuzzFeed News, for instance, my colleague Ryan Mac and I wrote about a phenomenon called Broetry. At the time, LinkedIn’s feed was flooded with “broems,” or stories written line by line with spaces in between, often by cringeworthy growth hackers. LinkedIn prioritized these posts in its algorithm because it believed that when people clicked “see more” to expand posts in their feed, the posts were probably compelling. But the growth hackers figured this out, and then exploited the curiosity gap and filled the feed with garbage.

LinkedIn’s product team could’ve left the algorithm alone and kept its precious engagement. But after the story came out, they changed the algorithm and minimized the signal, and Broetry largely disappeared. When you have a product team willing to sacrifice short-term numbers for long-term product health, you’ll often end up in a good place. 

A business model aligned with user interests

Most social networks make money via advertisers (their real customers), so they try to keep people (users) as engaged as possible, even if it requires some sacrifices. When you run an ad business, it’s okay if a certain percentage of the platform hates each other, as long as they keep coming back to fight. 

LinkedIn’s business model is different. About one-third of its revenue comes from advertising, but many of LinkedIn’s users pay to use its premium product, so its users are its customers, and the interests are aligned. LinkedIn also sells a premium product to recruiters, who want to get people jobs, and creepy targeting won’t help with that. LinkedIn is able to sacrifice short-term engagement for long-term goals — as noted above — because its business model incentivizes it.

A functional trending column 

LinkedIn’s trending column is world-class. It’s filled with relevant news, curated by human editors, and doesn’t rally people to ridicule peers who became that day’s “main character.” Facebook struggled to figure how to build a trending column, and eventually gave up. Twitter’s trending column is so bad that the best stories about it call for its destruction. LinkedIn, however, is demonstrating how you keep people informed about relevant, popular news without wrecking society. 

A reasonable share button

LinkedIn’s share button doesn’t allow you to pass along other people’s posts without accountability. Unlike Twitter’s retweets, posts on LinkedIn show up with your name and photo when you share them, adding a layer of ownership that’s missing on Twitter. There’s also little incentive to share dunks or outrage due, again, to the disincentives for being a jerk. 

The slow life is the good life

LinkedIn’s feed has interesting information, but nothing feels too pressing. People using the service, therefore, tend to be thoughtful when posting. This differs from Facebook and Twitter’s rollicking, impulse-driven feeds. Slowed-down social media, as counterintuitive as it may seem, tends to be a better experience and healthier for society. 

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News Briefs

Twitter launches Blue subscription service in U.S., offers ad-free access to 300 news sites (CNBC)

Twitter finally released its long-awaited paid product to users in the U.S. and New Zealand this week. It’s called Twitter Blue, and for $2.99 each month, you can get ad-free access to 300 news sites. There are some other fun features like getting to pin DMs, undo tweets, and upload long videos to the service. The offering is underwhelming for the price, but it’s a decent start. Most importantly, it turns Twitter users into customers for the first time, which is a good thing.

Meta plans to remove thousands of sensitive ad-targeting categories. (New York Times)

Facebook (now Meta) has long told us that its political ad product is crucial for underdog candidates and causes. These entities can run ads on Facebook to mount fights against incumbents, the company said, which is why it refused to alter its political ad model significantly. Now, the company is removing a significant amount of targeting often used in politics — like political affiliation, social issues, and causes — along with a host of other categories. This is a major deal that’s received little attention relative to its significance. 

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This week on Big Technology Podcast: The Venture Capitalist Who Can't Lose — With Zach Coelius

Zach Coelius is the managing partner of Coelius Capital. He's participating in an unprecedented moment where venture capitalists like him simply can't lose. There's so much money flooding the private markets that, as he put it, "any idiot with a checkbook looks like a genius right now." Coelius joins Big Technology Podcast to discuss why this is happening, where it will lead, and who gets hurt when the party ends. Stay tuned for the third segment, where we read his tweets and mostly talk about San Francisco's many challenges.

You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks again for reading, and see you next Thursday!