Category Archives: social networking

LinkedIn Growing Faster than Facebook

I found this post today on Vallewag, which shows that Facebook grew from 8.7M to 19.5M users in the year ended 10/07 while LinkedIn grew from 1.7M to 4.9M. So while Facebook is nearly 4x LinkedIn’s size (and MySpace nearly 3x Facebook’s), when it comes to the future (i.e., growth rates), the picture looks like:

  • MySpace: 19%
  • Facebook: 125%
  • LinkedIn: 189%

While I’ve heard LinkedIn called “Facebook for dinosaurs,” I believe its focus on the professional marketplace makes it both a superior venue for advertisers and for professional networkers (in the sense of professional people networking, not people who network for a living who are called “bankers”). As I pointed out here, responding to “who’s got a better body?” when looking at a picture of a board member and a customer is not a great thing.

I like Facebook, don’t get me wrong (it’s 100 times better than MySpace) and I do believe there is real power in leveraging Facebook as a platform. But I also believe in focus. While Facebook started with college students, owned that market, and is now one-hop expanding into the broader “everyone” market, LinkedIn started with professionals and stayed there.

While I do wonder if Facebook is over-expanding too quickly (e.g., why not get high schools, then some segment of businesses, building out systematically), I do believe there is a potential opportunity for some company to “own the graph” and that’s clearly what Facebook is pursuing — but at the cost of serving each of the segments in an appropriate way. That said, time is on their side because once you hook the audience in high school or college, they inevitably age into young professionals. Basically, you own the audience until you irritate them or until they find a better tool for the task. For example, will current high schoolers think of Facebook as something so personal/friend-y that it’s not appropriate for work networking? It’s possible.

By the way, I think LinkedIn has a 0% chance of owning the graph when it comes to high schoolers and college students, and they are at something of a time disadvantage when it comes to audience life cycle.

But I really like their focus on the professional segment. In fact, I like their focus more than their offering — i.e., I don’t actually derive much everyday value from LinkedIn, but I still like the fact that it’s work contacts — and only work contacts — to whom I’m linked and I’m not answering questions like “which [employee] I’d want to be stuck on a desert island with?”

So I’d say strategically the odds are in LinkedIn’s favor if they aggressively evolve their offering to best serve the needs of the professional segment. How might they do that?

  • Continue serving the recruiting market, where I think they get most of their business
  • Enable LinkedIn apps so the community can create apps of practical business value. I don’t think I’ve heard much from there here.
  • Work to avoid network dilution — if everybody says yes to every network request then the graph loses value. Help people understand who they should and shouldn’t link to. Help them ignore requests. Help them prune and clean the graph.
  • Enable a clean transition / migration from Facebook and MySpace for young professionals as they grow up.

Basically, carve out a niche in social networking for professionals. Until Facebook understands roles and puts a real focus on serving professionals, I think LinkedIn has a great chance to be the leader in the segment. But more and better execution is needed.

Go Check Out Facebook, Now!

The other day I was updating my LinkedIn contacts and I ended up sending a wide broadcast email asking friends and associates to join my LinkedIn network. I like LinkedIn and I use it as a way to keep in touch with a broad network of people with whom I’ve worked in the past. We also use it for recruiting and sometimes sales.

I’d setup a Facebook profile several months ago in response to an invitation, but I’d left it blank and never spent much time on the site. I’d noticed a steady up-tick in my rate of Facebook invitations during the past few months, so I’d been thinking about taking a serious look. In addition, I’d read about Facebook’s strategy to become a “platform” (whose meaning was not immediately clear to me in the context of a social networking site) so investigating it was rising on my to-do list.

But it was only after receiving multiple responses to my broadcast email of “dude, LinkedIn is Facebook for dinosaurs” that I decided that I needed to do something. I’m pleased to report that I now have a complete Facebook profile, about 50 friends (compared to 450 on LinkedIn), and I must say I really like the site. Why?

  • It combines the best aspects of LinkedIn (e.g., biography, contacts, contact network, friend finding) with those of MySpace (messaging, updates, photos)
  • Unlike MySpace, it’s not loaded with spam sites and flashing lights.
  • It has groups and networks that you can (easily) join and leave
  • It has a certain hominess that blurs personal and work lines
  • It has both Facebook-provided apps (e.g., calendar, photos) and user-provided ones (this is the platform part)
  • It has a clean, simple user interface

In fact, my only reservation about Facebook relates to one of the things I currently like about it — the work/personal life blurring. Amongst my current friends I have former co-workers, Mark Logic customers, high school friends, a board member, some industry analysts, current employees, and even my High School aged son. That’s cool.

While that’s cute and homey, it’s already created some awkwardness. After my son starting using a user-provided “compare people” app on me, I decided to use it on my friends and was quickly asked questions like “who has a better body?” comparing a current customer with a former employee. Not good. Mercifully, there was a “skip” button of which I made prodigious use.

So one nice thing about LinkedIn is that it’s purely professional, at least as I’ve set it up. Going forward I think Facebook will need to provide a “role separation” solution and hopefully they will do a better job at it than Amazon, which still gives me recommendations for children’s books and golf balls based on my buying them — for others — in the past.

In playing with Facebook, I realized something else: I really like their focused marketing strategy. Instead of a general, broad attack, they started out with one segment (university students — actually barring others from joining for years), established dominance in that segment, and then expanded from there.

So, call me a fan. Given the potential to become a serious platform, replace email communications, and hide lots of content from Internet spiders in so doing, I think everyone should check it out.

In addition, I’d recommend this post, which provides an excellent introduction and overview — Web Strategy: What the Web Strategist Should Know About Facebook.