Mr. Weiner, tear down this wall!

Who is Jeff Weiner? The CEO of LinkedIn.

What wall? The wall that is being built around your data within LinkedIn.

As of last week, I cancelled my paid subscription to LinkedIn. I could not have imagined that just a few years ago. I had a $1,200/year Sales Navigator account and used it extensively for some time. LinkedIn changed things and I decided to move to the minimum level paid account. Then they eliminated the ability to download my own connections, reversing it a few days later with a warning that it will disappear again when they decide to. They changed or removed even more features and so I finally decided to cancel my premium level account.

I was a huge believer in LinkedIn and it’s value. I wrote a book about LinkedIn. I have spoken to conferences, conventions and corporate meetings worldwide about LinkedIn. I have trained thousands of people how to get the most out of LinkedIn. I still believe that LinkedIn has value to the sales person. There is still value in the visibility and “findability” for most users. But the days of viewing LinkedIn as a primary sales tool and platform are definitely winding down at this point. Unless they have a change of heart, I believe that more and more of you will find your time more wisely invested in other tools and platforms. Here are some of my observations and reasons why I make such a claim.

My connections are MY connections. in many cases I opened up my contact database and email accounts to invite them into the network and connect with me. This is my data, this is your data folks.You created the connections with these people. While legally not accurate most likely, I do believe that it is NOT LinkedIn’s data and yet that is exactly how it is being treated.

In order to access this same information, I am expected to pay for that access. No thanks.

The days of LinkedIn Groups being of value are a distant memory in most cases. They have been stripped of functionality for both the members and the group administrator/owner. Most are now nothing but a spam dumping ground. Most of the group managers that I know are fed up with the changes and limitations that have been implemented. Some of the very biggest and most active groups historically on LinkedIn have created groups on Facebook and other platforms from which to serve their members in a manner that allows more interaction and collaboration. Case in point – Viveka Von Rosen has run one of the longest standing groups focused on LinkedIn, and the interaction is dismal when compared with the interactions and engagement she created on the LinkedIn Experts Google+ community. A large LinkedIn Group about LinkedIn is less interactive than a Google+ community about LinkedIn? That makes no sense, except when you realize that group functionality has been severely stripped down and administrative controls are a shell of what used to be available. My most interactive and valuable discussion groups about “social selling” and sales are taking place within Facebook groups. That makes no sense!

Cutting off access to MY data to companies that I want my data integrated with like Nimble and Kitedesk is not acceptable. Give me the option to approve connections to my data to those services and tools that I choose to integrate with. When LinkedIn announced back in May that they are cutting off access to the data from outside tools and services across the board, that was a mistake. Offering CRM integration to only a small handful of enterprise solutions like Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics eliminated many valuable services being provided by third-party companies like Rival IQ, Nimble and many others. If I want to use Act-on as my marketing automation tool and interface it with LinkedIn, I should be able to. CRM is an important tool that every business should be using but most are not able to afford the support and/or costs associated with these enterprise class services they have chosen to partner with.

In the last few days, Salesforce has announced that their integration with LinkedIn is over and that all data, photos and history will be removed from Saleforce records. Here is the email that was received by Salesforce.com customers admin’s recently:

Salesforce drops LinkedIn

There has been clarification from LinkedIn that Julio Viskovich from rFactor received from LinkedIn’s global PR team that said

“If people have been using the Sales Navigator integration with Salesforce, they will still have an extensive view of their LinkedIn information within Salesforce”. Whatever that means.

I received this email from RivalIQ, a service which provides a valuable service to me:

On Monday, August 24th, we will remove historical LinkedIn data from Rival IQ. If you need to run any final reports or download historical data, please do so before next Monday. If you need assistance exporting data, please reply to this mail or contact our support team directly…

As you know, LinkedIn removed API data access for all public company data in early May, and we have been unable to update your LinkedIn data since that time…

Pulse has lost much of it’s effectiveness and value. It’s like if the Wall Street Journal opens up their newspaper for anyone to publish anything they choose. It’s value would drop to zero rapidly. Authors that would receive hundreds to thousands of views to their posts now receive less than a hundred. Commenters are leaving fewer comments than they had previosly.

InMail is not as productive as we have been led to believe. The limits are ridiculous for those even with premium accounts. Before cancelling I was allowed 3 InMails. If I feel the need to contact one of my connections, I should be able to do so without hassle or limits. Make it easy to do so within LinkedIn or I will go elsewhere to do so utilizing tools like Kitedesk, Salesloft, or Nimble.

Continually eliminate functions and features that were helpful. Remember the old Questions and Answers feature. Yes there were a few crazies that spent all day responding with useless answers, but overall many I know found it helpful both for those asking questions and for those answering. It was easier to use that feature than jump out to Quora as an example. There are too many other examples of this but please share the ones that you miss the most in the comments area below the post.

Acquire company after company with innovative solutions that were available to everyone prior to acquisition and then make the functionality disappear in part or entirely in a few months to everyone, or put behind a pay wall in some form. Services like CardMunch, Bizo, Bright, Newsle, Pulse, and the recent Lynda.com buy are examples of companies that were more easily accessed and used prior to acquisition.

Replace it with an inclusive partner community that encourages innovation and partnering.

Deploy the approach that Apple, Google and Salesforce.com have used by creating a marketplace that third-party vendors can connect their services directly to LinkedIn data. Charge the vendors for that capabililty, monitor the quality and set standards by all means. And give me the option as a LinkedIn customer of allowing access to my data with these services. Opt-in on an individual tool basis decided by me, for those tools that meet my need. Make that choice revocable if I change my mind. I think of the way that I have to authorize Hootsuite to work with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Or the way BufferApp requires approval to access my account info, but can be revoked at any time. That is how I want to treat access to my LinkedIn data.

Salesforce.com’s App Exchange is a thriving market of companies providing tools and capabilities that extend Salesforce functionality way beyond it’s core, into niches and industries that can only be served by specialists with deep knowledge of the market they serve. Same goes for Google Play and Apple’s App Store. This model works and judging from the growth of each, customers prefer it as well.

I have heard some very smart people say that LinkedIn could crush all CRM vendors if they choose to. Not possible unless and until LinkedIn tears down the walls. Proprietary, walled environments haven’t historically done well in most markets. Ask Microsoft. Tear down the walls and see LinkedIn explode in ways unthinkable previously.

Create a certification program for Trainers, coaches and speakers to go through that will ensure a solid foundation for those training others on the effective use of LinkedIn. I have been involved with at least two of these initiatives within LinkedIn, and both ended in a big fat zero even though they had sponsorship of respected mid-level management within LinkedIn. If someone wants to claim they are a Certified LinkedIn Trainer, make them learn and prove their expertise. Go search for LinkedIn Certified Trainer in Google today and you will see there are over 2,300 results for a title that does not exist anywhere I am aware of.

From my vantage point, LinkedIn will either grow into the long-term winner as the business social platform, or continue to create frustrated, disgruntled, and even angry customers who are begging for an alternative solution.

Mr. Weiner, take down this wall!

Ok, let me have it. Am I off base or am I writing some of what you have been thinking. I am looking forward to your thoughts in the comments below. 

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