LinkedIn boss Jeff Weiner: We mustn’t smile too much

LinkedIn boss Jeff Weiner: We mustn’t smile too much

The ‘professional social network’ now has 300m users, but how will it keep them happy? Chief executive Jeff Weiner explains

Jeff Weiner says LinkedIn is no longer just a place to publish your CV, it is a platform for sharing information and doing business Photo: Geoff Pugh

By Matt Warman

5:52PM BST 22 Jun 2014

In the foyer of KPMG’s soaring Canary Wharf office, Jeff Weiner is trying not to look too cheerful. Asked by The Telegraph’s photographer if business is good, he smiles broadly, but turns away before the picture of a grinning chief executive of LinkedIn can be captured for posterity.

Weiner should be smiling, because business for LinkedIn, in the main, is extraordinarily good.

Along with the site announcing in April that it’s got more than 300 million users and launching apps that have made it easier for people to look for jobs, he’s recently been pushing his idea of the site becoming an ‘economic graph’ mapping every worker, company and opportunity on the planet. It sounds like a rather more obviously lucrative prospect than Facebook’s ‘social graph’, and may go some way to explaining why LinkedIn is now valued at above $20bn (£12bn). Its shares are trading at $170, compared to the $93 debut in 2011, albeit down on highs last year of more than $250.

Yet as Weiner says, “Mustn’t smile too much”. There are challenges that lie ahead, and it wouldn’t do to look complacent. The boss of the world’s leading “professional social network” should appear professional at all times.

This dilemma captures both the opportunity and the difficulties LinkedIn faces – conventional wisdom suggests that just as most users prefer a single search engine, they don’t like the mixture of managing Twitter for short conversations, Facebook for their personal lives and LinkedIn for a constructed ‘professional’ personality. Many have accused LinkedIn of chasing the billion-user Facebook by opening up to younger users, and by focusing increasingly on allowing users to share content and follow what Weiner calls “luminaries” within their field, from Bill Gates to Martha Stewart.

Yet Weiner counters that view: “The distinctions between social platforms and their contexts are increasingly clear. Over 80pc of our members want to see their professional and personal lives separate.” So it doesn’t matter that LinkedIn does some things Facebook does too; people simply behave differently.

“If you go back several years and you were to ask people what LinkedIn was all about the most common answer was a digital rolodex, a way to keep in touch with professional contacts and a way to get a job. We say it’s not just a way to find a dream job it’s about being great at the job you’re already in. So it’s about the three core things that we do for members; professional identity, networks and knowledge – in a professional context, who you are, what you do and what you know.”

Weiner says that approach reflects the increasingly collaborative nature of modern work.

“If you’re selling to a C-level executive, it’s a conversation – talk to them about what their priorities are and how you can better make that happen for them. If you go in and try to sell to me it’s not going to resonate as deeply. Originally people characterised the LinkedIn profile as a digital resume, a one dimensional way of expressing your experiences. Increasingly it’s a digital portfolio, sharing with the world what you’re about. That’s not just about finding work it’s about attracting opportunities. It’s a dynamic version of your resume, a living breathing profile.” With 80pc of LinkedIn users not actively seeking a new job, perhaps that’s for the best.

What a huge number of LinkedIn users are interested in, it turns out, is looking their best online. The best approach to the all-important profile is, it seems, to take the view that you never know what might turn up. The most powerful demonstration of that has come with the introduction of a publishing platform, that allows users, just as they do on Facebook, to share content which Weiner says has provided people with much better levels of feedback and engagement than less formal social networks. Sharing a link with colleagues and peers is apparently taken much more seriously than sharing stories about funny cats with friends. Professionals, it seems, behave better.

“If you share something that’s not professionally oriented, on LinkedIn you’re not going to get any engagement, and the feedback you get may not be very positive. It’s not the right forum for that and your professional identity is tied to it. You’re going to be very thoughtful about a comment that appears next to your image and your name and your title and your company. “

Weiner claims the evidence suggests that people are asking themselves, “Is what I’m sharing a consistent extension of who I am professional?. Is this going to add value or is it going to muddy up the feed? People have tools to self-select.” So LinkedIn exerts a civilising influence that puts people on their best behaviour? “You got it.”

If it sounds dull, engagement levels suggest either it isn’t, or people continue to believe it’s worth coming back because of that dream job at the end of the rainbow. Plus, unlike on Facebook, LinkedIn users can see who has been viewing their profile.

This is not to say that users are dishonest on LinkedIn: “What prevents people from exaggerating what’s on their profile? It’s available for all the world to see –the stakes are so high if people find out that you exaggerated .That’s going to do damage to your career and your prospects,” says Weiner, unscarred by a stint at Yahoo that was longer than most of today’s top internet executives have found beneficial. “Historically you handed your resume to one person who may or may not be able to verify it. On LinkedIn there is this mechanism by virtue of which people are applying better behaviour.”

Those benefits have, up to now, been limited to the online world. Although LinkedIn has bought Rapportive, a piece of software that automatically finds out who you’re emailing and tells you as much as the web knows about them, the site has yet to crack either business intelligence in real-time or real-life. How long before a user of, say, Google Glass is pointed straight towards the most useful contact in a crowded meeting room thank to a LinkedIn app?

“We think about where the world is going in terms of new innovations,” says Weiner. “Ubiquitous computing, augmented reality – what does it mean for LinkedIn to be a part of that? The idea is that LinkedIn can help you be even more prepared for that meeting, more productive, but LinkedIn’s a bit late when you’re already in the meeting. How about we can you a notification with the right kind of permissions, that you’re about to meet the following five people, here’s who they are, here’s what they do, here’s who they know – it fundamentally changes the way you interact and going forward I think there are going to be opportunities with augmented reality. Part of the challenge there consists of maintaining trust and privacy.”

For some, that will sound like utopia, and for others it will be the ultimate, hellish conclusion of a surveillance society. It’s an opportunity that puts LinkedIn on the brink of a new wave of development, but also one in which it will have to walk a fine line between being what Weiner calls “a public professional network”, and one which retains its users trust. Exciting times, but better not smile too much.



About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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