The future of LinkedIn and B2B social media by one of its pioneers

What should one think of LinkedIn today, and what will be its future? One keeps hearing rumours about LinkedIn. “It’s a lot like Facebook, you know”, and “Microsoft wouldn’t know what to do with it”, and so on. I must admit that I’m a bit befuddled with that kind of statements.

LinkedIn, the king of B2B social media platforms, now and in the future

To find out,  I reached out to Alain Lefebvre, a B2B social media pioneer who founded the late 6nergies.net B2B social platform and authored a seminal book on social media in 2008.

Linkedin, now and in the future, with Alain Lefebvre who answered our questions for the benefit of our readers
Linkedin, now and in the future, with Alain Lefebvre who answered our questions for the benefit of our readers

On LinkedIn, one finds a lot of rude hard-sellers who scour Microsoft’s B2B social platform. Could we imagine that the decision-makers of this world will all leave the network of B2B networks one day?

You’re going straight to the point. I like that!

On LinkedIn, one finds a lot of Joe Isuzus, those unbearable and rude hard sellers who scour Microsoft’s B2B social platform. Could we imagine that the decision-makers of this world will all leave the network of B2B networks one day? You're going straight to the point. I like that! LinkedIn isn’t any different from other Web destinations. There are two types of Internet addresses: those that we discover by chance and the must-see destinations that everyone knows and visits, for different reasons. And so, inevitably, these destinations are more or less "infested" with undesirable people whose behaviour is questionable. But the real question is this: will this online “pollution” be prone to obliterate what made this online destination engaging in the first place? My answer to that question is a resounding no! First of all, we would have to understand what you mean by "decision-makers".
Alain Lefebvre

LinkedIn isn’t any different from other Web destinations. There are two types of Internet addresses: those that we discover by chance and the must-see destinations that everyone knows and visits, for different reasons.

And so, inevitably, these destinations are more or less “infested” with undesirable people whose behaviour is questionable. But the real question is this: will this online “pollution” be prone to obliterate what made this online destination engaging in the first place?

My answer to that question is a resounding no! First of all, we would have to understand what you mean by “decision-makers”.

On various levels, we are all “decision-makers” to an extent. We all manage large or small issues, and we all face tensions between what we are looking for and what we want to avoid. Hence, could LinkedIn run the risk of losing all these decision-makers (i.e. us)?

I think not. For the moment, LinkedIn is and remains the easiest and fastest way to spot subject matter experts. Now, being able to contact them is a very different kettle of fish, let alone getting them to answer your calls!

Yet, this exceptional concentration of talent and skills alone justifies using this service regularly.

From an online CV and networking tool to prospecting tool, what is the actual role of LinkedIn today, and what will it be tomorrow?

In my opinion, the motivation for the early days of the service is still there. LinkedIn remains a networking tool and an impressive online CV database. That hasn’t changed a bit.

What is new, however, is the emphasis on LinkedIn-hosted content, and I think that this is a step in the right direction too. How could one be better noticed than by publishing exciting content directly in that platform?

What I think LinkedIn should propose, in a more or less distant future, would be to refer you to professionals directly according to your centres of interest, beyond simple textual search.

Within this framework, LinkedIn could offer you to complete your profile so that this type of research is better handled (by this I mean “increase the chances that your profile will be taken into account”).

LinkedIn future
Illustration by Themirrorinquirer on their blog explaining the 6 degrees of separation

The idea here is to move from a CV databank to a database of skills and specialities. The ultimate aim of the service is to become a “hub” for professionals and what its users are after (especially those who are paying for it) is to be more easily found within targeted searches (that we imagine are relevant to their skills).

So, LinkedIn’s future is bright, I suspect.

Absolutely! LinkedIn has a bright future ahead of itself, especially since the takeover by Microsoft, which bestows technical and financial stability to the B2B social platform.

At a time when the world of IT is moving towards a growing proportion of contractors and freelancers at the expense of IT Services companies, a service like LinkedIn is ideally positioned to be a relevant and useful relay for these increasingly numerous and demanding players.

Is the 6 degrees of separation principle still relevant? Should we even be interested in it?

The famous 6 degrees of separation was indeed relevant from a theoretical point of view. Knowing that the emperor of Japan is only distant from you by this short chain of links is undoubtedly fascinating, but not wholly relevant on a practical level.

We can see that the vast majority of contacts never exceed two degrees and that, beyond that, no one is willing or able to take the necessary steps to link in with one another. It’s a bit like search engine results: few go beyond the first page, nobody bothers after the third.

Thus, I don’t think it’s essential to be pedantic about this. Yet, networking principles must be instilled in young people; that’s our mission.

LinkedIn is now the undisputed leader in the world of B2B*. Will this last forever?

I’m always sceptical about that kind of statements. I’m not sure things can ever go on forever.

In our high-tech field, all positions are temporary. Even dominant positions that seem to be best anchored in the long term are transient.

And when a player dominates his field of expertise outrageously, to the point of crushing competition entirely, the wind of change manifests itself other ways, when things go out of fashion, and are replaced with other more trendy ones. Then, the frozen situation gradually melts away automatically (of course, this kind of shift can take ten to twenty years, but it happens).

To cut a long story short, I would certainly not bet a penny of the fact that the undivided reign of LinkedIn in the professional world will last forever.

Such an important subject will always attract new players and innovative approaches. If only LinkedIn were to rest on their laurels, its dominant position could be overturned in barely two years.

As of today, no serious challenger of LinkedIn can be identified, but things may change, quickly and profoundly. I don’t think the threat will come from other Silicon Valley tech giants but from a nimble start-up, one which will be able to find a pertinent value proposition.

(*except in Russia and a few other places)

Yann Gourvennec
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