By now most LinkedIn users have likely noticed that the network is becoming more like Facebook. When LinkedIn started, it was an invitation-only social network. To join you had to be invited by an existing member, and to connect with others you had to know their email address. Posts were limited to LinkedIn Groups. It was a dull place — but it was a professional networking site, with nothing personal being shared.
Today anyone can join and post anything — and they do. There are still a lot of professional posts, but there’s an abundance of personal updates, solicitations for causes, moronic quotations, and memes on asinine topic, posts like “click here to see what happens,” and even stuff for sale (someone listed their car).
It’s Getting More “Social”
LinkedIn was not a “social” network as it was originally conceived. It was basically a replacement for a Rolodex — an easier way to keep your professional connections. Social means having two-way conversations and sharing. There wasn’t much of that going on. And it showed in the time spent by users — barely 10 minutes a week on average in the early years. It’s that much per day now.
LinkedIn groups were a wasteland. But once LinkedIn opened up to publishing, it was inevitable that the network would become less professional. Think about any professional meeting where there’s a social event — conversations invariably drift away from purely professional topics.
Sharing is not new; it’s human nature. Given the opportunity, people will share anything and everything. The New York Times has published a study on the psychology of sharing. What the authors found was that the majority (over 70 percent) of people share because:
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- It lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
- It allows them to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
- It allows them to feel more involved in the world.
Sharing is how people define themselves and how they nurture and grow relationships. This is why the top two types of content people like to share are pictures of themselves and their opinions. Content that can be considered humorous is the most likely to get shared. Everyone’s a comedian. Mark Twain’s line “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt,” has never been more true.
What Posts Reveal
This is where it gets interesting. A person’s posts can tell a lot about them. Research on posts shows that the big five personality traits — extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness to experience — can be identified with a high level of accuracy. Other research shows that it’s possible to correctly classify a person as a smoker, drinker, or drug user, using only their “likes.” Even level of emotional stability and intelligence are indicated by likes. The research was done using Facebook data, but there’s no reason to believe it won’t extend to LinkedIn posts and likes.
It’s not difficult to see where this is going. The accuracy of prediction models is only going to increase as more data becomes available. Employers will certainly use these models to screen applicants and identify potential candidates. Analysis of posts and likes can be used as an automated assessment that may not only be more accurate, but also less prone to cheating and misrepresentation than assessments that are administered to people. Of course, these analyses can also reveal attributes like sexual orientation or political views that a person may not have intended to share. But the genie’s out of the bottle and it’s not going back. It’s the age of Linkbook. Like it or not, it’s here to stay.