LinkedIn tapping into a network of experts

January 10, 2011

I got two emails from LinkedIn the other day. The first invited me, as an expert, to participate in a research study about my field. But wait a second, LinkedIn doing a research study?

I got two emails from LinkedIn the other day. The first invited me, as an expert, to participate in a research study about my field. That felt kind of nice. Some mysterious LinkedIn algorithm identifies me as an expert and I must admit to being just a little bit flattered. I didn’t click the accompanying link right away. The deadline was a week away, plus I just wanted to enjoy my newfound “expert” status.

But wait a second, LinkedIn doing a research study? LinkedIn has built a very personal connection to individuals in its network simply by knowing so much about them. We input contacts and backgrounds and use the magic of the web to build our professional networks exponentially via access to contacts’ contacts. There is an implied trust in the LinkedIn relationship: a trust that the user has control over their portrayal; a trust that this Rolodex in the cloud will always be there; a symbiotic trust that this broader network is as strengthened by the user’s presence as the user may be by it.

Turning the massive LinkedIn network into a giant research panel of professionals is a potentially dangerous turn down a slippery slope, especially if it is handled in the ham-handed fashion that the two emails I received suggest. This is LinkedIn taking a step towards harnessing the knowledge base of some 90 million registered professionals — and then selling that information to the market. This turns the whole trust model on its head.

LinkedIn may intend to use the knowledge of the network for the benefit of the network — by keeping the focus on career issues across a range of industries and publishing findings for member education — and this would be an appropriate extension of its accepted role.

But, what if LinkedIn sells this data based on profile information they gathered under false pretenses? What if LinkedIn sells access to me, based on this expertise they’ve identified? What happens to my trust in LinkedIn? And what changes about the network as a whole if all becomes about benefiting LinkedIn rather than benefiting the network? Keep an eye on your LinkedIn account to see what happens next.

As for that second email. It came about an hour or two after the first. Still drunk on the praise of the first email, one look at the subject line brought me right down to earth: “Sent in Error.” Ouch.

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