LinkedIn’s messaging changes: what’s in it for users?

News today that LinkedIn is revamping its messaging service an overhaul is being hailed as good news by those reporting on the changes. They say it’s “hip”, and even LinkedIn itself has characterized the new “experience” as something that’s been a long time coming (finally!).

My initial reaction is a little less unreservedly optimistic. In a vacuum, introducing more modern features to any software product is a good idea — but within the context of how they work for LinkedIn’s user base, I am curious to see if the new messenger will prove collectively less than the sum of its parts.

From the LinkedIn blog post on the changes:

We’ve rebuilt everything from the ground up so you can expect a cleaner and more streamlined look and feel to help you start or keep a conversation going. We’ve also introduced a chat-style interface to allow for easy back and forth messaging. We’ve also organized all the messages around the people that matter to you, which means you’ll be able to easily reference the last conversation you had right within the thread. We’ve also improved our push and email notifications to make it easier to stay on top of the conversations that are most relevant and important to you.

Taken together, it sounds as though there will be a lot to like. Rebuilding any application from scratch can bring improvements if only by removing crufty old code. And yes, the current email/inbox paradigm is a little stodgy for today’s social media crowd, so updating that to a chat format seems to be a logical evolution.

LinkedIn has always been somewhat of an outlier in terms of mainstream social media networks, at least in how it functions and sets expectations for those who use the service. People, both workers and employers, visit the site as much to transact professionally as to interact personally. comScore data shows LinkedIn’s traffic grew 68 per cent year-over-year in 2014 (download the report here), which is both impressive and not surprising when you consider factors like an uncertain job market and an increasingly large cohort of young, social media-savvy people entering the workforce. It is seemingly that crowd at whom the retooled messaging platform is aimed, poised to take on the likes of Facebook’s incredibly popular Messenger app, WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) and countless others.

The nature of LinkedIn is antithetical to the type of casual messaging encounters that make the other apps popular. There is a built-in sense of formality in its common activities, such as connecting with others, asking for introductions and sending email-style messages to inquire about a job posting. Maybe that does not translate well to the social web on paper, but in practice it has served LinkedIn very well.

Reducing that experience to chat-style conversations, complete with emojis, that mimics other, more entrenched players in the market seems as though it could rob the service of its raison d’être. When LinkedIn offers the same experience you can get on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or a dozen other places, why would you use it to chat? I suppose an argument could be made that it’s the people to whom you’re connected on LinkedIn that truly sets it apart, and that’s valid. But if the virtual meeting space to discuss business transforms from a virtual office — with all its associated etiquette and expectations — into a virtual coffee klatch, will the level of discourse drop commensurately?

I don’t really have answers for those questions. If LinkedIn is making this move to position its network as more familiar, and therefore approachable, to people who are not yet signed up, it could very well be a smart move. However, until the changes take effect, I will remain skeptical about the long-term consequences they engender.

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons