How Facebook widens the distance to LinkedIn

I recently chatted with one of the LinkedIn co-founders about the evolution of LinkedIn. He asked my why I seem to use more and more Facebook's platform even on the business side. Last week my friend Mike Dubrall shared with me that he has completely changed his usage pattern from 90% LinkedIn and 10% all others together, to less than 10% LinkedIn, more than 50% Facebook and then the rest.

In accordance to a "ZimmPoll" Facebook seems to be the dominate leader of the social networks when it comes to usage. Facebook Twitter and YouTube owning over 80% of the "Mind Share".

Image source AgWired

Microsoft, Google, Facebook have one thing in common:

They do their thing without ever following anybody or anything – instead execute their very own vision. The rest is crumbling by following.

Followers make leaders! Followers widens the distance between leader and follower and turns them into insignificance. Twitter is a great example too – doing just their thing. While they are still at risk – too much influence from too many people – there is a good chance for them too to lead their segment.

LinkedIn is an unfortunate victim of the "following disease". Despite a superior vision on how to structure discussion groups or connect with others in a quality manner – LinkedIn decided to move from one redesign to the next and moved from a leader to a follower.  LinkedIn Groups were the no.1 choice for professional discussions. After trying to mimic Twitter and Facebook in fanciness, discussions declined rapidly and more and more moved to Facebook without LinkedIn even noticing. On top of all that: discussions moved to Quora or Focus and LinkedIn looses ground every day. Why? They have no time to follow their own vision but use up their time to keep up with the development of others.

Remember the day where you had to be professionally introduced to somebody before you can connect on LinkedIn? No more. On Twitter you follow people with a click. That is super attractive. So maybe that's the model for success? Lets follow that model… Twitter has a completely different purpose. But the pressure to grow the number of users has outgrown the companies vision. Why? Because the business model is no longer having the best professional network – but instead the business model is to grow the number of advertisers and they go where the most people are. [NOTE: remember the print media problem? Advertisers leaving print, moving to online and newspapers died.]

I'd suggest adding a risk in the S1 filing for their upcoming IPO that the dependency on advertising may put the company in danger. Investors may not see that risk and may assume the revenue comes from subscriptions.

The distance is rapidly widening

The distance between Facebook and LinkedIn has grown rapidly over the past two years. Facebook will hit 700 Million Users any soon and Linkedin slowed down – still being below 100 Million. At the same time, latecomer  Twitter (started in 2006) claims already twice the user base than LinkedIn. Mark Zuckerberg managed to keep his vision uninterrupted. Reid Hoffman traded his vision for something else.

The behavioral change of LinkedIn reminds me very much of Yahoo. Like LinkedIn, Yahoo at one point stopped innovating and leading and spend more and more time following others that requested them to continue to follow with no more time to innovate. And following doesn't necessarily meaning doing what others do – but also stop doing something because others do it. The former leader shrank to insignificance.

The sad story is that this became a standard behavior in many businesses. As somebody who has many discussions with leaders about how to improve their respective business, less and less seem to even WANT to lead but settle with following somebody else.

The worst request I get more and more often: "All we need right now – is do what X does. Can you help us getting there?" Of course I reject but there are armies of consultants who not only question the approach in the first place but actually promise to do exactly that and it is the best thing for the company to do that.

My law of leadership is that once an industry is about to mature leaders accelerate and followers decelerate. I've seen it over three decades and it never failed me. There is no such thing called "first mover advantage" there is only "uninterrupted leadership". And uninterrupted leadership can happen any time in the lifecycle of an industry – the first mover however is more endangered than the challenger. LinkedIn started 2003 – Facebook started a whole year later.

Can LinkedIn escape the following sequence and turn back to leadership? Absolutely, this industry is far from being established. There are many opportunities that are not even touched by anybody yet – in particular when it comes to integrating business teams into the social web, but it'll take some significant changes.




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