Now I'll openly admit I've been a proponent of LinkedIn as I've previously written. I’ve often said if I was on a desert island and had to choose one social network (from a business perspective) - it would be a tough decision because other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and others all have significant merits but my choice would be LinkedIn. Based on this quick online (unofficial) poll others think the same way.
I'd also like to make it clear I'm not an employee of the company. I don’t own any stock in the company. Nor do I do receive any financial remuneration from the company.
What's the reason for this disclosure? Well I wanted to make that clear despite being a proponent given that LinkedIn has recently been in the news about their social ads. What happened was that LinkedIn was automatically opting-in its +100 million users into a social advertising program.
The way the social advertising worked was that when a LinkedIn user viewed a third-party advertisement on the social network, they would see others in their network who followed or recommended the promoted brands. So in a way it appears to be an endorsement of sorts.
Grab the pitchforks. Queue the outrage and threats to leave Linkedin from the commentariat on websites and blogs across the digital space. Indeed many people got annoyed by the social ads as it reminded some of the controversy surrounding Facebook a few years ago. Candidly, I first found out about this when someone I followed on Twitter flagged this blog post by Steve Woodruff which provided step-by-step instructions in how to unsubscribe from LinkedIn social ads.
Since I read Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing years ago I’ve always believed that as a best practice customers or users should opt-in to your marketing – as opposed to making them opt-out. That could have been a better way for LinkedIn where they could have avoided this controversy. However in fairness I’d also like to bring up a few points that come to mind:
(1) Years ago when Google started embeding advertising overlays in their videos, I tweeted my annoyance. I mean having the audacity to subject users to advertising! I was corrected by my friend David Jones who subtly noted “What do you expect when using a service for free?” I had to admit he was right. Doesn't the same principle apply with Linkedin? Most people use the basic service on LinkedIn which is free but as any company Linkedin has various operating, marketing and technology expenses. Revenue must come from somewhere such as advertising - especially when answerable to shareholders as a publicly-traded company.
(2) Very few people read the Terms of Service (TOS) when signing up for social networks. But LinkedIn does stipulate what happens when you sign-up for using this social network. No the TOS aren't as short and as simple as a blog post but they are there for anyone to review. So it’s not like they were nefarious and snuck something about social advertising under the cover of night.
(4) If LinkedIn were planning on burying this issue surrounding the issue of social ads, why would they continue to leave it on the homepage of most users and feature it as a top headline in the LinkedIn Today section? (Per screenshot below.) Does this strike you as a company trying not to be transparent?
(5) Lastly, LinkedIn quickly responded to the concerns of their members and modified some of the ‘social ads’ to reinforce that member’s trust was very important. They also showed how members could unsubscribe from social ads with one click. Could LinkedIn have communicated more appropriately with members? Yes but beyond maybe making the service opt-in to begin with or communicating in the original blog post how people could opt-out, I’m unsure of what else people expect of them. Some have suggested LinkedIn could have emailed members but I can’t help but think some people would get outraged with spam in their inboxes.
At the end of the day LinkedIn could have improved a few things but they responded to the community. I’m also sure they learned their lesson. I don't believe one should judge based on a single error but rather what is done to correct it and ensure it doesn't repeat itself. So I won't quite be deleting my account or becoming LinkedOut from LinkedIn quite just yet.
Sulemaan Ahmed Twitter @sulemaan