FieldBack in February, SteamFeed ran a piece in favor of upgrading to LinkedIn’s Premium accounts.    The author’s argument comes down to the fact that LinkedIn Premium accounts are worth the price because of the new features they unlock: More search filters! Making notes on profiles! InMail (which the free-riding plebs don’t even get access to)! Etc.!

These are all really great features, and I follow our author’s point. In fact, I agree with her and quite a few other writers: LinkedIn Premium accounts are great business tools. What I don’t agree with is the assertion that Premium accounts are worth their (variable) price tags, because I don’t even think LinkedIn should be charging in the first place.

Yes, It’s a Social Media Site

“I think we need to consider LinkedIn to be more of a business tool than a social media site,” Viveka Von Rosen, author of the aforementioned SteamFeed piece, writes. No argument there: I go on Facebook to mess around with friends, toss out half-formed opinions, and share weird music that people don’t even really like; I go on LinkedIn to update my resumé and reach out to people who might like to be interviewed for the stories I write. You probably do similar things.

But while LinkedIn isn’t a social network in the ways that Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are, it’s still a social network in the sense that it is a network of interconnected people. And when we throw these networks of interconnected people online, we call them “social media sites.” The only difference between Facebook and LinkedIn is that LinkedIn digitizes professional society, while Facebook does the same for, well, pretty much every other part of society.

And if that bit of linguistic maneuvering isn’t convincing enough, we can establish a pretty striking family resemblance between LinkedIn and other social media sites:

  • LinkedIn looks like a social media site: You’re greeted by a news feed when you log in. Your connections’ profiles are arranged like profiles on any other social network: photos, contact details, relevant personal information.
  • LinkedIn works like a social media site: You poke around, looking for people you know and add them as “friends” (“connections,” in the professional society of LinkedIn). You can share important information (like the new job you got) or other content that you find interesting (career advice from one of LinkedIn’s influencers, maybe). You can join groups based around shared interests.

LinkedIn might have a professional bent — and it may serve a professional purpose — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a social media platform.

Well, Everyone Needs to Get Paid

LinkedIn is a social media site and a business tool. Does that mean they have no right to make money?

Not at all. But does LinkedIn need to severely limit functionality in a ploy to get people to pay for the service? I’d say no to this as well. Look at the social media sites that don’t charge people:

  • Twitter makes an estimated $0.64 per user.
  • Facebook makes an estimated $1.60 per user.

What does LinkedIn make per user? $0.60, which is clearly less than its free competitors make. That’s probably because three-quarters of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from subscriptions, but only 15.1 percent of LinkedIn users are paying. LinkedIn has created a tiny elite with access to full functionality  (or, fuller than the free users get: remember, there are multiple account levels to choose from) and a deprived majority (84.4 percent of LinkedIn users stick with their free accounts). So, Occupy LinkedIn, then?

In all seriousness, it’s clear that free social networking services can, in fact, make money. And when so few people are paying LinkedIn’s prices, why shouldn’t LinkedIn hop on the free bandwagon? That may require more advertising, but I’m sure users would enjoy paying that price for full functionality. Plus, eliminating tiered accounts and giving everyone access to the same features may bring in more users, as well as give existing users reasons to use LinkedIn more often. As it currently stands, 52.2 percent of LinkedIn users spend 0-2 hours on the site per week. By comparison, the average Facebook user spends 7 hours a month on the site — or, no less than 1.75 hours a week.

In the age of social media, LinkedIn just needs to embrace its true nature. Part of that means dumping the pricing plans, so everyone has a chance to enjoy the site’s tools.

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