Facebook is where you share birthday wishes for your gal pal and scope out your ex. On Twitter, you can blast your opinions on the presidential race and see what the celebs are doing. Instagram is the perfect platform for showing off your farm-to-table lunch and drooling over vacation pics posted by friends.
And then there’s LinkedIn, the dud squatting in your social media circle. You visit it grudgingly, driven by career FOMO (fear of missing out).
Fun? Not so much.
LinkedIn boasts an international membership of 443 million, but the networking site remains extremely unpopular with users. A July American Customer Satisfaction Index that measures consumer satisfaction with internet platforms placed LinkedIn dead last, a position the site has held for six consecutive years.
“Users aren’t attached to LinkedIn or addicted to it. They don’t engage with it at the same level as other platforms,” said Ravi Bapna, co-director of the Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School. “It’s the social network for the professional persona.”
While the site has been described as cumbersome and intrusive, mocked as “a Dilbert cartoon turned into a product,” it’s also considered a necessary evil for anyone in the job market. And, some say, for anyone in the working world.
“It’s a gold mine for anyone who wants to find a new job or to advance in their career,” said online branding strategist and career coach Anne Pryor.
Still, complaints about the platform are many: It floods member’s inboxes with spam, sales pitches and job listings they haven’t requested; it gives endless updates on promotions of people users don’t know; and it’s credited — or blamed — for creating the dreaded “work anniversary,” which reminds members to congratulate their contacts on making it through another year.
In other words, “it’s cheesy,” said reluctant LinkedIn member Ellen Lucast. “The social contacts are fake. If I get an e-mail from a friend of a friend who wants to be LinkedIn with me, it feels like a social snub if I don’t add them. But I don’t know their professional skills. I’m not qualified to say anything if someone contacts me and wants to know about them. So what’s it for?”
Lucast, however, is considering a career change. The adjunct professor, who has a doctorate in linguistics, has been teaching at several private colleges, but she’s contemplating going into technical writing or advertising.
“I can’t afford to leave any avenue unexplored,” she acknowledged, “but LinkedIn is pushier than what I’m comfortable being. It feels like an imposition to message quasi-strangers or ask them to endorse me. ‘Hey, buddy, now that you can be useful to me, I want to be in touch.’ It’s gross.”
The platform’s lack of transparency also annoys Laurie Stern, who spotted a job that interested her on LinkedIn. When the St. Paul freelance journalist reviewed the position, she read a tantalizing offer — she could peek at the résumés (without the names) of other applicants if she bought a premium membership for $30 a month.
She shelled out the fee, only to find that LinkedIn requires a position to have 10 applicants before posting blind résumés. The job she was interested in didn’t have that many applicants, so there was nothing to view.
“I thought I was too smart to fall for the old bait and switch,” Stern said. “They got me.”
Not everyone is put off by the platform. Pryor, the branding strategist and career coach, was an early adopter and has become a LinkedIn trainer.
According to Pryor, recruiters and employers often rely on LinkedIn to screen job candidates during the hiring process, and some companies use the site for applications. But she said that maintaining and updating a profile is critical even for workers who are staying put.
“You might have a new boss coming in that you don’t even know about. They’re going to check you out and look at your key accomplishments,” she said. “If we’ve learned anything coming out of the recession, it’s that business is never static and no one can afford to get caught flat-footed.”
With its global reach, the platform also has proven its value in building connections.
“As an academic, LinkedIn has helped me find collaborators. I can usually find a common connection who knows the CEO of a company I’m interested in researching,” said the U’s Bapna. “LinkedIn provides a rich understanding of where expertise lies across the world, and that’s a valuable body of knowledge.”
LinkedIn, which came online in 2002, is likely to see some changes. In June, Microsoft announced plans to buy the company for $26.2 billion, a transaction expected to close later this year. Microsoft has not yet indicated its plans for the acquisition, but analysts suggest the platform would sync up with the software giant’s social networking efforts.
Despite LinkedIn’s benefits, Valerie Kahler hasn’t been persuaded to create a profile.
Kahler said she loves her job as host and producer for St. Paul-based Classical 24, a nationally syndicated classical music network, where she’s worked for 14 years. She’s puzzled by the flurry of requests from friends and acquaintances to join the networking site.
“Because I have no interest in a new job, joining LinkedIn feels like going on a dating site when I’m not single,” she said. To decide whether she needed LinkedIn, Kahler turned to the social media platform that she does understand. She asked her Facebook friends if she was missing something — or failing her friends — by not being “LinkedIn.”
“The thread was very interesting, but no one spoke up and said I would help make the world better if I signed on,” she said. “I don’t think I need it.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based broadcaster and freelance writer.