Spam: The Other White Meat

I’ll admit, I’m a little elitist – after all, I was one of the first people LinkedIn let into the Publisher program back when they opened it up a bit from the Buffetts and Bransons of the world to regular schmoes like me who happen to have a decent digital footprint.

While I simply logged on one day to find a little pencil hanging out there (I’m a known entity to both LinkedIn’s marketing and legal teams as I devote a lot of column inches to covering their chicanery), there was in fact a rigorous screening process (they said) involving an application, submission of work for review, social media account verification, the sorts of stuff you do when you’re shooting for selectivity.

I published a few posts, mostly bashing LinkedIn – to their credit, while they didn’t take them down, whatever “algorithm” Pulse uses to display content was probably preempted, as their stated policy that posts generating the most engagement were awarded increased visibility proved, like everything else at LinkedIn, an arbitrary and selectively enforced policy at best.

And even on posts with a share to view ratio of like 35% (compared to an industry wide average of around 2-3%, depending on the platform), proof that LinkedIn at least has the potential to drive relevant readers to content they actually care about – and while my stuff looked like it was getting buried, at least LinkedIn left it up, which I’m cool with.

What I’m not cool with, however, is how LinkedIn has transformed the publisher program from curated and carefully managed content from a select pool of people who kinda know what they’re talking about (present company excluded) into, for lack of a better phrase, a cum dumpster of online content that makes Forbes.com seem as high brow and erudite as the New Yorker. And that site cycles through more crap than your average municipal sewage system.

This isn’t sour grapes – in fact, I love the fact that ostensibly, by opening the Publisher platform, LinkedIn is giving a major outlet to new voices looking for visibility – and, in theory, rewarding the good ones by blowing up their brands. Helping new writers find their voice and find an audience is my passion in life as well as my professional goal – which is why I’m so sad that LinkedIn and I are so completely at odds when it comes to strategy.

I get the business rationale behind this – the more people generating content, the better the SEO, the lower the bounce rate and the higher the time spent on site and average page views – the kinds of metrics that sell advertising and satisfy shareholders. But in fact, LinkedIn has eroded the value of their core product by cheapening it with content that clogs up this “professional network” with crap that is not only unprofessional, but stuff that potentially erodes LinkedIn’s paid revenue model, too.

Consider the fact that – to no one’s surprise, really, if you’ve ever joined a LinkedIn group at all – almost immediately after expanding Publisher access, recruiting and HR professionals, disproportionately contingency staffing firms and offshored recruiters mostly from RPOs and MSPs, started clogging the newly reinstated news feed with job postings.

Most made no effort to even disguise these as blog posts – nope, that’s too much work for the piecework recruiting that spray and pray approach espoused by most recruiters, who are too lazy to even modify those same job descriptions to make the positions they’re trying to fill actually sound like interesting, viable opportunities. Why LinkedIn would allow these posts to stay up on site when it’s obviously circumventing their paid posting options is anyone’s guess, but mine is they simply don’t have the resources to police the content that’s showing up. And man, is it raining spam.

Sure, vendors are going to do advertorials that are nothing but product messaging and backlinking, and those people whose only job seems to be to sit at home and tweet about their “expertise” in job search and recruiting mostly because they can’t get a real job are always going to justify their existence by blowing up every channel out there with their bylines for “personal brand building” (threw up in my mouth a little there).

Those kinds of posts, particularly the former, also erode LinkedIn’s ability to sell display advertising and help add value to job seekers and employers to meet LinkedIn’s stated mission “to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.” When you don’t curate, moderate or manage the content showing up in the feeds of people who ostensibly rely on this stuff to have better careers, opportunities and quality of life in general, you’re eroding that ability to create economic opportunity.

Instead, you’re cheapening everyone’s experience by overloading them with thoughtless thought leadership, influencers under the influence, “how tos” that don’t really work (even to sell the product that they’re so subtly working in throughout the post) or job descriptions for crap jobs in crap towns for no name companies that don’t even want to invest enough in their workforce to pay for a real job posting, on LinkedIn or otherwise.

Sure, LinkedIn just bought Newsle in an attempt to rectify this irrelevance by doing a better job showing content from people you’re connected to, but chances are you don’t know half of your connections, and the only reason they’re in your “network” is because they send out invitations to anyone they can find (LIONS are another plague that needs to be eradicated, but that’s an entirely different post) or you had to work with them at some point in your career in the distant past.Either that, or they scraped your inbox with Rapportive or displayed a somewhat tenuous connection as someone “you may know” and you thought, yeah, “maybe I do” before clicking accept and forgetting about it.

LinkedIn Publisher was a great experiment, but here’s the thing: people aren’t here for content, they’re here for careers (or recruiting, biz dev, sales or marketing, but those are really diversions from the core mission of most users). Adding a bunch of erroneous career advice, advertisements and articles from sites like Business Insider or Forbes Online, which themselves are basically regurgitated, repurposed content to begin with, doesn’t help improve anyone’s economic opportunity, not even, for once, the shareholders of $LNKD.

And since asking a recruiter or marketer to stop spamming is like asking an HR Lady to stop eating chocolate or an HR Tech sales guy to stop drinking: it’s not going to happen. But since they’ve already rolled it out to every user, rolling it back to the few, the proud, the somewhat competent seems an impossibility, because it would inevitably draw members’ ire and because it would force LinkedIn to cop to a mistake, something that they’d rather fight in court than simply acknowledge and move on (historically).

That’s why there’s only one other option for this place: to kill Publisher entirely, and focus on building stuff like decent search and stack ranking capabilities, facilitating better connections and engagement as well as making it easier for the right candidates and the right recruiters to find each other. After all, that’s the stuff that one would assume are the features and functionalities inherent to any platform positioning itself as a “professional network.”

But as we all know, that term’s nothing more than marketing – just like the “content” that’s crowding your news feed with crap that’s anything but newsworthy.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Publisher, which means that I may or may not own intellectual property rights to this content. So sue me.

6 Comments on “Spam: The Other White Meat

  1. Interesting post. I hadn’t thought about it before, but maybe opening up publishing to every member serves LinkedIn’s plan to transform itself into a giant personal brand marketplace, kind of like a 24 hour commercial for every member. IMHO, this will rapidly lead to it becoming irrelevant. It’ll turn into a hangout for the unemployed experts you spoke about, where people shout at you with their opinions about business, most of which are inane, boring, and incorrect. Of course, this won’t stop me from using it to publish my own crap, at least in the short term.

  2. I wanted to write a post on this subject myself ever since I was invited to “publish” on LinkedIn, so far resisting the urge to do so, whilst marveling at the rapidly growing landfill of inane content it has resulted in. But you’ve pretty much nailed it Matt, so I’ll leave you with this particular piece of “thoughtless thought leadership” kudos. Nicely said!

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