Michael Westgate, VP, Marketing at RealMassive, takes on automated networking.
I will preface this entire post with the fact that I am a card-carrying LinkedIn advocate. Playing both job- and talent-seeker at various points in my career, it has become my sole networking tool and a comprehensive resume replacement. My profile page is a highly-curated collection of personal statements, professional experiences and accolades, and business contacts. This digital persona is one that I protect carefully, so I have drawn a clear line between how I behave here versus Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. LinkedIn is not, nor has it ever been an audience building or glad-handing tool for me.
Recently I connected with a colleague and landed on LinkedIn’s now standardized “invite your email contacts to connect” page. I have never been a fan of apps which impose blatant empire-building actions on their users, so I typically ignore-and-proceed. However, with one simple mis-click, I unknowingly initiated an email campaign for new professional connections. I had literally auto-invited my entire email address book which included friends, family, and a flurry of individuals I had never even met (even my own secondary email address received an invite). I would not have noticed but my phone began to buzz uncontrollably with new connection confirmations. Diving back into the platform, I was horrified to learn that there is no “undo” with LinkedIn. After a quick but unsuccessful search through their help section, I took to the trusty interwebs for answers. In the end, my only option was to contact LinkedIn support directly (only enabled after digging through their FAQ section) and ask them to retract any unaccepted invites
Why am I sharing this? My intent has nothing to do with trolling or corporate-smearing. I LOVE LinkedIn, I depend upon it, and if resumes ultimately become extinct, I’d applaud them as THE undisputed pioneer of efficient and paperless professional networking. This is simply a learning experience for marketing professionals like myself, tasked with customer acquisition and retention in the age of digital automation. CMOs today should be exploring value-added but unobtrusive ways to connect directly with our customers, expose them to new features and functionality, and engender positive word-of-mouth network effects. My experience with LinkedIn was a humbling reminder that even the mighty stumble, and though marketing automation can be sexy and efficient, it is not always aligned to seamless user experience. Here are my key takeaways:
1. Know Thy Customer: According to LinkedIn, I have achieved “All Star” status, thanks to nine years of profile optimization and thoughtful network building. At this point in my tenure with the platform, why would I want my entire Rolodex to see my resume? If I were aggressively building a personal CRM I would’ve done this one day one, but to the outside world I now appear to be a desperate, cheap networker. Perhaps instead of asking me to find new connections they could have enabled me to share a tip on new or hidden features with my existing network. This would have been much more valuable to my contacts and continues to help me build professional value as thought leader and helpful colleague.
2. Map Their Journey: In the past nine years, what have been my behaviors on the platform? Where have I spent my time wisely enough to earn elevated status? What do my clicks suggest about my preferred features and which are just noise? Could my journey indicate an opportunity to reinforce or expose me to premium services? I have done a good but not great job of giving and receiving recommendations, but I am not certain of the specific value associated with this behavior and search-ability within the LinkedIn universe. Perhaps I need a reminder of the enumerated value of endorsements which could prompt me to further bolster my profile (and that of others). This perpetual give-get cycle is good for me, my network, and obviously the platform.
3. Strive for a Consistent Experience: My LinkedIn profile building efforts have been mostly self-driven but heavily informed by tips, tricks, and recommendations directly from LinkedIn nurture campaigns. If the implicit value prop for LinkedIn is guided self-service and careful optimization, a fast and furious invite-all prompt seems counter intuitive and negligent. Similarly, forcing a user through lengthy forums and irrelevant FAQ’s to remediate timely service issues is inconsistent and frustrating. Every single branded touchpoint must feel value-driven, whether that is an automated email, a site visit, or a banner ad. I hold LinkedIn to a high standard given the respect I have for the brand, but I suspect their bar is much higher. As brand owners, we must recognize the ripple effect each experience (on-page or off) can have on brand affinity, advocacy, and overall customer retention.
I have come full circle in my frustration and now appreciate the learning opportunity this experience presented me. As a startup marketer, these simple but critical decisions on brand and experience should inform my company’s explicit and perceived value proposition. So I will close by saying “thank you” to LinkedIn for reinforcing the value of perception and feedbck in the age of automation.