The original LinkedIn was all about connections.
To build your professional network, you connected with others, in a similar way that you made friends or ‘friended’ on Facebook.
Once you were connected, you could endorse each other, send messages and maybe even help one another make that next career move.
Fast forward 10+ years. LinkedIn was bigger. Much bigger.
There’s only so many business cards you can absorb and endorsements you can receive from your buddies.s Finding jobs is still a big value prop too, but you’re not looking for a job every day.
The product had grown but also needed new, persuasive reasons for people to continue using Linkedin.
The need for a new concept
Enter the newsfeed. The newsfeed was a feed of content that mainly included updates and posts from your connections.
The problem was, sometimes you wanted to see content in your feed from people you didn’t know in real life. Users were unlikely to accept requests from people they didn’t know and were burnt from salespeople who bought their way into the inbox.
Therefore, the content in your feed was greatly constrained by who you were or weren’t connected to.
The concept of connecting was serving the purpose of friending and following. Connecting is two-sided and based on trust, following is one-sided. There needed to be a change.
So LinkedIn introduced a new concept, called follow. Follow allows you to see someones posts and articles without being connected.
Following vs Connecting
Following solves a user problem, but it’s not without some complications.
Firstly, there’s privacy. With Connect, it makes sense that only people you’re connected to can see your posts. But with following, which is one sided, it opens the question of who can see your posts. Are all posts default public? It’s now trickier for users to make both public posts and posts only for connections. There’s now a need for post-by-post visibility settings.
Also, since connect originally served the same purpose as follow, how do you untangle them? Linkedin solves this by allowing you to ‘unfollow’ a connection (you are following them by default).
It’s also a little confusing to have two similar actions on the platform ‘follow and connect’. What should be the primary action? And why should I follow someone rather than connect? There’s a lot of thinking to do especially around who gets recommended and tied to what action. For example, LinkedIn would never suggest you connect with Bill Gates. Conversely, they might choose to promote follow for an influencer who is gaining traction with their articles, to help them grow their audience.
There’s also the work to communicate the benefits of following:
- If you’re looking to gain even more professional insights, updates, and advice from the knowledgeable people you don’t know on LinkedIn.
- See and interact with people you want to learn from
- Following people can help you get started by gleaning job hunting tips
It’s an interesting case study of a product growing, user needs changing and business priorities shifting.
Even if they seem small and insignificant, concepts like connect and follow are how users understand and use your product, and how they ultimately get to the value they are looking for.
It’s much easier to sell, explain and encourage usage of a new feature of function if it cleanly serves one purpose. Connect (still) serves many purposes and still causes confusion to this day.