Graeme Somerville-Ryan
Sep 10, 2014

Content marketing: Should LinkedIn replace PR agencies?

LinkedIn users are being slowly overrun by content with no professional value. So where does LinkedIn go from here?

Somerville-Ryan: LinkedIn could
Somerville-Ryan: LinkedIn could "put the average agency out of work overnight"

This column follows through on a topic the author began to explore in a previous piece, "Will quotivational posters and poor content damage the value of LinkedIn?"

It is no secret that LinkedIn is trying to diversify its revenue streams. Company page functionality features are being reduced, as is the ability to view older posts and updates. Products such as Sales Navigator are being introduced to earn cold hard cash. LinkedIn seems to be realising that it can, and should, be far more than just a CV and recruitment site.

But as part of this awakening, LinkedIn has some big decisions to make, mainly around content quality control. The big increase in unvetted published content and random motivational quotes (LinkedIn’s version of cute kitten pictures) posted on the network have the potential to reduce the platform’s attractiveness to serious users and corporate sales teams. The content quality on LinkedIn is becoming diluted, and brands (including good writers), may not want to be associated with this decline in quality.

LinkedIn runs the risk of suffering the same fate as any ‘content weak’ website. People will stop visiting it.

LinkedIn needs serious commercial users because this is their niche in the market. Business people use LinkedIn to connect with their peers and to, hopefully, access commercially useful information. There has been something of a balance in the past, but users are being slowly overrun by content with no professional value. So where does LinkedIn go from here? What are the options for LinkedIn and its rich-content users?

The bad option: User self-regulation

LinkedIn has become a source of information and news updates for many users. However, by opening up the self-publishing function to all users LinkedIn has unleashed a wave of dubious content. If the general standard of article quality continues to fall readers will, increasingly, filter what they read by its source. Forbes, The Economist, and various third-party publications already are, and will increasingly become better indicators of content quality. If third-party publishing becomes the indicator of quality, LinkedIn will be nothing more than a place to re-post content.

As both a content producer and user, I believe LinkedIn’s laissez-faire approach has actually increased the value of third-party publication (both online and traditional). From a content production point of view, I would rather invest time and money in material which can make it through an editorial process. Good news for the traditional publishing world.

Readers losing trust in the quality of published content is not a good outcome for LinkedIn. Products and services need trust to survive. For LinkedIn, there is no money to be made from readers self-regulating.

The better option: LinkedIn regulation

I’m a New Zealander and therefore have an inbred love of regulation and official control. What could possibly go wrong with regulators involved? Ok… Ok… Even I get a laugh out of government sponsored/controlled/managed innovation programmes. But…

Facebook and Google are both flexing their parental control muscle to ensure their users get quality content. So why not LinkedIn? It would seem a little unfair and churlish to remove everyone’s publishing rights, but there is scope for LinkedIn to do more than ‘Recommend’ an article on Pulse. A professional/opinionated team of business analysts and editors could start to independently rank and review content and authors. Subjective? Yes. Hard work? Undoubtedly. Profitable? Possibly.

Would a content author pay to be assessed and reviewed? Writers who know the power of the content marketing, individual branding, and networking just might. Reviewing and rating articles on their editorial quality and knowledge value could be a nice little money-spinner. (LinkedIn had better flick some work my way if they steal this idea.)

The left-field option: Competing against the PR companies

If much of the self-published content on LinkedIn needs editorial or PR support, should LinkedIn offer this as a service? The company could put the average PR/comms agency business out of work overnight. And there is money to be made here. Big money.

Both companies and individuals would pay to have content developed and distributed. It’s happening anyway, with PR consultants, marketing teams, content agencies, and my mum all pushing material out through the network. For a price, probably quite a reasonable price, LinkedIn could cut out the PR middlemen (though not my mum), and boost the overall standard of content at the same time.

LinkedIn users want to read better articles. Many people have good ideas which they have difficulty articulating. There seems to be some mutual benefit here. Outsourcing content production is common in numerous other industries; publishers do it, as do professional services companies.

There is no reason LinkedIn could not do this.

Undoubtedly there would be numerous issues around conflicts of interest, and questions about what material LinkedIn chose to push. But do LinkedIn readers really believe the posts by their favourite business celebrities are self-written? Do politicians write all their own speeches?

If the content quality increased would anyone care or notice?

LinkedIn’s shareholders might.


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