Why the next professional network will look nothing like LinkedIn

As LinkedIn unbundles, SaaS companies emerge as leaders of the new professional networks

LinkedIn, now in its 16th year, was built for a different era where professional ability was confined to a resume and recruiters served as gatekeepers between professionals and hiring managers.

Resumes, career fairs, networking events, professional organizations…

If the new American Dream is defined by “creative expression, online influence and extreme optionality” over linear moves up the corporate ladder, then LinkedIn is enough to make any Millennial or Gen Z jobseeker cringe.

Today, we’re seeing an “unbundling of LinkedIn” with a whole ecosystem of programs, services and technologies to better serve the 500 million+ professionals across different geographies, sectors, interests.

In this essay, we’ll explore:

  • LinkedIn: first to market with enduring network effects
  • What’s broke? 75% of LinkedIn revenue comes from recruiters
  • Why the resume is dead and what’s next
  • SaaS companies emerge as the new leaders of professional networks

LinkedIn: first to market with enduring network effects

LinkedIn started as the first social network for working aged adults and scaled into an enduring platform that has outlived its consumer social peers (Friendster, Myspace). Long before YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, there was LinkedIn.

LinkedIn benefits from two key factors:

  • Strong, enduring network effects: steady stream of students who enter the workforce each year, job hopping and career changes increase engagement
  • Highly monetizable beyond traditional ads: ability to charge consumers (jobseekers) and businesses (sales, recruiting, marketing) for premium features and services

What’s broke & new opportunities to displace LinkedIn

To truly understand how a platform works, examine how it makes money.

In the early days of LinkedIn, its ability to generate significant enterprise revenue was a core differentiator compared to other social networks which have limited forms of monetization beyond standard ad units.

But in the same way that the consumerization of enterprise technology has given individuals more freedom, choice and control over the tools they use at work, LinkedIn’s loyalty to recruiters comes at the cost of a better end-user experience.

The end-user experience goes down as the number of InMail from sales reps, recruiters and marketing campaigns goes up.

Today, up to 75% of revenue comes from employers and recruiters. And it shows.

What’s broke? The resume.

While the resume is a fairly accurate snapshot of professional credentials.

It fails to reflect true potential such as grit, ability to collaborate with others and professional skills developed on evening and weekends.

Much of LinkedIn’s value today is in its ability to link to Dribbble, Github, Substack and new platforms with shared skills and a thriving community to critique your work.

New opportunities include: 

Professional networks with shared interests and emphasis on peer education: Dev.to for developers, Girlboss for female business owners. 

Where people want to hang out on evenings and weekends. 

Professional networks with peer reviews and recommendations: TrustedFor for suggesting in-network experts for specific projects. 

Where shout-outs are fun and feels more like a social network than writing performance reviews. 

Professional networks where individuals can build their own services business with public profiles and reviews from happy customers.

Where your hobbies and side projects can turn into meaningful extra cash. 

Moonlight matches developers with creative side projects and opportunities to “moonlight” outside of their current role using a pseudonymous profile with professional experience and community reviews.

Developers spend up to 20 hours a week on technical debt and fixing bad code, the ability to find interesting projects outside of work is accelerated learning and career progression that’s not dependent on current employer.

What’s broke? The promised land that lives behind a paywall.

Want to connect with like-minded people on LinkedIn, apply for jobs or find better work? It’ll cost you $29.99/month. 

A free plan on LinkedIn offers only the ability to see the last 5 people who have viewed your profile.

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New opportunities include: 

SaaS tools that deliver daily utility emerge as the leaders of new professional networks.

By adding a public facing profile and the ability to share your work ie: open-source designs, templates and projects, SaaS tools that invest in community can deliver a better end-user experience that’s inherently sticky.

When users build a portfolio, grow their following and contribute to the community, they build a personal track record and bring the tool from one job to the next (BYOT).

Example 1: Figma Community

The ability to “Publish publicly” has been integrated into the core workflow and requires two clicks from the user. 

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Example 2: Webflow Community

The ability to share your work, build an audience and allow users to clone your work.

A single user can see 25K+ views, 10K+ comments and 1K+ clones.

Power contributors can build a following, find new work and contribute new work to the community independent of their current employer.

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As SaaS companies expand from tool-based utility to professional networks, companies will measure user retention (from job to job) in addition to traditional employer focused metrics (logo retention).

The best networks will play an active role in how users make their next big career move through user conferences, branded Slack channels and curated events.

As LinkedIn continues to unbundle, we’re entering an era of productivity, collaboration and creativity where the new professional networks are not new at all. They’re the tools we use everyday.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the unbundling of LinkedIn and new opportunities for professional networks. Say hi on Twitter: @briannekimmel

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