Does LinkedIn’s Free Agent Platform Have a Future?

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Jul 26, 2016

LinkedIn is fascinating but frustrating. Is it just the world’s biggest pile of professional resumes or something more? Is being a publishing platform and learning site central to its future or secondary? LinkedIn sure is useful for now, but where is its future?

One thing that LinkedIn hopes is part of its future is the on-demand economy. With ProFinder, it becomes a talent platform for finding free agents. ProFinder is up against the likes of MBA & Company, Sparehire, Upwork, Twago and Can LinkedIn succeed as a talent platform? I’m not so sure.

There are three elements that make for a great talent platform:

  1. An ability to match talent to work.
  2. An ability to manage the workflow.
  3. An ability to attract and retain a talent community of free agents.

LinkedIn has the third element nailed. They’ve got an automatic community because everyone is on LinkedIn, even if they are completely unaware of ProFinder. It’s the other two elements that are troubling.

To match talent to work LinkedIn has resumes — that’s not a high quality source of data. For a programmer you’d rather see code; for designers, work samples; for retail workers, certifications. As long as LinkedIn’s big asset is resumes, it risks being beaten out by talent platforms that have better information for providing a match.

For managing the workflow, I’m sure LinkedIn’s ProFinder will work hard at providing the kinds of administrative features that a site like Upwork offers; but the pure talent platforms will be heartily motivated to stay one step ahead. Furthermore, there seems little chance ProFinder will ever build workflow processes that compete with specialized talent platforms such as Tongal which live and breathe the video production space.

I’m happy to see more players in the talent platform space, but LinkedIn will have to devote a lot of intelligence to ProFinder if it hopes to be competitive.

What is interesting?

  • It’s interesting how LinkedIn is trying many different things to monetize the social network it has created. And it’s interesting how the sense of enormous potential is muted by the sense that it’s not entirely clear what paths to monetization will work.
  • We’ll see whether Microsoft, perhaps with the benefit of experience and distance, will see LinkedIn’s best path forward better than LinkedIn could itself.

What is really important?

  • LinkedIn can play a big role in “knowing everything about everybody” which is the Holy Grail for people seeking talent. However, if most of what they know is just what’s on a resume, well that’s not nearly enough to provide great matches.
Note: The on-demand economy is one of my main areas of focus (see my book with Boudreau & Jesuthasan “Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment”). And special thanks to Jonathan Kestenbaum of TalentTech Labs for helping me think through this article.