Does LinkedIn’s Free Agent Platform Have a Future?

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 Freelancer.com. 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.

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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.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought Indeed.com for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.

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