What LinkedIn Stories tell us about CX in social media

Customers don't always ask for the new features or changes to an experience a brand introduces. And when they're not paying customers, it's complicated

Gary Vaynerchuk’s most recent LinkedIn Story consists of some screen shots from his Twitter account. Bobby Umar’s LinkedIn Story posed a question on work-life balance and announced that he was about to go live. Guy Kawasaski used his LinkedIn Story to post photos of a microphone to promote International Podcast Day.

If you’re not familiar with any of those people, they represent some fairly high-profile business people — the kind who would be considered the B2B equivalent of influencers on Instagram. If their content doesn’t sound as compelling as what you might see on Instagram Stories, however, it will only feed the vitriol that has greeted LinkedIn Stories since they launched a few days ago.

“No one needed LinkedIn Stories,” was one of the most common responses I’ve seen. While almost any kind of redesign often roils people, LinkedIn Stories seemed to be viewed by many people I follow as an attempt by the business-oriented social platform to become as “fun” or “cool” as the others. It was like your teacher working a slang term into their lecture, or one of your parents putting on leather pants.

In a fundamental way, however, LinkedIn Stories could have a significant impact on the customer experience of using it. Like Instagram (and Snapchat before it), Stories will run at the very top of the app. This is the primary real estate of the platform, encouraging people to look at it before the regular content that fills the “feed” of business advice, links and webinar invites they normally see.

That means someone might feel they should create photos or videos for their LinkedIn Story that point to their LinkedIn articles, posts or other content that they want someone to engage with in some way. (LinkedIn is not yet allowing links within its Stories, probably because it knows marketers would go hog-wild with it.) It might also make people prioritize videos and photos over the text-based content that has been a mainstay on LinkedIn up until now, despite efforts to promote live streaming.

I could see why this could upset LinkedIn users, because many of my connections use it as their primary channel for personal branding. It’s one of the last social platforms where you can get some pretty decent organic reactions, sometimes in the hundreds or thousands in response to a well-written paragraph. The comments tend to be more thoughtful and civil — it makes Reddit look like some kind of dystopian society. You can share professional wins like a new client or successful project, or point people to career opportunities.

LinkedIn Stories, on the other hand, is proposing its users begin to emphasize more of the behind-the-scenes, day to day minutiae of their working lives. This could humanize people who seem overly polished in their business persona, but that’s already happening with so many of us working from home and exposing ourselves more candidly on Zoom calls.

I am old enough to remember when LinkedIn was primarily a place to post your resume, and where your feed consisted mostly of notifications that someone in your network had added new connections or had joined a LinkedIn Group. The customer journey since then has been one where I have been increasingly immersed in the rich job-related content I see posted there every day. LinkedIn Stories, at least so far, don’t seem to offer a lot more value on top of that.

The CX of a platform like LinkedIn is more complex, however, because the majority of its users are not really paying for it. The company’s key stakeholders — let’s call them the revenue-generating customers (RGCs) are the recruiting firms and those using its Sales Navigator to get leads. Does LinkedIn Stories help them? Only if it drives more activity across the entire platform.

On the flip side, LinkedIn’s stated mission is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” It has pursued that mission by increasingly diversifying the range of options by which its users could create and share content. When you consider the success of Stories on Instagram (though perhaps not Facebook), bringing them to LinkedIn is akin to acting in an omni-channel fashion by a brand. It’s ensuring the availability of choice, even if only a subset of its audience takes advantage of it, just as it has done in allowing users to create their own LinkedIn newsletters.

CX is often discussed as removing friction rather than fixing something that doesn’t appear to be broken. Being truly customer-centric, however, may occasionally require bringing customers something they didn’t realize they might want or need. I’m not sure how LinkedIn Stories will pan out, but they are only one small chapter in the ongoing story of LinkedIn.

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