Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Engineering in Action - by LinkedIn!

Am not a big fan of Social Networking sites. Have ranted about my perspectives on famous social networking sites in my earlier posts. But, a recent initiative by LinkedIn really got my attention. Would like to share my observations on this initiative and some of the key take aways in this post.

In all my previous companies, the HR department typically chases employees every six months to update their individual skill sets and certifications. This information is used by Resource Managers to identify the best people required for the upcoming business opportunity, be it consulting or application development or system integration. Obviously the HR initiative falls flat consistenly with meagre employee engagement resulting in incomplete / inaccurate data.

Then IT department changes the look and feel of those competency management tools and releases a simplified new version to appeal to its employees. Assuming employees would embrace the new system, there would be new set of internal marketing / evangelization undertaken within the company. Guess What?. The pursuit falls flat again with discouraging results!.

The reason for failure is simple. Employees don't see value in return for submitting their individual skill sets/expertise/certifications.  There are no organizational incentives that compliments the IT systems to encourage the employees to submit their individual information.

LinkedIn has solved this very issue in capturing the skills data for individuals who have registered their profile with LinkedIn.  This blog post is all about the idea LinkedIn has applied in achieving decent results.

If you have been a observer of LinkedIn in the last few years, you must have seen the company morphing itself from a Professional Networking solutions provider to a Social Job Portal. Nothing wrong with that!. Its the business model that LinkedIn has adopted. Its definitely better than a business model that is completely dependent on pure-play advertising!.

Guided by its business model, LinkedIn was pestering me to provide details on my skills sets for quite sometime.  It sent me email reminders. It tried to influence me that providing details would help me to land great opportunities!.  Of course, I didn't budge!. and LinkedIn also gave up after few weeks.

Now during last week, I received about 10 emails from LinkedIn stating that one of my ex-colleague has endorsed my skills in several areas.  I received one email per skill set that is endorsed by my connection. What an Idea?

LinkedIn has cleverly applied the idea of nudging my connections to endorse my skill sets. And it really worked!.  Have also started receiving periodic emails from LinkedIn stating various conenctions of mine endorsing me in different skill areas.   Whenever a connection of mine visits my profile, LinkedIn asks the question to them if they would like to endorse me in a variety of skills areas.  If they are interested, they could endorse it and the number of endorsements appear in my profile.

 A very complex challenge that enterprises have been struggling to tackle for a long time has been solved by a very simple social idea.

The key observations that I derive out of this idea are:

- Your social connections may know little more than what you think they know about you. Of course, some of these could be mere perceptions or inaccurate information.   But, Please note having some data with less accuracy is always better than having no data at all (like the HR department example)

- By having connections endorsing your skills, LinkedIn has pulled the right levers in the interest of its business model.    It had an insight that connections would have some knowledge about an individual's skill sets.

  It also had an insight that connections would be willing to help the individual by doing the simple act of endorsements.   By helping the individual, the connections also help LinkedIn to gather more data that would be useful in its job / candidate matching.

- The unintended side-effect is that the individual may feel happy about the endorsements and may also like the connections who did the endorsement.    This could nudge the individual to renew their connections and reopen the communications with the people who have endorsed.

- Above all, the intiative helps to generate 'more' data that is decent and useful in a business and social context.   It helps to keep the system 'live' and 'fluid'.
[Would also like to add another example here by LinkedIn itself. In initial years,when somebody registers their profile with the site, it would ask certain set of information under pre-defined categories. And it would also let the user know how much percent the profile is complete with information. (e.g. 80% or 70%).  Letting the user know and indicating the completeness would potentially nudge the user to provide more information and make it complete. Pls note here the user is influenced to provide information in favor of LinkedIn's business. But the individual perceives its towards the benefits of his own interests.  Initially when I created the profile, I made it 100% complete. Now if I look at my profile again, it says 90% complete. I was wondering why?. Because, LinkedIn wants my resume also to be uploaded to make it 100%. Isn't that a great idea?. If I am a novice user, I would certainly upload my resume and make it complete. Unfortunately for LinkedIn, am not!. :-)]

This is a classic case of Social Engineering, where you are subtly nudged to do certain things in favor of an individual or a business, without major effort.
Am sure We are going to see lot more examples not just from LinkedIn but from other leading companies in near future!.


Ramesh Paturi said...

Bala - this is awesome observation. I agree with the business sense of LinkedIn - demonstrating new capabilities periodically (do not care if it is every quarter or every year). I remember my grandma giving me a new book to read every time she visited me (once in a 6 month period) and that made me happy. I am sure lot of naïve users would succumb to the new tactics of LinkedIn.

Venkataraman Ramachandran said...

Bala, thanks for summarizing these learning points! IMHO, Social Engineering is too strong a term to be used in this occasion. I see these as actions driven towards social incentives.
I believe Linkedin has miles ahead in fully leveraging the minegold of information it has.

1) How about providing APIs which will provide relevant profile information to HR depts? I remember reading somewhere about their impending collaboration with Workday. Now, that would be interesting!!:)

Bala said...

Yep, I agee Venkat. Social Engineering may be too strong a word!. But I wouldn't completely rule out unless we know that this initiative is unintentional.

Absolutely, you are right, What is the key takeway for HR departments or HR technology companies from this observation?. Can they replicate this best practice?

But, When it comes to organizational context, users become conscious of what kind of data they submit and what their consequences are.

Opening up a API for internal consumption?. That's tricky. Its technically possible. The moment somebody is goign to read my information other than the registered source, I would tend to become careful of what I submit!.

Interesting topic...lot more to discuss...more to come in my posts...Keep a watch!.