Blackberries held in my palms

LinkedIn Stories. LinkedIn’s Blackberry Moment?

A story broke out in February about LinkedIn turning to one of the hottest features in the world of social media: Stories. The feature popularized by Snapchat now seems omnipresent across the social media world. This tiny little feature owes some gratitude to the bear hug by Facebook and Facebook-owned properties such as Whatsapp and Instagram. Instagram took the cue from Snapchat and ran with it.

Today, a large chunk of Instagram content and traffic is generated by Stories. Some estimates say that Instagram captures about 25% of all the stories-generated traffic and eyeballs across platforms. In fact, about 500 million users consume stories on Instagram every day. Half a billion. This is a format that is extremely popular among the younger generation that has grown up on the bite-sized stories format. So, why should LinkedIn fall behind?

Today, May 13, LinkedIn rolled out LinkedIn Stories to the Netherlands market in Europe initially. I couldn’t find any clear announcement about when it would roll out to other markets. There was just one announcement via Stories from Peter, an editor at LinkedIn. The message says that LinkedIn Stories are “short informal messages shared with your network that disappear after 24 hours,” currently being tested with a small user group. Small being an understatement because around 9 million people from the Netherlands are on the platform (total population 17 million).

So far, I’ve noticed support for images, videos, stickers, text, and mentions. Connections can also respond to your stories with messages. I haven’t seen support for reactions yet. Will LinkedIn give us a “haha” or an “angry” emoji?

The BlackBerry Boys

Let’s pause for a moment and look at another brand that tried a major repositioning tactic and didn’t do so well. BlackBerry. Confession time. I’m a huge BlackBerry fan; I’ve owned several, starting with the Pearl. At one point, I even bought a Passport, just for kicks. I’ve still got it, and I think it’s the snappiest smartphone to read a Kindle book on. But, not for once did I think of it as a “cool phone” or something that the young kids would want. Sure, it was beautiful in its own way. Aren’t we all?

Anyway, despite the peppy ads and glossy new touchscreen devices, the initial promise of “hip and cool” vanished with iPhone and Android phones continuing to surge ahead. You could sideload Android apps onto BB devices. However, by the time, BlackBerry decided to switch to the Android bandwagon proper, it was too little, too late. You could always get a feature-packed Android phone at the same price point as a BB device, and at the higher price point, the iPhone was just going to grab you with its better performance, finish, and ecosystem. There is hope for LinkedIn though.

What's Working in LinkedIn's Favor?

Unlike BB, LinkedIn has seen an upsurge in the number of younger users over the years. In 2020, around 60% of LinkedIn users are in the 25-34 age bracket. Another report pegs this at 87 million millennials in 2019. In addition, it continues to attract younger users who are still in college. The incentive for this younger lot to be on LinkedIn is higher. LinkedIn offers easier access than other social media to industry experts, mentors, and networking and internship opportunities.

“Get ’em young enough and the possibilities are endless.” Although that was said in an entirely disconnected context.

Does anyone remember Student Voices? It was a feature that allowed students to post short videos (just videos; no other content) of their college work. It was limited to US campuses and didn’t really set the world on fire. It disappeared and no one quit LinkedIn. Therein lies LinkedIn’s failsafe. LinkedIn’s popularity does not rest on this feature. While the stories feature is most likely going to be a big hit among the younger population, it’s not going to be a hugely missed feature in its absence.

Some (including myself at first) might criticize Stories as LinkedIn’s continued convergence with other social media. I think this opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Let’s look at what this could mean for different segments.

Individual Users

While Stories is targetted at Gen Z and millennials, I imagine it being a hit with the LinkedIn community at large. A lot of connections from different age groups have posted stories already. Now, this is the best part. For a long time, I’ve been using different work-around methods to get content from my 1st Connections. I’ve been using the search bar or the connections list to navigate content posted directly by my connections (not just liked or commented).

Photo by Rochelle Brown on Unsplash

It surprises me that LinkedIn doesn’t have a native feature that allows you to filter the content posted by connections. While the feed is a great discovery tool, it can get spammy, and I sometimes just want to interact with content that my connections have posted and see what they’re saying. I connected with them for a reason, but LinkedIn makes it so hard.

If you’re not around at the time they’re posting or if it doesn’t gain immediate traction, it will be buried forever unless you go looking for it, which is what I do on occasion. The Stories feature is a game-changer in that respect. If Peter’s message can be relied on, “stories are messages that you share with your network.”

Direct access to first-hand content.
 

This means:

  • Direct access to consume content from your network
  • Direct access to post content to your network

So far, I haven’t seen any stories outside of my 1st connections and people I’m following, so I’m guessing “network” is limited to these people, because it would make no sense to see stories from people that I’m not connected to or don’t follow. The second feature of Stories is that it addresses another gripe: chronology. Stories are chronological. Unlike your feed, this is not necessarily the “most popular” or “most active” content. It’s simply the latest content first. How does this matter?

It levels the playing field. Equality for all!

Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

That heartfelt post of appreciation for your peer, boss, or coworker that got buried in the feed is now viewed by 100s of connections. That plea for your network to help you in your job hunt (or source a candidate) is now heard by a lot of people who are actually connected to you. That post announcing a new service is more likely to be read by your connections without needing you to spam anyone. Those witty, charming, honest, sincere posts can now reach the people whom you decided that matter.

Stories gives small content creators the same space as content creators who have 100s or 1000s or followers and connections. Everyone’s content is treated equally. There’s no gaming the system: incessant tagging, liking/commenting on your own posts, influencers/coaches commenting to increase traction. Of course, you could technically use your story to direct connections/followers to a post or article. This also means that companies can now push content to followers.

Company Pages

Another of LinkedIn’s least favorite children after groups and articles is pages. When was the last time you saw something from a company page in your news feed? If you own a company page, how much interaction does a post on your page see in comparison with a post from your user account? Discounting “needy posts” that ask you comment to get a job or report or something, Company Pages don’t do very well on the feed.

Stories changes that. The content pushed out by a company page is now on equal terms with the content pushed out by individuals. Maybe there’s some great content that a page is producing but is buried in the feed. Here’s an opportunity to shine. This also opens up opportunities for a brand or company to sell directly to your followers.

Marketers

This is a magic pill. The ability to sell something to someone without it coming off as selling is a great feature to have. Even though you’re pushing the ad to your target consumer, the consumer is the one who’s actively navigating to your ad. The buzz around the marketing possibilities with stories has only intensified since the announcement. As a company or brand, you can push content to followers and keep them engaged. In time, you may be able to convert some of these content consumers to customers.

However, that’s mostly a passive approach. The more aggressive approach is for brands to directly advertise to users on stories. It happens on Instagram and Facebook. LinkedIn has a treasure trove of data that, if you think of it, is a lot more granular than Facebook or Instagram. LinkedIn has the entire history of your working life (or even student life). Again, the possibilities are endless and exciting, depending on which part of the consumer-marketer spectrum you lie. What’s your content preference?

Content

Now, one of my genuine concerns about the impact on other content forms stems from my own behavior, so it may be biased, but hear me out. Ever since Instagram got stories, a huge portion of my active time on Instagram is spent on stories. Considering the responses and views that I get when I post a story, I can safely say that a lot of other users spend a significant amount of time on stories as well. There are multiple reasons for this:

Short is great!

  • Stories are quick short bursts of updates
  • There’s lesser drama/trolling
  • Which gives you time to consume more content
  • It automatically scrolls; I don’t have to touch anything

While it’s a foregone conclusion that articles died on LinkedIn long ago, which makes me question what I’m doing writing this article. The biggest loser, if stories take off entirely, will be the current heartthrob of LinkedIn content: posts. Posts currently dominate the feed, and every second spent on stories will be a second less spent on the feed reading and interacting with posts.

Posts offer a lot of LinkedIn’s users a gateway to create content. In fact, it’s a stepping stone for a lot of content writers (who isn’t one?) and new LinkedIn members to share their thoughts with peers without the fear of bombing or disappointment. A “trending” notification from LinkedIn can give a new content creator a little bit of a boost to create new content. Will stories have something similar? Or will stories be the new gateway to content creation?

While stories might not be a great hindrance to your reach W.R.T first connections and followers, the biggest impact will come from not having second or third-degree connections and beyond interact with the shortest-form content. Maybe, you can offset this by increasing post interaction through redirections from your status?

For all its inherent goodness, one caveat to using posts is that it’s not permanent; it lasts only 24 hours. Maybe, we will see some new content strategies that tie posts and stories. That might actually end up increasing the impact of posts.

Are Stories good or bad for LinkedIn? Only time (and the users) will tell. The possibilities are truly abundant. For now, I’m leaning toward “good for LinkedIn.”

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash
karthickrichard
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