LinkedIn IPO – What about a Niche Focus?

Here is a copy of the S-1 filing for LinkedIn’s IPO filing.  While the media is focused on what this means to the viability of social networking IPOs in general, I’d like to focus more on a direction I’d like to see LinkedIn take post IPO.  In the S-1, LinkedIn promotes itself because of its “Exclusive Focus on Professionals” but they haven’t done a good job tailoring their profiles to specific types of professionals.

Attorney Example

Increasingly, LinkedIn profiles are problematic for attorneys because of ethics concerns in how they display and reveal information.  Here are three specific areas of concern:

  • Use of “Specialties” to describe a professional’s expertise: Many State Bar associations restrict the use of “specialties” by attorneys who haven’t been legally certified for their practice expertise by the state bar association where they practice.  For lawyers, this portion of their LinkedIn profile could be re-labeled and include something like, “focus area.”
  • Revealing Contacts: LinkedIn allows only two choices for professionals in this regard – either show all your contacts or none of them. Many lawyers may have clients listed as connections and have to make their setting private because of confidentiality concerns.  If LinkedIn allowed you to designate which contacts lawyers would like public and which should be private, this would make lawyers more comfortable with the service.
  • Recommendations: Again, many state bar associations require attorneys to place disclaimers on any testimonials on their behalf but this is difficult to do on LinkedIn because attorneys don’t control the form or format of the recommendation form that recommenders use.  A special field could be built into profiles allowing for disclaimer language to be included.

Not just Attorneys

Many professions have extensive rules about how their members present themselves to the public.  While the labeling may differ, the ethical concerns are pretty similar across professions.  If LinkedIn wants to be known as the “professionals” social networking website, then it should start examining ways it can make various professions feel more comfortable.

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