Wednesday, February 13, 2013

LinkedIn and Top 1% Profile Viewership

Like millions of people, I too was the recipient of an email from the professional networking site, LinkedIn, earlier in the week, with news that I had "one of the top 1% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012." Now, like most other people I too experienced a sense of elation, accomplishment, pride, and more. And then I started thinking - what exactly does this mean? The more I thought, the more it seemed the answer was "nothing".

First, LinkedIn has been celebrating the fact that it  now has 200 million members, of which 9% (18 million) are from India. If my profile is among the top 1%, it means I am among 2,000,000 members whose profile has been viewed as many or more or less times. Why do I say that? Do the math. Ok, let's make this simple. LinkedIn does not tell me what my rank is - just that I am in the top 1%. Therefore, if I have the number one most viewed profile (not likely), then everyone else has had fewer profile views than me. If I rank the absolute last, i.e., I am ranked 2 millionth, then everyone else of those 1,999,999 members have had more page views than my profile. QED.

Second, how do you even calculate who is among the top one percent? No, I am not being facetious. Let me explain. When and how did LinkedIn do this measurement? When they hit 200 million members, did they, at that point, look at which members' profiles had been viewed the most, and then send out congratulatory emails to the top 1%, 2%, 5%, 10%, and so on? Or did they wait till the end of the year before doing the ranking? What was the period of measurement? Last one week? Last 30 days? The entire year - 2012 - as the email seems to suggest? If they did in fact do that, then isn't that unfair to those members who joined later in the year, and even though may have very popular profiles (i.e., lots of people viewed their profiles), they would not have made it to the "Top 1/2/5/10%" bracket simply on account of being late.

Third, I logged into LinkedIn and clicked the link that says, "Your profile has been viewed by X people in the past N days." - the text actually said, "Your profile has been viewed by 9 people in the past 3 days." Now, that works out to exactly three people per day. Not exactly impressive, isn't it? Assuming that this number is representative of the number of profile views I get, it means that on average, three people view my profile every day. That, it seems, is enough to put me in the "Top 1%" of all profiles on LinkedIn. Should I be worried that so few people take an interest in my exciting professional career? Or should LinkedIn be worried by what this means - that it has a massive percentage of members whose profiles are viewed no more than a few times in an entire year? Maybe not - LinkedIn does not make money based on how many times their members' profiles are viewed.

Fourthly, LinkedIn has not shared any useful information related to this statistic either. Wouldn't people also want to know more information about those in the top 1% or 2%? How complete a profile do these people have? On average, how many years of work experience do these members have? Are they mostly from the information technology profession? How many companies have these members worked at, on average? What are the most common job titles? And so on... This is information that LinkedIn has about its members. This and much, much more.

Lastly, what does this mean for me? And what does this mean in general? Not much, I am afraid. More people viewing my profile does absolutely nothing for me. It provides a fleeting moment of a feeling that could be approximately described as positive, but that's about it.

So why would LinkedIn send out what on the surface looks like a pretty inane statistic? Ultimately, LinkedIn has been successful in doing what it probably set out to do in the first place - generate buzz and conversation about itself, without having to spend too many advertising dollars. Their 200th million member was news, big news, yes, but one that would have faded from public and media memory fairly soon. After all, Facebook has a billion members - five times as many. By sending out these congratulatory emails, LinkedIn has tapped into a latent desire among people to feel important, for them to share news they determine to be good with others, and to experience what they determine validation by an authority, in this case LinkedIn. Also, people like lists and ranks - all the better if the list has their name on it, and the rank is their rank. Being in the 90th or 98th or 99th percentile is no mean feat, even if it cannot really be called an achievement.

Well played, LinkedIn!

And oh yes, by the by, this is my profile on LinkedIn - linkedin.com/in/abhinavagarwal - you didn't think I wasn't going to do that, was I?

कर्मण्ये वाधिका रस्ते, मा फलेषु कदाचन 
Abhinav, Bangalore, 13 Feb 2013


(c) 2013, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.