You often hear people say the words: ‘there’s no time like the present,’ when consolidating the need to carry out a particular task immediately as opposed to leaving it on the long finger. However, it seems LinkedIn may have stuck its neck out in opening its doors to underage users at a time when social networks are under intense scrutiny, particularly those with a heavy underage user-ship. From September 12 on, LinkedIn will be abolishing its current over-18 policy, giving schoolchildren over the age of 13 an avenue through which to kick-start their online portfolio. Consequences of timing aside, this move will affect quite a large contingent of LinkedIn’s B2B users. Here’s five ways this ‘new-look’ LinkedIn will affect B2B. 

Reduces Credibility

LinkedIn’s legal director for global privacy and public policy, Eric Heath, has defended the policy changes which he feels will offer under 18s the chance to “leverage the insights and connections of the millions of successful professionals,” currently using the site. However, there is also a risk of LinkedIn’s credibility suffering as a result.

Although it’s not entirely fair to categorise, you cannot ignore the fact that a large portion of potential underage LinkedIn users are likely still in full-time/part-time education. While it is important to get ahead with your career by adopting a motivated, ‘sooner rather than later’ approach, you have to question the benefits the site can offer users who are may be still in full-time education, a few years away from reaching the professional field.

You also have to consider the Social Networking conduct of some underage users, and their understanding of the Online Medium as a professional circuit. Following reports linking social networking site Ask.fm with a string of suicides over the past two years, the conduct of some underage users and indeed, their part in the wider issue of cyber-bullying is something many Businesses have already been put off by – think Vodafone, BT and others pulling advertising from Ask.fm. Conscious of these implications, many Businesses may no longer see LinkedIn as a credible, professional network.

May affect Ad targeting

As mentioned above, Advertising is greatly affected by user conduct. It is also affected by user demographics such as age, location, interests etc. An influx of under-18 users to LinkedIn could mark the beginning of an Advertising Reform on the site, with ads switching their focus towards young users and other advertisers, who may not have necessarily sided with LinkedIn in the past, committing campaigns to the site. From a B2B Marketing point of view, a change in the Advertising scope of the site could damage current advertisers and cause them to reassess their strategies to factor in competition as well as the updated user demographic. With LinkedIn’s credibility potentially coming under threat, some Businesses may insist on pulling advertising and looking elsewhere to target professionals and other Businesses.

User Exodus?

While a reformed LinkedIn may scare off advertisers, it may also scare off some users who feel the overall direction of the site is undergoing a change (for the worse). The feature that makes LinkedIn so unique is the fact that it is predominantly exclusive, aimed at professionals and jobseekers as well as recruiters and Businesses. Introducing changes that ultimately diminish the exclusiveness of the site, could see a drop in user activity from some users who feel the direction of the site is changing. Making LinkedIn available to under-18 users could also be considered as a potential shift away from the Business roots of the site, to a more social approach, further causing concern among current users. A potential user exodus would be to the detriment of B2Bs who could see potential talent and Business opportunities slip away.

It leaves B2Bs with no social network to call their own, making it more difficult to choose one to focus on.

Almost every Business has Twitter, Facebook and Google+ accounts, however LinkedIn is the only Professional-focused Social Network which is used by Businesses to directly engage employees, potential employees, partners and potential consumers. Changing the user requirements of LinkedIn could negatively damage the site’s reputation as an overtly professional network. As mentioned above, this may mark the beginning of a shift in focus which could leave B2Bs without an entirely Professional network and subsequently leave them further spread across all social networks.

While many of these potential effects of ‘new-look’ LinkedIn on B2B user-ship can be considered as pure speculation, Social Networks tend to have an estimated lifespan which can be significantly shortened through radical changes. While lowering the minimum age qualification of LinkedIn may not be seen as a ‘radical change’ it could definitely be regarded as a spark that could light a fire. In wake of the announcement, Social Media Marketing Strategies must be reviewed and reassessed so that Businesses can remain in control of their Online activity and customer-acquisition.

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