This morning I received an email from LinkedIn asking me to fill in a customer feedback survey. If you haven’t heard of LinkedIn, you’ve probably been living in a cave. A nice quiet hermetically sealed marketing-free cave. LinkedIn is a social networking tool that connects work colleagues and old classmates for business networking purposes. I signed up a few years back and have been using it — grudgingly, reluctantly — since then. The survey reminded me why.
In theory, LinkedIn should be a really valuable tool, the kind one would willingly use on a regular basis. In practice, LinkedIn and most of its brethren have a fatal design flaw: they fail to request sufficient permission before opening you up to inbound communications and sending outbound communications on your behalf. And that violates customer trust.
Seth Godin evangelizes a related concept called “Permission Marketing”. In short, if you want to market to somebody, first request their permission with some sort of intellectual bait: discounts, samples, etc. If you get their permission (i.e. they accept your bait), game on: you can begin a dialog, and that dialog will be welcome. If you don’t get permission, leave them alone, because your message will fall on deaf or even unfriendly ears.
Where LinkedIn goes wrong is by over-reaching at signup time. By default, it automatically broadcasts any profile updates you make to everyone in your network. By default, it makes it easy for people you don’t know or barely know to send you email. And by default, it makes your social network visible to everyone. Yuck. It’s a good way to scare off your friends and colleagues, who implicitly trust you to guard their privacy and protect them from spam.
I’ve tweaked my LinkedIn settings to tone down the noise and protect privacy, and I may use it a while longer. After all, staying connected is work, and LinkedIn does makes it easier to track email address changes. But I really only use it as a glorified address tracker. For anything beyond that I revert to my trusty old standby: email.
Hmm… which makes me wonder, when will someone do a good job connecting permission requests with email? That would be a useful tool.