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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Facebook and Linked In Cage Match: In the end there can be only one

A few days ago I went on a mini-spree updating my Linked In profile. No, I am not changing jobs. I make that disclaimer because one of my colleagues has a theory that before people switch jobs they send Linked In invites to their soon to be former colleagues. He thinks that you can predict job switches by spikes in Linked In activity.

I try to keep my Linked In network within the same order of magnitude as my Facebook network. I've been contacted by head hunters via Linked In and have both received and asked research questions around health care so I get enough value from it to warrant the maintenance.

From my invite spree, I learned that:
1. A lot of people that I linked with had less than 10 contacts.
2. Their profiles only contained their name and current job.
3. One person took the time to email me back that she no longer accepts Linked In invites because she sees so little value in it. Writing this email took longer than just clicking "Accept" so obviously she felt strongly.

Why does Facebook continue to grow exponentially, while Linked In's growth is stunted? On the other hand, why did Linked In become profitable in 2006 while Facebook is still looking for a revenue model? Contrary to my blog post title, there is not really cage match between the two and I just always like to use the famous line from Highlander. Linked In focuses on the professional segment while Facebook focuses on anyone who hasn't picked myspace.com or is still with Friendster.

While some question the value of Linked In, I find it to be a good source for finding contacts at other companies for research questions. Recently, I was looking for someone who worked in provider networking or claims administration at Aetna, Cigna, United, or large national insurance plans. My research question was about how they handled claims from non-US providers. Via Linked In, I found numerous people who worked at those companies. In order to contact them, I would have to upgrade my account (since they were not direct connections) for $25-$45 per month. Answers to my question would have been worth a month's subscription but I wound up using my Wharton health care alumni directory instead (and buying a year's membership). As a result of that experience, I founded Linked In's subscription fees to be well worth it and I can see how the business model works.

I tried looking for contacts at the same large national insurance plans on Facebook. While searching, I found some Facebook groups for those companies. However, those groups are not interactive at all. I also found that there are a surprising number of people who's first name is Aetna. Overall, I did not find any contacts and Facebook was no help. As a result of that experience, I realized that Facebook doesn't really help with work but will continue to be a great place to play. However, I probably wouldn't pay anything for the ability to write silly status updates, hear about high school friend's travel schedules, find out the twin celebrities of college friends, or read twitter posts that look like they are written in binary. Facebook's revenue model still looks like it will have to based on advertising and not subscription fees.

After that, I decided that Linked In still has a niche and role in my social media world. I uploaded a picture to my profile. But back to the driving source behind my musings about Linked In, can anyone who works in health insurance tell me how they handle claims from non-US providers? If someone responds to this blog post, that would make me a complete social media evangelist.

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