How LinkedIn Stays Connected to Millions of People

Technology and social media companies are changing the human experience. It’s hard to imagine modern life without companies like Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Their influence on our lives is astounding.

But what’s even more astounding is how our lives – and our needs – actually influence these technology companies. We drive change, and change drives us. That’s the cycle of tech.

For these companies, growth is exponential. Users are signing up by the millisecond. What keeps it all growing in the right direction? The digital experience. And so, continued growth depends heavily on how quickly and effectively the company evolves its digital experience. Fail to do so and you lose users as fast you gained them. It’s why tech invests heavily in understanding its users – no matter how many.

Take the aforementioned LinkedIn. The world’s largest and most powerful platform for business professionals is only 13 years old – a baby in business years, but a senior in Silicon Valley. In that small amount of time, enormous change has occurred. LinkedIn’s member base has swelled to ~500 million people worldwide, and in 2016 the company was acquired by Microsoft for more than $26 billion.

“The pace is kinda crazy,” says Scott Shute, VP of Global Customer Operations at LinkedIn. He represents and advocates on behalf of LinkedIn’s millions of members worldwide and helps the product development teams understand them. Scott joined me for the latest episode of the Outside In podcast to discuss how LinkedIn delivers digital experiences that satisfy every user, be they a business professional connecting with their network or an enterprise using the company’s digital advertising platform.

LinkedIn is a case study in the rapid evolution of tech. “When I started at LinkedIn four years ago, we were releasing code once every two weeks, or once every week,” Scott says. “Now we’re releasing it whenever it’s ready – every day, multiple times a day. The product is this living, breathing thing that’s literally changing on a daily basis.”

As is true for any tech company with millions of users, LinkedIn captures massive amounts of user behavior data. “When we release something new, we instantly start seeing click data, how customers are using [the product] and responding to it,” Scott explains.

Scott and his team access and analyze that data – to figure out what it means, and to help product development teams prioritize what to work on next. One tool they use is an internal user feedback system that captures “signals” about areas where the experience can be improved. The “signals” come from user activity, direct feedback, and anywhere customers are talking about LinkedIn, like user reviews in the Apple app store or comments posted on Facebook. Product managers can pull whatever information they need from all of this feedback, cutting it any which way they like to make updates to existing products or build new ones.

But Scott emphasizes that data needs to live in harmony with empathy. As he explains, “It’s a balance of click data, support-case data, iPhone app store review data. And then, literally also sitting down with people.”

For example, several times a year, LinkedIn product managers work with Scott’s team on customer support cases to give them direct exposure to LinkedIn users. From these interactions and the many interactions on social media, including on LinkedIn itself, product managers get “up-close and personal, direct, emotional feedback.” So intimate, in fact, that users have been known to literally “call out a specific product manager if they see a feature [on the site] they don’t like.”

Scott admits that it’s a challenge for LinkedIn to be all things to all people. But it’s also his mission. “Over time, how does [the site] become as relevant to my brother, who is a farmer, as it is to an engineer or a marketer in Silicon Valley? … At the high level, we’re trying to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”

Doing that requires a compassionate understanding of what users need. And users need leaders at every level of the company championing them.

“Not all companies have Chief Customer Officers. But I encourage people in my role…people who are in charge of support or customer experience or customer success to view themselves as the Chief Customer Officer,” says Scott. “It’s our jobs to be the conscience of the company, to hold the voice of the customer high, for us to have a deep understanding of it, and to be able to convey that in a meaningful way to the C-suite and decision makers.”

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