7 Reasons Not to Cede Your Online Professional Identity to LinkedIn

Why you should invest in creating and maintaining your own online professional site.

September 23, 2019

LinkedIn is great. Everyone should maintain a LinkedIn page. I use LinkedIn as my professional Rolodex, connecting with 3,187 other higher ed professionals.

What LinkedIn should not be, however, is your online professional home. Ceding your online professional identity to LinkedIn is a mistake.

In addition to LinkedIn, I maintain my own professional page at joshmkim.com. I use Squarespace to build and maintain this page. There are many competitors to Squarespace, such as WordPress, Wix, Weebly -- among other options.

Why should you invest the time and treasure necessary to create a professional online presence beyond what is available (for free) on LinkedIn? (As well as in addition to whatever bio that your school/employer may give you on their site?)

I'll give you seven reasons:

No. 1: Ownership

You don't own the data you upload to LinkedIn. LinkedIn owns it. As the saying goes, on LinkedIn you are the product, not the customer. LinkedIn can do anything that it wants with your data. I'm not so bothered that LinkedIn makes money from my data.

The site is excellent for networking. What worries me is that I don't ultimately control what is on the LinkedIn page, or how that information is used. LinkedIn could decide to prioritize areas of my professional life other than those that I might highlight. Or LinkedIn could de-emphasize, through design or simple deletion, content that I think is important to share. LinkedIn may seem like a wonderful free platform -- and it many ways it is -- but it is also a tool designed to make its owners (Microsoft) money. Never forget that.

No. 2: Content

LinkedIn controls what data about my professional life are displayed through the design of the profile page. My professional life must fit the buckets of "About," "Articles & Activity," "Experience," "Licenses & Certifications," "Volunteer Experience," "Skills & Endorsements," "Recommendations," "Accomplishments" and "Interests" that LinkedIn provides. I find the organization of LinkedIn to be an imperfect match of my professional interests, skills and accomplishments.

On joshmkim.com, I'm able to construct and populate the categories of my choosing. These include blog, book, writing, talks, media, CV and bio. If you compare my LinkedIn page to my site, you will find many more links to content and materials in the latter. The design of my page follows what I choose to prioritize and share, rather than conforming to what LinkedIn offers.

No. 3: Dynamic

LinkedIn pages are static. Updating the content of your LinkedIn profile page requires that you go in and make updates. LinkedIn has many data-driven nudges and techniques to get users to keep their pages up-to-date. But it is easy for your LinkedIn profile to go stale. In contrast, my joshmkim.com page dynamically updates each time I publish a new blog post on Inside Higher Ed. Whoever finds my professional page will quickly be able to scan, and click on, my last nine blog posts.

If I had wanted to, I could have made my Twitter feed appear on the site. Or any other social media platforms in which I participate. Making your own professional site does not substitute for keeping a LinkedIn page or participating in social media. Instead, your website can be a place that aggregates all of your web contributions and conversations.

No. 4: Barriers

LinkedIn makes money in a few ways. The site offers premium memberships: Career, Business, Sales, Hiring. If I were looking for a job, I might spring for the $29.99 a month for the premium offering. The real reason that Microsoft paid $26 billion to purchase LinkedIn in 2016 is not these services, but for the data. How Microsoft can monetize the LinkedIn data in its services and advertising is an interesting question. For the LinkedIn user, the LinkedIn business model depends on other people signing up for the platform.

What this means in practice is that only other LinkedIn members can access all of the content on an individual profile page. You will not be able to use my LinkedIn page to see who else is in my network, introduce yourself, or contact me directly -- unless you sign up for LinkedIn. There are no such barriers -- no need for registration or sign-ups -- for professional pages that you build and maintain on your own.

No. 5: Analytics

LinkedIn uses analytics as a way to upsell users to paying plans. If you want to know who visited your LinkedIn page, you will need to fork over $29.99 a month for the Career plan. Analytics are part of the package with Squarespace, and I imagine with other platforms. Through my Squarespace account, I can see unique visitors, visits and page views on the date window of my choice. I can also look at the device type of whoever lands on my page (desktop, mobile, tablet), source (direct, Google, any URL), browser and operating system.

It is not that I actually care about these analytics. Until today, I had never even clicked that tab. But I can imagine many cases where someone would care about having access to the data related to their professional page. Having to go through LinkedIn to access that data, while paying for the privilege, seems wrong.

No. 6: Differentiation

The wonderful thing about LinkedIn is that I have 3,187 connections in my LinkedIn network. The frustrating thing about LinkedIn is that I have 3,187 connections in my LinkedIn network. The barriers to connect with another professional on LinkedIn are low. I'm likely to accept a connection request from anyone who works for a university or another nonprofit. I've become more picky about accepting connections from people who work at companies, as I can't stand being spammed by people I don't know in LinkedIn's messaging service.

LinkedIn has 645 million registered users, and 260 million active monthly users. The problem is that all of these LinkedIn profiles look a lot alike. Uniformity makes LinkedIn easy to scan and more usable as a platform. Uniformity also makes it more difficult for any particular registered user to stand out from the crowd. Unless of course, that LinkedIn user springs for a $29.99 premium upgrade. A professional site that you create and maintain yourself may not be as discoverable as a LinkedIn profile, but it can be aligned to your style and goals.

No. 7: Signaling

A final reason to not cede your online professional profile to LinkedIn is signaling. Yes, maintain an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. It's free. Creating and maintaining your professional page signals that you are invested in crafting your career. Making your professional page demonstrates that you are concerned about controlling your data and your own online destiny.

We all need to be skeptical of the control that big tech exerts on our digital lives. A professional page that you own and control is not nearly as vital as creating an infrastructure for our students to own and curate their own digital identity. Supporting Domain of One's Own is way more important than doing a personal page. Having your own online space, beyond one controlled by a big tech company, will get you thinking about your own digital life.

Can you add any other reasons to not cede one online professional identity to LinkedIn?

Care to share a link to your professional page?

How can we find you online?


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