In 2016, after leading multiple initiatives on the Marketing and Sales platform teams at LinkedIn for two and half years, I moved over the consumer team to tackle some of the toughest challenges faced by the content and feed team. I lead the redesign effort for the following ecosystem.
LINKEDIN'S AGE OLD PROBLEM
LinkedIn, as a social networking site for professionals, faced an age old problem - what do the users want to see in their feed? This problem is magnified by the two major categories of users on LinkedIn, those who are super popular with a lot of connections, and those who are very inactive with very little connections.
For members with a lot of connections, a large portion of their feed updates turned out to be irrelevant for them. Diving deeper, we found many of their connections consisted of coworkers from previous jobs, and people they knew back in school. Many of these connections either works in completely different industries, or are individuals whom people did not need to hear from on a daily basis.
For those who are less active on LinkedIn with very few connections, the problem was more straight forward. They simply didn't find enough content in their feed, or a strong use case for LinkedIn in general.
Up until this project, the only way to discover new content on LinkedIn was to search for specific people and companies you had in mind, and following them from these entity pages. On top of that, most people didn't even know they could follow someone on LinkedIn without connecting to them. The quote below from our early research session summed up the state of things -
"To me, LinkedIn is a place where you stayed in touch with people you work or have worked with... And that's exactly what I (barely) use it for."
Yet with the development of our Influencer platform, and our publishing capabilities, LinkedIn is slowly becoming a place where people shared their professional stories and learnings. From everyday working people like you and I, to industry movers and shakers such as Bill Gates and Angela Ahrendts. With the right people populating your feed, LinkedIn was a great place to keep up to date with latest industry trends, as well as a source of information to aid your professional growth.
But back in 2016, this was far from reality and people's expectations.
A HARSH DISCOVERY
For this project, different stakeholders had vastly different assumptions going in. Design's role was to synthesis these assumptions through exploratory research. In the end, we created two distinct solutions very early on and put them through user testing.
This is what we initially thought as the ideal scenario, where information would just organically be surfaced in people's feed. Notifying users about what they've missed, telling them about interesting people and trending topics.
Another experience we explored is a destination page, a dedicated experience for users to control their feed. Here, users can unfollow past coworkers but staying connected, while at the same time, follow topics and people that are most relevant to their current career.
As a more idealistic designer, I was definitely leaning towards the first solution. It's so organic and simple, without needing any extra dedicated experiences, while achieving what we needed. Although my counterparts had different ideas to begin with, but I was able to align everyone on the serendipitous approach before research even started. Everyone went into it thinking "everyone wants good content on LinkedIn, we just need to surface the information to our members".
However, from research findings, we soon realized how far our users expectations were from those of us inside LinkedIn. People did not even realize one could come to LinkedIn for interesting content. Although surfacing them organically could be interesting, especially if the content is highly relevant, but far more members needed to be educated on what LinkedIn feed even is in the first place.
EMBRACE THE UNKNOWN
We quickly embraced our learnings, and doubled down on crafting an experience that not only allowed people to follow and unfollow people and content sources, but also educated them why they should be organizing their LinkedIn feed in the first place.
To help the team align on this new vision and goal, we mapped the following user discovery and engagement pyramid. First you must help people to understand and establish context, and then they would engage.
From there, we started to iterate on the best way to help discover the true value these content sources offer on LinkedIn. We sliced and diced the information in many different ways, testing them along the way with our users in research sessions.
STEP ZERO, AND THAT IS OK.
This project was not the "ground shattering" project that changed how users behaved on LinkedIn. Instead, it acted as the foundation for LinkedIn to become a place where one discovers professional content, and follows industry leaders. For the first time ever, our members had a place to manage and fine tune what they wanted to see in their feed.
As a result, we saw people's engagement with feed increase dramatically after interacting with the follow hub. And it helped to kick off a slew of projects that expanded the discovery experience throughout LinkedIn.