Awareness is Everything

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just how useful is the new LinkedIn polling feature?

LinkedIn recently added a new polling feature to their business social networking site. While LinkedIn’s own blog touts this new feature as a way to finally tap into the minds of the highly coveted business professional segment, its seems to fall significantly short of this.
I have been hearing about Linkedin’s upcoming polling feature for a while now and was looking forward to the launch of this new application. After taking several polls and going through the features and capabilities, this tool lacks the ability to truly gain much insight into a business or delve into the minds of business professionals within a targeted segment. Allowing only one question to be asked simply does not provide any real opportunity to gain much insight. Instead, similar to Facebook’s polling tool, it seems to be less of a true research tool and more of a glorified general market surveying tool to which questions must be generic, similar to that of an MSN or CNN poll.

The major limitation of this tool is being sure those taking the survey are truly qualified. Even if you utilize the targeting features that are provided (which are job function, seniority, industry, gender, age and geography – all very nicely presented and easy to use), you have no way of being sure your poll is being answered by qualified respondents since there is no ability to ask pre-qualifying screening questions (i.e. correct company size range, has decision making authority for your product or services, etc.) . This type of feature is definitely needed when you consider surveying current or potential customers within your business market and therefore limits the type of questions you can ask.

As Tom H.C. Anderson pointed out in his blog on social networks and market research last year, this type of tool is not truly useful for gaining specific insights about your customers. Walking through the “Browse Polls” tab anyone can see that this tool is being used for exactly what its capabilities have allowed – selling services (i.e. Do you need flash design on your website?) or generic questions (i.e. What has happened to the value of your house this year?). I am not sure how either of these really gives you any special insight into any of the rich and robust information that business professionals have to offer. And as a LinkedIn member myself, these type of polls do not motivate me to participate and do not utilize any business knowledge I have gained over the years.

As more social networks move toward providing tools for companies to gain insight into target customers in the future, I hope they consider the true purpose of why people would want to poll these individuals, which is to gain real insight into your customers wants and needs so you can offer the best product for them, and how it relates to the customer segment they represent. In a time where online surveys pop up on almost every website, there needs to be a compromise between not overloading members with lengthy surveys but also allowing for truly insightful and valid surveys that can tap into the knowledge base their community has to offer.

With that being said, LinkedIn is sitting on a goldmine of respondents that are most likely very qualified and vetted given their LinkeIn profile. Using this source is most likely going to reduce the number of “bad” or “fake” business respondents and give one high quality respondents. What is lacking now is the tool to ask meaningful questions to these high quality respondents. I hope to see this come soon!

Have you used the LinkedIn polling tool? Has it been useful to your company in gaining insights into your customers’ actions, wants or needs?

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