The Missing LinkedIn (Karrh on Marketing)

I have often said that good marketing and communication requires a set of unnatural acts. Nowhere has this been more apparent recently than in the actions (or inactions) of LinkedIn.com.

LinkedIn is the largest professional network on the Internet; it claims more than 160 million subscribers to both free and premium (paid) memberships. LinkedIn has been described as "Facebook for business," the place where professionals and their companies go for networking, placement and research. I am a paid member myself and use the service nearly every day.

LinkedIn serves a customer base dominated by current and aspiring business executives, who typically count security as one of their primary hot buttons. When news broke on June 6 that 6.4 million LinkedIn passwords had been leaked onto the Internet and were in the process of being decrypted by hackers, we can assume millions of business people were more than a little concerned.

LinkedIn quickly invalidated those passwords, and then followed up via emails with the members directly affected. It also posted periodic updates to its blog. A few writers at sites such as WebProNews gave LinkedIn high marks for responsiveness. I couldn't disagree more.

All members were and are affected. As one of the 154 million members who were not contacted by LinkedIn, I learned about the incident from another member (who had himself read a news report). The company blog is fine as one communications channel, but most members don't visit it on a regular basis if at all. LinkedIn also waited for a couple of days to post any news on its website.

Considering that LinkedIn by definition has email addresses for each member, why not email everyone, including those not directly affected, to let them know what is happening? That is how to manage the message.

It certainly has the infrastructure. LinkedIn frequently emails its members with offers to upgrade to premium accounts, reminders to update account profiles or requests to connect to email address books. It's human nature to place self-interest above the interests of others, but a massive security breach seems like an appropriate time to commit the unnatural act of putting members' legitimate fears first.

LinkedIn has now lost a measure of hard-earned trust, even from those of us who are members and fans. Here is one sample tweet that went out on June 7, the day after news of the breach was reported: "I'm not looking to hate on LinkedIn, and I do love them. But I am very disappointed and baffled in the lack of comms to their members."

"Baffled" is a good term to describe many members' feelings when a wildly successful online networking operation appears to go so anti-social. One fundamental of crisis communications is that when negative news hits, you need to communicate with everyone who might be affected. It is best to avoid that natural tendency to turn inward until you know every detail; customers, suppliers and communities will understand that you might not have all of the answers immediately.

I will continue to use LinkedIn (and will try to remember to change passwords regularly) but must admit my view of the company has changed. I know I'm not alone.
Increasingly, your customers are linked somehow. Your organization's communication strategy should reflect that reality.

(Jim Karrh is the founder of Karrh & Associates and director of MarketSearch, both of Little Rock. Email him at Jim@JimKarrh.com.)