LinkedIn is powerful, profitable, and growing. The only problem? It may be leaving behind the audience that needs them it most: young adults and recent graduates.
LinkedIn isn’t alone. Plenty of legacy social networks are up against a migration of sorts when it comes to younger users; however, unlike the Facebooks of the world, LinkedIn has something that demographic desperately needs, rather than just wants: the tools to help start a career.
For LinkedIn faithful, it might be easy to pin this trend on bad job markets and generational theories on “prolonged adolescence.” However, the concerns — and the numbers — are very real.
While a LinkedIn spokesperson told BuzzFeed there are currently more than 20 million students and recent graduates on the site — a number that has doubled over the past year — the site is dominated by its older, mid-career crowd. A recent survey of 23 major social networks ranks LinkedIn as the “oldest” social network, with an average age of 44.2 years old (Tumblr, for example had an average age of 34.6 years). The same study also revealed that a vast majority (79%) of LinkedIn users are 35 or older, which seems to corroborate the feeling one gets when they log on to LinkedIn: that this is a network largely fueled by working professionals in the middle of their careers seeking upward movement.
Some, like recent Stanford graduate Kevin Jordan, have been vocal about the issue. In a recent post titled “Young People Hate LinkedIn,” Jordan writes that, for the non-professional crowd, there’s little incentive to engage with a network that doesn’t seem to cater to or understand them. “If all I see are a bunch of grey hairs that I don’t know, despite LinkedIn thinking I do, then I lose interest fairly fast. LinkedIn’s version of social is not social to a digital native. Sorry, older folks,” he wrote.
Similar frustrations led Eyal Grayevsky to create FirstJob, a career site for teens and young adults to mine their existing social networks for career contacts, rather than start anew with LinkedIn. “Coming out of college I was really let down by the resources available,” he told BuzzFeed. “The young professional demographic (18-25) don’t have much professional experience or many connections in the professional world. Given that LinkedIn’s core feature is around networking and creating new connections with professionals, young people simply don’t find it all that useful.”
LinkedIn has taken note: The site recently launched a host of tools for teens and recent graduates, including an Alumni network. The site’s blog is full of career checklists for students and advice from “LinkedIn Ambassadors” addressing everything from “The Best Way to Network” to the more existential “What Should I Do With My Life?”
Despite its outreach, this is an issue LinkedIn will be forced to deal with for some time. Social networks work best if they recreate a familiar space for the user centered around interactions with other, like-minded people. They also need to be, for lack of a better word, cool. For many younger users, LinkedIn is a place where they’re unlikely find a familiar face — an alienating club of people who remind them of, if anything, their parents.