LinkedIn is a decidedly rusting bullet for recruitment agencies

By Jez Styles

If you are on LinkedIn as often as me (this blog would suggest you are not…) then you’ll see countless blogs and articles detailing the demise of agencies. New technology, new services and an increasing antipathy [with recruiters] played out on social media has created the impression that myself and my colleagues are dinosaurs, plodding on, oblivious to that rather bright light in the sky. LinkedIn has long been lauded as the ultimate agency killer.

Back in the good old days ( I started my first recruitment job in 2007 so only got to see the good days for about six months but hey ho!) agencies would often focus their pitch to companies on their enormous database of candidates. Candidates that the said employer couldn’t reach themselves.

And then LinkedIn came along and our database stopped being a selling point. Albeit, I understand, a lot of agencies still sell on this point (and perhaps rightly so…).

LinkedIn’s member base has increased from 218m at the beginning of 2012 to 414m at the end of 2015. That’s a big database right?

But there is something fishy going on. Only people who have worked with large databases before will understand this. If you are an in-house recruiter you are going to be sceptical about my motives for penning this, I don’t blame you. So, let’s look at some numbers from LinkedIn’s last financial statement.

Membership has risen by the following:

  • 2013 – 277m
  • 2014 – 347m
  • 2015 – 414m

While Unique visiting members has risen by the following:

  • 2013 – 73m
  • 2014 – 87m
  • 2015 – 98m

There isn’t much explanation of these numbers in the literature I have read so I’m happy to be corrected …but by my reckoning these numbers mean the following.

The percentage of unique members visiting LinkedIn is in decline:

  • 2013 – 26.4%
  • 2014 – 25.1%
  • 2015 – 23.7%

I also dug out the numbers for Q1 2012… it was 31%.

This got me thinking. I have had a lot of conversations with colleagues and peers in the industry and anecdotally, everyone is reporting a drop in responses from candidates. So I checked with a colleague in our research team and she looked at the stats for responses to Inmails she has sent.

Between Jan 2015 and December 2015, Liz had an Inmail response rate of 53.6% – that’s a pretty good return on investment and indicative of the care Liz takes to personalise and engage through her messages.

However, from Jan 2016 to today that response rate has dropped to 24.2%.

When I worked for a ‘large international recruitment firm’ I was fortunate to have access to an enormous database. I would go as far as to say it was better than LinkedIn is today. Top line numbers always look good.

The devil is in the detail.

Databases go out of date…and need a LOT of maintenance.

…and people lose interest in being on said database and stop responding.

                so you end up with an ever increasing haystack

And that is what has been happening (increasingly so) to LinkedIn.

But, LinkedIn has one more very big problem.

Its entire validity is dependent on its users updating their database.

       the needles in said haystack don’t look like needles anymore

That’s a bit of a problem when a declining proportion of users are returning to the site and as a consequence updating their profiles.

So when an agency says that they have a ‘pool of talent’ that other agencies or recruiters can’t access I wouldn’t necessarily guffaw too quickly. Because this is exactly when niche specialist knowledge comes to the fore once again.

Of course, this flags up one more question. Why is engagement in decline?





5 thoughts on “LinkedIn is a decidedly rusting bullet for recruitment agencies”

  1. A really interesting analysis Jez – and fits with my own experiences of helping recruitment businesses to reach candidates via social media. That the majority of LinkedIn users are not active on the site has always been an achilles heel, particularly when compared with say Facebook… and just imagine how much lower your percentage would be if you removed from that calculation all the recruiters – who make up a significant proportion of all active LinkedIn users. I think, as you say, that the demise is well and truly underway – and the real question is therefore what other pools are recruitment agencies going to tap into to make themselves invaluable to the clients who are increasingly going to be struggling to hire direct…

  2. Hi Tony, good to hear from you. I think that a return to basics is taking place. The feeding frenzy on LinkedIn is coming to an end, personal networks and other databases will come to the fore once more.

  3. LinkedIn is just one tool in a good recruiters toolbox. We shouldn’t allow some big stats to distract us from the fact that recruiters work day-in, day-out for years to build personal networks and databases of candidates. Combining this expertise with the efficiency and advanced search capability of a good recruitment CRM will always be the best source for top quality and best-fit candidates.

    1. I hadn’t really thought about if from that angle Christine, but yes I guess it does give the CRM guys some ammunition when pitching to recruitment firms!

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