Opinion

LinkedIn’s #compulsory hashtags are a step #backwards

As LinkedIn begins trialling compulsory hashtags as part of its Project Agora, Jon O’Loughlin argues the move is a complete UX minefield.

In an attempt to increase daily usage of their platform, LinkedIn is trialling the use of hashtags as a way to build engagement. Quite apart from sending curious LinkedIn users to Twitter, it also appears to have been counter-productive by angering a heap of users who are now faced with being prevented from posting unless they #something, #anything.

LinkedIn state that: “Adding hashtags helps surface your article to members who may find it relevant. Hashtags act as keywords that help people know what kind of article you’ve written.”

As part of their ‘Project Agora’, named after the public meeting spaces in ancient Greece, LinkedIn want to convince users that the site is a place to hone professional skills, find mentors and share knowledge to solve business problems. We would question whether adding hashtags is either necessary or will enhance the experience to deliver these goals.

#customerexperience?

In today’s world, where ease and convenience are the requisites for a better customer experience, this requirement seems a little out of step. From a user experience perspective, anyone posting now has to spend more time and give extra thought on appropriate hashtags.

Given that LinkedIn could easily run text analytics in the background, rather than asking people to self-code to a hashtag, perhaps LinkedIn could have taken a technological leap forward rather than a side-step toward Twitter?

Whilst hashtags have proven useful elsewhere, there is a further question over how professional hashtags actually are. For a social site that prides itself on rising above the tittle-tattle, the requirement to use social media tools closely associated with celebrities like the Kardashians does nothing to assist LinkedIn’s reputation.

More importantly, for a site that is as much about connecting with your professional network as it is about your marketing your business and your personal brand, there is a risk that people who do not understand the impact hashtags can have will damage their company’s reputation and put their own reputation on the line.

#professionalrisks?

And then we have to consider the more significant risks of using hashtags. There are many examples where hashtags have resulted in inappropriate results, triggered backlashes or been hijacked (search Google for some absolute gems – #Susanalbumparty is a classic).

If I have to check my hashtag for possible embarrassment, potentially capitalising on the misfortune of others or causing confusion, then I am likely to add something bland or non-descript instead.

As such, we can foresee a raft of users defaulting to the top 10 buzzwords already over-used on the site, which will make matters worse:

#Specialised
#Experienced
#Leadership
#Skilled
#Passionate
#Expert
#Motivated
#Creative
#Strategic
#Successful

Overall, while we recognise the LinkedIn hashtag trial is precisely that, from a user experience perspective, this would appear to be a retrograde step.

Jon O’Loughlin is executive director, customer experience at Kantar TNS.

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