The Free Lunch Is Over: How LinkedIn Just Changed the Game

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This article has been updated to reflect two items found in a previous version, that LinkedIn pointed out were incorrect. (updated again, 1/30/15)

LinkedIn, the No. 1 social network used by recruiters and sourcers around the world, is changing the game: it has decided to give it all away for free. This is a direct quote from their website:

“As part of our ongoing efforts to make search on LinkedIn more relevant and powerful for you, we’re increasing the visibility of your extended network in search. You’ll now be able to view full names and profiles for anyone in your extended network — 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree — a level of visibility previously available only to paid subscribers. Previously, you would have only seen the first names with last names obfuscated for some search results, but you’ll now be able to see full names and profiles of all results. This will help you find even more of the people you’re looking for, and get yourself found more in return.”

This is great news! Right? Well … hold on.

Here’s the fine print:

“With this change, every LinkedIn member can search without restrictions until they hit the commercial use limit for search in any given month. If you’re a power user of LinkedIn search, consider upgrading to a LinkedIn account that meets your commercial needs … “

So, to recap, search LinkedIn all you want. Once you hit your monthly allowance of free searches, you will have to pay. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what your monthly limit of searches is. I’ve heard some say 60 and others, 100. I think it depends on your search habits and history. The more you use it to search for people, the more limited the parameters. I have no proof. It’s just a thought. Regardless, this is a shrewd move from LinkedIn that will likely cause several things to happen:

  1. More people will opt into the premium version in order to get back to the unlimited searches they are used to. As these orders come in and everyone adapts, expect those search fees to rise.
  2. Frugal recruiting organizations will become more strategic in how they use LinkedIn, so as to avoid premium fees. At the very least, their searches will become more coordinated. For example, one group of recruiters may compile a list of companies to target and divide that list amongst them. When searching LinkedIn based on companies, it will prevent some overlap when sourcing candidates, and thereby squeeze as much value as they can before the search limit comes up.
  3. Using search engines to source the public profiles of LinkedIn members will begin to dwindle in effectiveness as LinkedIn makes a tighter grip on its data. I think it has not happened yet because LinkedIn appreciates the traffic search engines bring. That may change as its content from other sources (articles from “LinkedIn Influencers,” for example) and its mobile campaign continue to pick up steam (in 2014, 47 percent of LinkedIn’s traffic was from mobile).
  4. Finally, savvy LinkedIn users will tinker with their profiles to take advantage of the new LinkedIn search engine code, Galene. Galene has been rolling out gradually over the past 18 months. Its claim to fame: a promise to return more relevant results from the entire LinkedIn database. What affects the algorithm is a mystery, of course, but an educated guess would be your location, how closely you are connected to someone with the skills you are looking for, and keywords.

Why I Bring All That Up

Now that LinkedIn has a search limit, only the top four results are seen by those using the free version of LinkedIn. (To be clear, this happens only after you have hit the commercial use limit for that month. You see everything until then.)

Jobseekers who want to be found by recruiters will have to spend some quality time on their profiles to ensure that they are seen by all recruiters at all times.

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On the flipside, recruiters who opt out of the premium version will have to become very creative with their searches since they are dealing with very limited results. Perhaps they will upgrade their phone skills or look to other social networks like Google Plus, Twitter, and Ello. They will also have to make a more concerted effort when reaching out to these candidates, as every LinkedIn InMail must count. Why?

It used to be the case that once you sent an InMail and received no response, LinkedIn would give you a credit, and you would not be penalized for the cost of the InMail. Now, any unused InMail credits will continue to be valid for 90 days, after which they are lost, deleted, kaput. (As detailed here.) Fortunately, you will be allowed to purchase additional InMail. The upside to this depends on your level of membership. For example, the entry level Business Plus account now gets 15 InMails a month instead of the usual 10.

Of course, the bottom line to all this is that you want candidates to respond when you reach out to them. The key to a high response rate is personalized messaging. So, say “goodbye” to generic InMail templates, and “hello” to more relevant opportunities to job seekers who are approached as individuals rather than a possible lottery pick. Such being the case, expect more recruiters to team up with the marketing department of their company to help craft messages that appeal to a certain passive candidate. Look for those same recruiters to ask sourcers to find background information on those candidates to make their messages as personal as possible. 

Okay, that’s enough.

Well, just one more thing … the LinkedIn changes remind me of the importance of good sourcing skills, how taking the efforts to personalize every message yields better results than a generic template, and why having a great employer brand is crucial. After all, the more quality talent you are able to attract, the less sourcing and recruiting you will have to do. Most of all, it forces recruiters to step out of their comfort zones, and that’s a good thing; at least, every once in a while.

Over the past decade, Jim Stroud has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, online community management, and training. He has consulted for such companies as Microsoft, Google, MCI, Siemens, Bernard Hodes Group (acquired by Findly) and a host of startup companies. Presently, Jim Stroud serves Randstad Sourceright as its Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. In that role, he alleviates the sourcing headaches of Randstad clients worldwide. 
Jim Stroud has created and sold five online properties, managed an award-winning blog, published a weekly newsletter for jobseekers, a recruiter training magazine and co-hosted a popular technology podcast. Jim Stroud has also produced multiple web series devoted to such topics as: job search, recruiting, technology and language learning. Jim Stroud has been quoted by such publications as Globe and Mail, US News and World Report, Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal and Constitution., Entrepreneur Magazine, Black Enterprise, and The HR Examiner have all cited Jim Stroud for his digital influence. Jim Stroud also served as the emcee of SourceCon, the premier global conference on sourcing for three consecutive years. He has also presented as a keynote speaker at Sourcing Summit Europe, Sourcing Summit Asia, the Australasian Talent Conference, Recruiters Hub NZ, and TRU London. 
Jim Stroud is the author of 5 HR related books, producer of the "Its all recruiting" podcast and the YouTube series - "The Jim Stroud Show." More details highlighting his career and his work history can be found on his blog -
When not online, Jim Stroud suffers from withdrawal symptoms that can only be soothed by chocolate chip cookies and family time.


11 Comments on “The Free Lunch Is Over: How LinkedIn Just Changed the Game

  1. Great post, Jim. Industry news everyone should know about.

    Two thoughts, first the new Inmail policy….

    LinkedIn was never able to tell me how many Inmails we had “in the bank” and available to use in regards to the 90 day use’m or lose’m policy. This flip in which Inmails get tallied against your account looks like it solved that problem, or at least the Inmail Analytics page is a lot more helpful and informative. Its been awhile since I looked at it, but now I like it.

    Come April 1st, 90 days after this new 90 policy hits…it will be interesting to see the situation that recruiters are in. They are going to have a lot less available Inmails then they did before…assuming there is no great change in a company’s acceptance rate in these early stages.

    Only time will tell, and perhaps company by company, if this new Linkedin rule will impact how Inmails are written, delivered, and accepted by potential candidates.

    For those recruiters that have 100% acceptance rate, or claim to, good news for you… you’ll have an endless supply of Inmails….if I’m understanding this new policy correctly.

    Regarding opening up search for everyone to get more results….

    I’m not so sure this is good for recruiters as a whole. If everyone (not just recruiters) can “find and engage” more people…that means more “noise” for the recipients…which means lower response rates in the long run for all senders. The whole “Increased Quantity = Decreased Quality” thing and another example of how bad recruiters make life for good recruiters harder.

    In the end, both of these new policies further deepen the need for staffing leaders to focus on building their own team shared CRM databases that include pipeline building, action based analytics, and follow permission marketing philosophies and tactics. Search YouTube for “permission marketing” to find examples of that.

  2. What’s really infuriating is that I can’t even search my current first connections. Now I have thousands of candidates who are now unavailable to me. Just so frustrated.

  3. The lesson we all should have learned in this business a very long time ago is that relying on a single source for your lifeline is a recipe for disaster. Keep your sourcing tactics diversified and your tools and source material plentiful.

    The people who are punished by the inmail changes most are people recruiting at senior levels and in highly competitive talent marketplaces. While I understand the desire to improve the quality of communication on LinkedIn, I don’t really think they care. The pull of the Street has them in a mode of maximizing profitability. They’ve elected to do that, either consciously or by nature of the talent competition environment, to do that at the expense of exactly the people most motivated to engage in their paid services: purple squirrel chasing recruiters.

    Should it continue down the path of more tightly controlling its data and further controlling the aggregation of that data, it will become less of a social network and more of a paid information repository. Really… a resume database. How are those doing these days? Monster was the coolest thing recruiting had ever seen once, too.

    The writing has long been on the wall: The more you learn to achieve the results you desire through resources outside of LinkedIn, the more relevant you will be long term.

    1. Exactly. They know the response rates, this move was branded as to increase quality inmails, it was really a way to increase revenue from sources that have become more dependent on inmails. Personally, I just run out my inmail supply and wait for the refill, there are plenty of other options and methods to use. LinkedIn always has been just glorified database.

      Now, if they actually rated inmails sent, and noted person X has been looking, has career opportunities ticked off as something they wanted to hear about, and then judged whether the inquiry was relevant to the person, and rated whether or not you got the inmail back based on that, I’d be more interested, because then the pressure would be on us recruiters AND candidates to be accurate and up to date in profiles and on target opportunities. That would make them truly a place for people to connect and network about opportunities. As it is I’ve gotten negative feedback on a couple of inmails, one of which was definitely relevant, because the putz applied to the posting a week later. LinkedIn is a little too enthused about their current position as a market leader. I wonder how they’ll act when that changes.

  4. I source and hire technical candidates from free/open resources on the internet. I don’t see value in purchasing Business+ (30 Inmails, unlimited search) or LinkedIn Recruiter (150 Inmails, unlimited search). They will never get rid of public profiles because they risk losing the all important user. If you must, get a people aggregator like Connectifier which offers 500 unique contacts and unlimited search. They cost LESS than Business+, and you get more value. If you don’t want an algorithm and crawler doing your work, then use Boolean strings. The author of this article (Jim Stroud) and Irina Shamaeva are great resources. Never, ever rely on one resource. I once had a manager that told me to use all tools in my toolbox, and I never forgot it. Make sure you use all your tools, and you’ll be fine.

  5. Do people really use this site to try and get a job?
    Do recruiters and HR really use this site to find potential new hires?
    Good heavens. I did not realize how desparate times have gotten

  6. I have been a strong proponent of LinkedIn and have made use of various premium accounts (corporate recruiter, sales navigator, etc.) for several years. But I believe they are suffering from a serious engagement problem, meaning the percentage of people that actually use the site for purposes outside of talent acquisition is very small. A close examination of their groups related to engineering, science, and technology makes clear that active participants are a very, very small subset of greater group size. This lack of engagement has practical consequences for TA departments because an increasingly large number of profiles are out of date. LinkedIn needs to figure out ways to make their site more useful to a greater percentage of people who create a profile. Otherwise, they are not meaningfully different from static data sources including resume databases. I still like a lot of what LinkedIn does but I agree with other posters that their current push seems to be about maximizing revenue from recruiting applications rather than broadening their base and making the site stickier and more useful (something that would indirectly greatly increase their value to all their premium users).

    Doug Friedman
    LinkedIn Profile

    1. The Pulse articles seem to be driving some engagement. It might not all be positive, but I guess it’s an uptick. I never found their groups particularly user friendly in terms of interface, their comments on the Pulse articles follow suit; not well executed. Personally, I think they’re too enamored with their own status as an industry leader to realize they are not entitled to that position, and can easily lose it if the value of what they offer goes down the tubes.


    Interesting note in this article linked above: 10 Things LinkedIn Won’t Tell You

    Gee. It seems like an odd message (noted below) to be sending in your everyday SEC filing; if’n you ask me.

    LinkedIn is not alone in facing a flood of phonies. Facebook recently estimated that between 5.5% and 11.2% of its profiles are fake; if that percentage applied to LinkedIn, it would equate to between 18 million and 37 million fake profiles. LinkedIn has also acknowledged the existence of fake profiles and says it’s trying to fix the problem. The site has instructions on how LinkedIn users can report fake profiles. “We do not have a reliable system for identifying and counting duplicate or fraudulent accounts,” it said in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing. But some experts say fake profiles are a bigger threat to LinkedIn than Facebook or Twitter, because LinkedIn asks members to pay for subscription services.

  8. Linkedin is screwing their only source of revenue: RECRUITERS!!!!! As a company, we have 4 LinkedIn Recruiter licenses valued at $5K EACH!! As of TODAY, we have 0 INMAILS!!!! Which means we must use other methods for searches because they would like to charge us $10 per email which is absolutely DISGUSTING & RIDICULOUS!!!! As mentioned in previous posts, they should look at inmail scores and not just inmail responses… This is just another way for them to make money, but for a small company like ours, we will not buy in and we WILL find other sources for recruiting..

    1. I was once a big fan of Linkedin and used it regularly. With this new search limit, they’ve completely lost my loyalty. I have taken care to build my network over the years and now I’m quite limited in accessing my 1st level network using the search tool. Just the other day, I did a few searches to look up people who I haven’t connected with in a while, and I reached my limit in about 15 minutes. Now, I can’t see more than 4 results if I do a search, until my limit resets next month…Or until I upgrade and pay at least $60/month. I won’t be doing that and I won’t be accessing linkedin as often. So lame.

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