Social Media & Data – A Force for Good?

610 million members.  200 countries.  One website.  No, I’m not talking about Facebook.

You may be surprised to know that this is LinkedIn.  That’s right, LinkedIn.  That website that always sends you jobs that are a “good fit,” and seems more about finding people you went to college with than anything else.

A recurring theme in our class discussions is how data is being used.  We (and the public at large) talk about the data that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, collect, and use.  We, or at least I, forget that LinkedIn can, and should, be considered a social media platform.  We connect with friends, colleagues, and classmates, intentionally trying to cast as a wide a net as possible, and hopefully leverage these cyber connections for career connections.

In the process, LinkedIn has gathered a literal treasure trove of data – our educational history, our work history, our perceived skills set, all of the sundry connections that we make on the platform, plus where we log in from, whether or not we are actively looking for a job, and so much more.  So what are they doing with all of this data?  It can’t just be flooding our inboxes with emails about potential job opportunities.

What if I told you they were using this data for good?

That’s right, good.  Or, at the very least, not bad.  A few weeks ago, I attended Harvard’s Dynamic Women in Business Conference.  It’s a great networking opportunity, and I was hopeful that I would come away with some information that I could use for a blog post.  Luckily, that worked out to my advantage.  I attended a panel called “Technology for Social Good,” and had the opportunity to listen to Nicole Isaac, the Director of North American Policy at LinkedIn, who, according to her LinkedIn profile, “partners with local, state, Federal and international governments to inform workforce investments through the Economic Graph.”  Aside from realizing that I want to be Nicole when I grow up (look her up, she’s got an amazing background), I had the chance to learn about a side of LinkedIn I had never known about.

If you go to Economic Graph,  you will be directed to Linkedin’s Economic Graph.  According to LinkedIn, the Economic Graph is a digital representation of all of the data on LinkedIn.  At this point, you may be asking, why does this matter? Will this help LinkedIn give me better job recommendations, or maybe target me for specific MOOCs (massive open online courses)?

The answer is no. While the website does those things, that’s not the purpose of the Economic Graph.  Instead, LinkedIn partners with organizations around the world, including the World Economic Forum, city and state governments throughout the US, and the World Bank, among others, to identify key insights and share them with the appropriate parties.  They’ve published research that includes:

  • Global Human Capital Report 2017 – This report looks at the status, gaps and potential in human capital across the world, and ranks countries based on how well they are developing human capital;
  • The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 – This report examines whether countries distribute resources and opportunities equitability between women and men;
  • The Africa Report – which is focused on the future of jobs and skills in Sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Competitive Cities Project – which tries to find labor market insights in developing economies around the world; and
  • MENA Report, which is focused on the Middle East and North Africa, including a look at education opportunities, skills, and jobs in the region.

Since March is International Women’s Month, I decided to look at the Global Gender Gap Report, to see what insights LinkedIn has gleaned, and if those insights can be utilized by companies.  Let’s face it, I’m a woman in an MBA program, so these are some very real concerns.

What I discovered is that the World Economic Forum published a 361 page report in December of 2017.  To be far, approximately 85% of the report is profiles of the 144 countries that are looked at in the report.  If you take the time to read this report, or any other report published with LinkedIn, they are incredibly data heavy.  They also have some incredibly valuable insights, like:

  • If current trends remain the same, as of 2017,  the global gender gap will be closed in exactly 100 years, which is an increase from the 83 years they reported in 2016;
  • Improving gender parity may result in pretty significant economic dividends, including an additional $250 billion added to the GDP of the UK and $1,750 billion added to the GDP of the US, among others; and
  • Closing occupational gender gaps will be key in closing the overall gender gap, and doing so requires adjustment within the education system, within companies, and by policymakers.

The specifics of the Global Gender Gap Report, at the very least, are likely not surprising to anyone.   But what about  places like Africa, where the skilled, educated workers are emigrating to the US and Europe?  These reports provide key insights to companies and governments on where they need to invest to retain their talent, and where their current gaps are.

We talk all the time about how social media platforms collect our data, and we don’t know what they’re doing with it.  It turns out, LinkedIn wants us to know what they do with our data, and they want to use our data for good.  It’s a pretty nice change of pace, and hopefully this can serve as a model for companies like Facebook and Twitter as they move forward.

11 comments

  1. This is a great blog. I don’t know why I never thought of the wealth of data LinkedIn had. They have an amazing picture of my life. From volunteer to internships, LinkedIn has a pretty good idea of what I want to do with my life. That may be a scary realization, but this blog is reassuring that they are using this power for good.

  2. Pretty interesting. This makes sense considering their recent advertising campaign, which, admittedly, I wrote off as an attempt to appear caring and socially aware. That being said, I wish the company were more vocal about these efforts. The bar is pretty low.

  3. Really interesting take on the positives of social media, since we do often focus on the negatives. I don’t really give much thought to LinkedIn when I think about social media, but it is certainly a platform that allows you to professionally connect with others and we should spend more time discussing its ins and outs. I did not realize that this platform is so transparent with how they use our data and this is quite refreshing considering how much we have focused on the obscurities we have witnessed with Facebook. I also like that you chose to focus on the Global Gender Gap report and the insights are unfortunately worrisome. Really nice post and great change of pace from what we are used to!

  4. Linkedin is by far my favorite social media platform. Many people don’t look at it is a social platform since it started out as a business networking platform. However, it has become more prevalent to the technology world since Microsoft acquired it, offering different data platforms and tools for jobs, recruiters, educators, professionals, and students. With that being said and because of my interests out of school, I hope to be able to work in-house at Linkedin and be part of the positive change in the way information and data are received.

  5. dilillomelissa · · Reply

    Great post Kate! I have a few friends that work at LinkedIn and they heavily promote a lot of the ideas you mention regarding the gender gap and women’s rights. It’s nice to see that a social media platform is using our data for something beneficial to us all instead of just for their personal gain. LinkedIn has always had a different feel in the way it operates compared to other forms of social media, and that makes me feel safer and more secure with them. Maybe it has to do with the professional aspects of the platform, but your post furthers my gut feeling. There’s a lot of depth to LinkedIn that people don’t know about, and I’m hoping to share some of these aspects with others.

  6. This is such an interesting report. There are few companies that have access to this amount of data and even fewer companies that invest the time and money required to create informative reports. The reports draw attention to real problems that can easily be overlooked, when so many individual companies’ release their employee breakdowns that reflect diverse demographics. It comes as no surprise that LinkedIn is spearheading reports like this, their CEO (Jeff Weiner) is at the forefront of creating a diverse and positive work environment. I recently listened to a podcast where he was featured on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday and he spoke about how “mindfulness can turn office politics from a jungle to a garden.” Thank you for bringing attention to this topic!

  7. I never would have even thought about social media platform’s publishing research based on the data they collect. I’m sure LinkedIn monetizes some aspect of our data, after all it is a “free” social media platform and not selling data wouldn’t align with our class discussions (lol). But I definitely think these insights are crucial for creating awareness around major social issues especially, at least for LinkedIn, in the work force. However, imagine if Twitter, Facebook, Instagram also did this same sort of thing and brought it to the public’s attention. Like if they count the average amount of pictures a person has on their profile with alcoholic drinks, and researching this as a potential early warning sign of alcoholism, a stretch I know, but still a valid social issue. There is a definitely a lot of good that can be done with the troves of data these social media companies collect, but it’s just a matter of how that impacts their bottom line, aka increases shareholder value. Unfortunately, I feel a lot of public companies or even companies with VC funding get stuck in a honeytrap. They take the funding because they intend to do good and change the world, but then they get sucked into boosting their shareholder value, rather than making a positive impact on the world. I’m sure LinkedIn invests a fair amount of resources into their reports and they certainly have set a good example for other companies to hopefully follow suit in their respective fields. Great post!

  8. Great post! Several of my colleagues have use LinkedIn data for academic research, yielding some interesting results. What’s great about LinkedIn are the incentives to provide honest data, so you can trust it more than many sources.

  9. It’s definitely encouraging to know my data is being used to support larger trends such as the one you discussed in this post. I like how they’re also focusing their efforts internationally, rather than just in the United States, therefore making some important global connections we might be overlooking. I wonder if in the future LinkedIn will be able to not only effectively use people’s data, but put programs in place to help alleviate some of the “global gaps” and restructure our economy.

  10. Loved this post Kate ! It’s so refreshing to hear about the positive things that are being done with our data. I now hope that these reports will lead to some tangible changes. It’s quite concerning that the gender pay gap is another 100 years away from being closed (and that it’s increasing !). Perhaps LinkedIn themselves can use this information to take the lead on this – perhaps ensuring that their job recommendation algorithms aren’t creating bias in the hiring processes or tagging employers as ‘leaders in equal pay’ ! Either way it’s a great first step towards socially responsible collection and use of data.

  11. This is great info that I didn’t know about. I am probably like many who have barely scratched the surface of LinkedIn’s capabilities and offerings. As it relates to the Economic Graph, kudos to LinkedIn for making the bridge between data reporting and data insights. Having read through census reports, community surveys, and wealth reports in order to identify the newest real estate opportunities for work, it is encouraging to see LinkedIn apply their plethora of data on its users in a productive manner for the greater good (unlike similar reports that are focused more on data presentation rather than insights). I’ll definitely dive into some of the articles and reports posted to the Economic Graph, I’m sure that there are some good insights within. Also, LinkedIn as a social media platform was a “whoa” moment.

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