Why College Students Aren’t Joining LinkedIn
Natalie Riso Content @ 500 Startups | 3x Linkedin Top Voice
Just by spending even five minutes on LinkedIn, it is immediately apparent that the audience on the platform is older than other social media platforms. Considering the purpose of a professional platform, it makes sense as to why there would be an age difference between LinkedIn and, say, Instagram. As a former Campus Editor, I was able to listen and learn from one of the more under-engaging demographics on the platform: college students. According to Omnicore, 40 out of the total 500 million LinkedIn users are college students or recent alumni. But as a college senior, I listened and worked with my student body and found that the majority of the students on my campus either didn’t have profiles or didn’t know how to engage on the platform. When I first started my job, I couldn’t quite understand why so many students were hesitant to join the platform. In just over a year and a half in the position, I was able to understand some of the major reasons for the slow adoption of LinkedIn for the most tech-savvy generation in the workforce.
Chicken and Egg: Where are my friends?
Social media platforms often start with college students. If you look at most prominent social media platform today outside of LinkedIn (i.e. Facebook, Snapchat), you will find that the early adopters were usually high school and college students. As the platforms evolved, the demographics started to get older and now maturing platforms like Facebook are seeing some of its highest engagement in a generation above the early adopting college students.
LinkedIn is one of the few platforms that does not fit this model. While millennials are currently one of the largest demographics on the platform, many young millennials still in college have grown up with social media where the overwhelming consumer base is their same age group. They are used to the kind of instant follower numbers that would happen if everyone you knew was on a platform. When I was Campus Editor at USC, many students would complain that they had not reached the 500+ mark when all their other social media platforms were well over that number in follower count. Starting LinkedIn as a college student does not return the same instant gratification than what many are used to. For many college students who do start on the platform early, they are able to see the benefits after a couple years and even before they graduate. But for some, the low numbers early on are too discouraging and many of the students I spoke to would give up on LinkedIn too quickly.
The language is possibly the number one thing I would get questions about as a LinkedIn Campus Editor. Both current students and recently graduated alumni would always ask about the right and wrong ways to communicate with other members on the platform. Because social media and business had always been separated networks for most college students, many find it difficult to know exactly how to reach out and maintain relationships on a professional platform. Many of the younger students, in particular, were unsure of whom to reach out to and what types of relationships they should try to start. While I was able to help guide them as a Campus Editor, there is certainly a learning curve for most college students when it comes to the language of LinkedIn.
Understanding the hesitation from college students to join LinkedIn has some interesting implications for recruiting and future corporate cultures. As more and more students start to join the platform, the chicken and egg problem will continue to shrink. This will help the already steady increase of college students joining the platform and searching for internships and first jobs. I believe that companies who are planning to post these types of jobs on LinkedIn will definitely see an increase in caliber and number of candidates as the college market grows.
In terms of the language issue, I believe there are three forces that have the potential to help shrink and even erase the issue altogether. The first is the universities who are working LinkedIn into their curriculum. I know that my university, USC, already does this, but not every university offers help. This is one practical way for universities to help their students obtain internships and jobs. The second major force is the LinkedIn Campus Editor Program. With 71 editors this year, the program is seeing some really promising progress in helping students to understand the types of content that thrive on the platform and the type of language that is appropriate and effective on the platform.
The last potential force is the rise of LinkedIn influencers. Over the years, more and more young LinkedIn members have raised their voice about certain issues and have grown a sizable audience on the platform. These influencers have done a great job at not only showing the potential upside to the platform, but also in introducing conversations that college students feel confident contributing to. While all these three forces have the potential to bring in more college students, they are still a demographic that seems to have hesitation in joining and, more importantly, engaging with LinkedIn. While these issues are mostly anecdotal from my time as a LinkedIn Campus Editor, I would love to know if other users have seen these concerns being brought up or if they have even experienced some themselves. Do you think there are a lot of college students on the platform? Why do you think some students are hesitant to join? I would love to know your comments!