LinkedIn puts Slack in its crosshairs with updated messaging platform

LinkedIn is either suffering a mid-life crisis or experiencing a renaissance.
The company has traditionally focused on helping workers further their careers by transforming all of their acquaintances into potential “connections” that can endorse any of their skills or simply become another notch in their digital belts. It has also tried to become a content hub for these same professionals by acquiring the Pulse news startup and working on content marketing tools.
Now an update to the company’s messaging system, which previously looked like an email client from the ’90s, makes LinkedIn seem more like a place where people can have meaningful conversations instead of meaningless connections. The update is pretty standard stuff. In addition to sporting a new chat-like interface, the new messages can also support animated GIFs and stickers. LinkedIn, much like its middle-aged user base, is catching up to the times.
It’s also responding to the popularity of Slack and similar tools which allow workers to communicate with their colleagues — and, in the process, it’s shifting from a glorified contacts list to a bona fide social communications service.
Today’s update to LinkedIn’s messages isn’t the only change of its sort the company has made recently. It also released a new application called LinkedIn Lookup last month to make it easier for people to find information about or contact their co-workers. In a blog post announcing the new app, LinkedIn said that it was created after 46 percent of respondents to an 814-person survey said they use the service to learn more about their colleagues. So it made an app to make that even easier, and now it’s updated its messaging service to help people communicate better.
It seems like the company is starting to shift its focus, if only a little bit. Instead of forming links people can use to reach new heights in their careers, LinkedIn is encouraging people to actually — get this — talk to the people in their circles.
This is similar to the change happening at Twitter, which recently updated its direct messaging feature and gave celebrities a sneak preview of new photo-and video-editing tools. Both updates appear to be meant to help Twitter combat the growth of one-to-one communication services like Snapchat or WhatsApp.
Now it’s LinkedIn’s turn to make some changes. Like Twitter, it used to focus mostly on external communications, whether it was sharing blog posts to a group of professionals or leveraging connections to find out about new jobs. These changes signal a renewed focus on internal communications. (Albeit with a more professional bent than Twitter’s focus on millennials and celebrities. Also more useful, too, apparently.)
It makes sense for LinkedIn to make these changes. Slack has proved that there’s a demand for business-focused social networks that don’t bore their users with monotone interfaces or pre-smartphone ideas about communication. Hell, even Facebook is trying to edge Slack out of the business market, and it’s not even focused on that area. It’s no surprise LinkedIn would try the same.
From corporate ladder-climber to virtual water cooler. It looks like even the stodgiest of social networks will eventually feel compelled to take on messaging services. Now we’ll have to see if the move is brilliant or just a gamble everyone will soon ignore.