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In a surprising move, it appears LinkedIn has plans to turn off its 'Answers' Q&A section at the end of January.
The official word is that "As of Jan. 31, LinkedIn Answers will be retired from LinkedIn. We will be focusing our efforts on the development of new and more engaging ways to share and discuss professional topics across LinkedIn" (some users have received emails to this effect, although so far there's little on LinkedIn's official blog about the move).
It appears that LinkedIn will be using this change to drive more engagement around groups and pages, but is this really a good thing?
In the past, LinkedIn Answers has been the subject of scorn due to the high levels of spam found on the forums. A number of LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) members spend hours posting spammy links and referring their fairly useless connections as 'experts on the subject' there.
All this is highly visible, so it's bound to put off some people, particulary new members on LinkedIn, and if the company is serious about growing its user base then this makes sense. From the point of view of many users though, it doesn't.
We've used LinkedIn answers extensively in the past, even basing an entire content marketing campaign around it, and by offering full, useful answers, we managed to drive a significant amount of new users to our site, and perhaps more importantly, saw a lot of them convert (Almost £70,000 worth of them in fact).
We still see traffic from legacy answers left two years ago as well, so there's clear value in taking time to leave good practical advice in Answers.
Despite the snark levels, by and large there were sensible responses left throughout the forum. Frankly, you have to mine the muck to find the brass on any platform, so this was no exception.
LinkedIn suggests that users can still post questions in groups and via status updates, but if anything, groups are home to a far more nefarious brand of spam. I currently moderate five groups, and every day I spend time clearing out notices for 'Grate New Product' and 'Flat Abz now' from the moderation area.
It's something I can just about keep up with, but once groups reach a certain size it becomes all but impossible. Unlike in Answers, this is flat-out spam. The kind that promises you cheap ugg boots, rather than the kind left by a real person that says 'See my blog post on this'.
Yes, both are annoying, but only one of those is generally generated automatically, and repeated thousands of times.
One more thing: A 'Best Answer' notification is harder to come by than one of the new Endorsements. These require a single click, from an existing connection. They're a nice pat on the back to be sure, but don't hold a huge amount of weight.
A Best Answer (usually) meant you'd impressed a complete stranger with your knowledge, and quite possibly generated a few leads in the process.
A closed network?
While it may seem that LinkedIn is making a positive move to clear out spam, it's also actually restricting the ways in which users can connect with each other by removing public answers. Of course you can still post an update to your profile or company page, but how many people outside of your existing network will actually see it? We can't all feature in the news section.
There is of course a solution: become a premium member. Get extra inmails and access to those you couldn't connect with before. it's a smart move by LinkedIn to drive paid registration, but may ultimately restrict growth as many users are unlikely to make the switch.
Meanwhile those who have been using answers to drive consultancy business will be heading en masse to join popular groups and drive their spam levels ever higher.
Yes there are aternatives, Quora remains excellent in general, while newcomers like Google+ communities may be an alternative, but again, we're still going to see spam there, and for companies and individuals with a B2B focus in particular, it's going to be hard to create the kind of value that answers has provided.
I'm an ardent supporter of Answers, so I may well be biased on this - has anyone else created real value from answers, or will you be glad to see the back of them? As always, please let me know in the comments...