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Exclusive: LinkedIn aims to close "network gap"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner will announce a new effort Thursday to close what he calls the “network gap” — the advantage some people have based on who they know, company executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: By organizing its users to broaden their personal networks beyond traditional connections, LinkedIn is trying to strike a blow against social inequality.

How it works: For a long time, LinkedIn encouraged users to limit their connections to other people they know. Now it wants to encourage users to connect to new people to expand job opportunities for those who may not have as strong professional networks.

Driving the news: During his keynote Thursday at the company’s Talent Connect conference, Weiner will call on the public to take the "Plus One Pledge," a call to action for users to share their "time, talent, and connections with people outside your network who may not have access to the same connections and resources you do.”

  • "We believe that people with equal talent should have equal access to opportunity, a sentiment we know is shared by many of our members and customers," Weiner tells Axios. "To help make this belief a reality, we are focused on solutions in at least three areas — technology, apprenticeship programs, and individual connections."

How it works: The goal is to strengthen more users' networks by making them bigger and more "open "through technology and policies. (For LinkedIn, openness means how many of a user's connections are connected to one another. For example, if everyone in your network knows one another, your network isn't very open.)

  • Technology: The company says its product teams are beginning to assess the unintended consequences of new products and features by asking, “Does this feature increase or decrease inequality among our members?”
  • Company programs: LinkedIn is also investing in apprenticeship programs for people with non-tech backgrounds.
  • Individual actions: LinkedIn will start encouraging users and employees to reach out to more people, starting with its own employees. About 60% of its global workforce has already committed to the pledge.

By the numbers: According to LinkedIn’s data, a single connection makes a huge difference and can change the trajectory of a career.

  • Having at least one connection at a company makes you 6x more likely to get a job there. Having a formal referral from that connection makes you 9x more likely to get the job.

The company says that 3 distinct factors contribute to the network gap: where you grew up, where you went to school, and where you work. While LinkedIn can't change these factors, it can encourage people with different networks to connect more.

  • A LinkedIn member in a zip code with a median income over $100K is nearly 3x more likely to have a stronger network than a member in a lower-income zip code.
  • A member at a top school (i.e., ranked among U.S. News’s top 30 U.S. universities and top 10 liberal arts colleges) is nearly 2x more likely to have a strong network.
  • A member who works at a top company (as defined by LinkedIn’s own Top Companies) is almost 2x more likely to have a strong network. ​

Between the lines: LinkedIn has focused heavily on addressing issues of economic mobility around the world. Closing the "network gap" is part of those efforts.

  • For example, the company partners with governments and nonprofits around the world to share insights from its Economic Graph to help prepare workers for the future job market. It also provides a “Skills Assessments” feature on its platform to validate members’ skills and help close the skills gap.

The big picture: Opportunity in the U.S. is often defined in terms of education, money or location. But as social media becomes a bigger part of our lives, and as more companies invest in workplace networking, there's concern that our online communities will only reinforce opportunity gaps in real life.