LinkedIn Begins Recommendation-Based Business Service Directory

Finding the right attorney or plumber in the Yellow Pages has never been easy. It's not just any professional or tradesman you may be after, but someone who comes recommended and at a fair price.

LinkedIn, the biggest social network for business users, late on Sunday said it will offer members a way of choosing business service providers based on recommendations instead of just random listings on traditional Yellow Pages-type guides.

"No one should be picking a lawyer from the Yellow Pages," said Konstantin Guericke, vice president of marketing for the Palo Alto-based company. "Recommendations based on personal connections are important."

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Service listings represent the second marketplace LinkedIn is opening for the 7.7 million people using its business social network to find recommended providers. Initially the service is in English only and targeted at the U.S. market, but the company has plans to eventually expand overseas.

LinkedIn does not claim to be creating a wholesale replacement for the Yellow Pages or their online equivalent, only listings in a select set of categories in which relationships count and friends rate businesses, Guericke said.

"We are in the very beginning of building this marketplace. It's the sections of the Yellow Pages people use most," he said.

Web-based social networking takes advantage of the power of relationships among friends, and friend of friends, in social settings. Similarly, LinkedIn relies on connections with business colleagues and, in turn, their colleagues.

Friends of Friends

In the case of LinkedIn's directory of service providers, users can search narrowly for services recommended by friends, or they can widen their search to friends of friends. Failing that, a global search capability is offered to allow users to search across the full LinkedIn network.

Making the system work will depend on whether LinkedIn users bother to write recommendations for other businesses, building on an existing feature within LinkedIn that encourages colleagues to recommend other colleagues.

It also could draw in new users. Most LinkedIn members currently are executives, professionals, sales people and other office workers. The new directory could attract trade workers.

The service provider directory is designed so that businesses can go online and list their services without having to remain online — encouraging non-computer, blue-collar service providers to join LinkedIn.

About 7.7 million people worldwide had signed up for LinkedIn by September, up around 54 percent from 5 million users in March. Revenue is growing twice as fast as members, Guericke said.

"We see this growth in free members as the engine that runs the business," he said. "We are building different marketplaces on top of that."

The firm's revenue comes primarily from premium service subscriptions that start at $60 a month and go up to $2,000, then from job listings and then advertising fees for its free audience.