01/15/2014 12:10 EST | Updated 03/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Is 13 Too Young To Be On LinkedIn?

Late last fall an announcement was made that LinkedIn launched LinkedIn University pages where anyone above the age of 13 or older can sign up. LinkedIn recently updated their Privacy Policy to reflect this. (Of note, this age may vary from country to country on LinkedIn because in Canada, anyone 14 or older can sign-up.)

Part of me feels it's great to provide an opportunity for our youth to start thinking about their future and careers. For example, you may have heard of the #changetheratio initiative led by the incredible Rachel Sklar, which encourages girls to enter the technology and engineering spaces; areas that (wrongly) were perceived as male-only domains.  

So if my little girls start thinking about their future education and careers, that is a good thing, right?  I want them to see trailblazers like Jennifer Evans and Jacqui Allard (Disclosure: both with whom I served on the Board of Directors at the White Ribbon Campaign). Or executive leaders such as Kirstine Stewart and Linda Descano who pave a route for the next generation of women in businesses where one's gender does not and should not matter.

From a business perspective, it's a smart move by LinkedIn.  By engaging youth at a younger age, they are much more loyal when they get older and join the workforce. The whole "cradle to grave" analogy comes to mind.  

One company that has been extremely successful with that strategy over the years is Apple. When I worked at the "Fruit Company", I remember the focus on the education segment as a whole division is named K12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12). The rationale is that kids use Macs and iPads at school.  They then want them at home.  Parents then use them and want them at work. Apple's numbers from the education segment certainly attest to the wisdom of this strategy over time, as does subsequent segment revenue growth.

But a tweet from Kurt Shaver, who is certainly someone who gets LinkedIn, asks if that move will dilute the business nature of LinkedIn, which is what made it so successful in the first place.

Another article questioned if getting 13 year olds on LinkedIn is too young. Should 13 year olds think about which university to attend? They have their entire lives to worry about academics, pedigree and careers. As a father, I'm torn as I already feel guilty about too much structure, classes, and tutoring in my child's life. And before you know it they are no longer children.

One of my friends recently made the observation that LinkedIn was "Facebook for Grown Ups".  Brian questioned that if LinkedIn allowed 13 year olds to become LinkedIn members wouldn't that clutter the site.  And to be clear, he's a good father who is quite active in his children's lives.

If clutter increases on LinkedIn, could LinkedIn see attrition from senior executives and professionals, the same people who sign off on the recruitment, marketing and sales solutions that powered LinkedIn's incredible growth to date?

Brian further asked if this could open up the door for a new, professional, business social network.  This is precisely what LinkedIn started out as over 10 years ago when Plaxo was around. It seems unlikely but if I've learned one thing from technology is that anything is possible.

It's a tough thing to balance so it will be interesting to see if allowing the next generation to be "IN" at a younger age is a good thing or not.


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