WeWork Commons: an Anti-LinkedIn For the Freelance Economy?

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LinkedIn has had a lock on the professional niche of social networking for years, but a new up-and-coming site may dethrone it.

WeWork, a four-year-old website valued at $1.5 billion, offers co-working spaces that allow freelancers and startups to feel like they’ve become part of something bigger. Recently, WeWork built a new social network called WeWork Commons, which could very well rival LinkedIn — for a few different reasons.

For one thing, Keynote estimates that about 46% of Internet users have a hard time interacting with websites regularly. Since LinkedIn is not the most intuitive or user-friendly site on the web, it’s only natural that users wouldn’t be able to make the most out of their accounts. Forbes recently reported that 25% of users still don’t know how to hide their connections, and that only 16% of users are in the maximum amount of networking groups.

For another thing, WeWork Commons is more useful. Its goal is to offer users the experience of working in its physical offices to anyone, anywhere. The online service allows its entrepreneurial users to swap stories, get advice, network, find local events, rent workspaces, and access discounted business services — the type of things that WeWork’s 15,000 tenants have already had access. Now, thousands — if not millions — more will have access to it. Basically, WeWork Commons allows users to get more things done beyond the scope of networking. It helps them actually do business.

According to Kakul Srivastava, the chief product officer of WeWork, the new social network is all about changing the way people are working.

“It’s the rise of the independent worker,” says Srivastava. “What we’re launching is about that. It’s about giving voice to that and building tools to allow that to happen.”

WeWork Commons may also buck LinkedIn from the throne because it’s making its debut at the right time, when the freelance economy is burgeoning. According to MBO partners, there are about 17.9 million “solopreneurs” in the United States — 12.5% more than there were in 2011. Consequently, WeWork’s membership is expected to triple over the next 12 months.

“We literally cannot build our physical space fast enough,” Srivastava says. “We got the feeling that there is much larger demand than we could possibly serve doing business as usual.”

All of this being said, WeWork isn’t fooling itself. It knows its new social network won’t become the next LinkedIn, which is already an unparalleled recruiting tool. However, there are 332 million users on LinkedIn, making the site easy to get lost in. With its some 15,000 users, WeWork Commons could be a sort of Anti-LinkedIn — a small, niche community.

Unlike LinkedIn, WeWork requires users to pay a premium fee of $45 a month. On the one hand, this may deter some from signing up, but the fee could also serve to filter out those people who aren’t completely serious about what they’re doing.

“Our goal is not to build the biggest social network in the world,” says Srivastava. “Our network is for and about a particular kind of person. It’s not for everyone.”

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