Facebook takes on LinkedIn as a career portal with e-learning, expanded mentorship and jobs features

With the launch of a way for people to connect with each other in mentoring relationships, and to look for jobs, Facebook has over the last year or so slowly been encroaching on LinkedIn’s territory as the go-to platform for people who want to leverage their networks of contacts to expand their career prospects. With one million jobs now secured through the social network, Facebook today took the next step in that strategy: it has launched a new education portal, Learn with Facebook; and it is expanding features for two services it had already launched that are adjacent to that, Mentorships and Jobs.

Mentorships will now be opened for users to make their own matches; and those posting Jobs will now be able to post them in Groups where they are members.

Together, today’s news is a strong signal of how Facebook is continuing to work on ways of diversifying its platform and the reasons that people come to use it. Last quarter, the company saw its user growth creep to below two percent globally, stagnate in the U.S./Canada and decline in Europe, as the company continues to roil from bad press over the social network’s role in helping to sway elections and disseminate “fake news,” and in sharing user data either through breaches or the general course of business.

In that context, building new applications and services that create new reasons for engagement and using the platform makes some sense.

All the same, these are still baby steps for the social network.

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Learn with Facebook will kick off with just 13 “modules” it has made in partnership with others, each lasting less than 10 minutes and largely geared toward the kind of professional development that would be useful for someone who uses Facebook for work, or might start using Facebook to find a job. They are introductory sessions around topics like discovering social media marketing, digital storytelling and how to boost your resume and ace your interview. (To be clear, it’s currently very far from the kind of education initiatives and startups that are being promoted and backed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Learn with Facebook is focused more on professional development.)

Fatima Saliu, head of policy marketing at Facebook, says that the aim is to get the ball rolling but that the ambitions of how Facebook hopes to develop the product longer-term are more ambitious.

“This is the foundation and the beginning,” she said, noting that Facebook is creating partnerships with third parties for those who might want to continue learning more skills, for example working with Goodwill Community Foundation to promote the new learning portal, and a number of partnerships with community colleges that it has forged in the last several months (13 of these have been announced so far). All of this is part of the company’s bigger mission to train 1 million people and small businesses in the U.S. in digital skills by 2020.

Longer term, she said, “We do intend to build out the content to make sure we are evolving with market economy and job skills.” That will include potentially making acquisitions of other e-learning sites, she noted, although for now the focus is more on partnerships to bring in more content. “For us it’s about meeting the needs of jobseekers. At this point in time we’re working with partners but we’re open to all possibilities to meet this need,” she said in response to a question about whether Facebook might ever consider acquisitions to grow the operation.

As a point of reference, LinkedIn last week said it has around 13,000 courses on its site now — an inventory that it was able to boost in part by way of its acquisition of Lynda.com. More recently, it has partnered with several third parties to start integrating tens of thousands of more pieces of content into the platform. Facebook for now charges nothing for its career-development services, while LinkedIn has an extensive premium paid model.

Mentorships, which officially launched three months ago, are getting a smaller expansion: previously Group administrators had to get involved in first activating the option for mentorships in their Groups, and then to actively match mentors and mentees to each other. Now, that step can be taken by the interested parties.

Sean O’Reilly, the engineering manager at Facebook who has built the mentorship feature, said that the reason for the change was admins were finding it too much of a burden to get involved in the mentorship. “The biggest feedback we’ve had is that it’s a lot of work for admins especially in professional development, since most have full-time jobs themselves.”

So now, those who opt to look for a mentor, or offer themselves up as a mentor, will be able to streamline their choices based on their parameters of interest, and Facebook will give those users lists from which to choose. For now, this won’t be suggested automatically, but given the algorithms that Facebook has built for social interactions, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a future step.

More interestingly, for now as with the e-learning, mentorships will continue to be a free service, although as Facebook continues to bring in more verticals that it targets — from giving advice about life, to giving advice about careers, to perhaps giving paid advice — this, too, might be something that it will revisit. There are, after all, life coaches who offer advice for a fee already, and they already market themselves on Facebook, so it would make sense for Facebook to at some point start to facilitate that transaction itself.

In the meantime, any professional offerings will continue to remain in the domain of Jobs on the site. These, too, are getting an update today, where Facebook will now allow people to post jobs in Groups — not just on the Jobs page or in their newsfeeds. For now, these will only go in Groups where people are already members, although over time, it’s likely that this too will start to get opened up and paired to wherever that job might be most relevant. Today, you can already start to see job suggestions alongside the Learn with Facebook content, the company said.