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Glassdoor acquires Fishbowl, a semi-anonymous social network and job board, to square up to LinkedIn

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Business people back to work post corona virus lockdown
Image Credits: Orbon Alija / Getty Images

While LinkedIn doubles down on creators to bring a more human, less manicured element to its networking platform for professionals, a company that has built a reputation for publishing primarily the more messy and human impressions of work life has made an acquisition that might help it compete better with LinkedIn.

Glassdoor, the platform that lets people post anonymous and candid feedback about the organizations they work for, has acquired Fishbowl — an app that gives users an anonymous option also to provide frank employee feedback, as well as join interest-based conversation groups to chat about work, and search for jobs. Glassdoor, which has 55 million monthly users, is already integrating Fishbowl content into its main platform, although Fishbowl, with its 1 million users, will also continue for now to operate as a standalone app, too.

Christian Sutherland-Wong, the CEO of Glassdoor, said that he sees Fishbowl as the logical evolution of how Glassdoor is already being used. Similarly, since people are already seeking out feedback on prospective employers, it makes sense to bring recruitment and reviews closer together.

“We’ve always been about workplace transparency,” he said in an interview. “We expect in the future that jobseekers will use Glassdoor reviews, and also look to existing professionals in their fields to get answers from each other.” Fishbowl has seen a lot of traction during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing its user base threefold in the last year.

The acquisition is technically being made by Recruit Holdings, the Japanese employment listings and tech giant that acquired Glassdoor for $1.2 billion in 2018, and the companies are not disclosing any financial terms. San Francisco-based Fishbowl — founded in 2016 by Matt Sunbulli and Loren Appin — had raised less than $8 million, according to PitchBook data, from a pretty impressive set of investors, including Binary Capital, GGV, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and Scott Belsky.

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn towers over the likes of Glassdoor in terms of size. It now has more than 774 million users, making it by far the biggest social media platform targeting professionals and their work-related content. But for many, even some of those who use it, the platform leaves something to be desired.

LinkedIn is a reliable go-to for putting out a profile of yourself, for the public, for those in your professional life, or for recruiters, to find. But what LinkedIn largely lacks are normal people talking about work in an honest way. To read about other’s often self-congratulatory professional developments, or to see motivational words on professional development from already hugely successful personalities, or to browse developments relative to your industry that probably have already seen elsewhere is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s anodyne. Sometimes people just want tea to be spilled.

That’s where something like Glassdoor comes into the picture: the format of making comments anonymous on there turns it into something of the anti-LinkedIn. It is caustic, perhaps sometimes bitter, talk about the workplace, balanced out with positive words seem to get periodically suspected of being seeded by the companies themselves. Motivational, inspirational and aspirational are generally not part of the Glassdoor lexicon; honest, illuminating, and sobering perhaps are.

Fishbowl will be used to augment this and give Glassdoor another set of tools now to see how it might build out its platform beyond workplace reviews. The idea is to target people who come to Glassdoor to read about what people think of a company, or to put in their own comments: they can now also jump into conversations with others; and if they are coming to complain about their employer, now they can also look for a new one!

In the meantime, it feels like the swing to more authenticity is also a result of the shift we’ve seen in the world of work.

Covid-19 mandated office closures and social distancing have meant that many professionals have been working at home for the majority of the last year and a half (and many continue to do so). That has changed how we “come to work”, with many of our traditional divides between work and non-work personas and time management blurring. That has had an inevitable impact on how we see ourselves at work, and what we seek to get out of that engagement. And it also has led many people to feel isolated and in need of more ways to connect with colleagues.

Glassdoor’s acquisition, it said, was in part to meet this demand. A Harris Poll commissioned by Glassdoor found that 48% of employees felt isolated from coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic; 42% of employees felt their career stall due to the lack of in-person connection; and 45% of employees expect to work hybrid or full-time remotely going forward — all areas that Glassdoor believes can be addressed with better tools (like Fishbowl) for people to communicate.

Of course, it will remain to be seen whether Glassdoor can convert its visitors to use the new Fishbowl-powered tools, but if there really is a population of users out there looking for a new kind of LinkedIn — there certainly are enough who love to complain about it — then maybe this cold be one version of that.

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