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Online Advertising,Online Publishing,Social Media

LinkedIn Stretches Its Wings

Business-oriented social network LinkedIn is looking more and more like a publishing company these days.

Traditionally seen as a digital hunting ground for job seekers and recruiters, the site has been busy building up a formidable content distribution business, sourcing content from companies, professional publishers and – more recently – an expanding network of especially selected business leaders.

Financial support comes from ongoing development of a brand-friendly suite of products and tools.

At the same time however, the social network continues to make most of its money from HR and recruitment services. These contributed 57% of global revenue for the first six months of the year, compared with 23% from services to marketers and 20% from premium subscriptions.

What LinkedIn actually does may depend on who you ask, suggests the company’s MD for Asia-Pacific and Japan, Hari Krishnan.

“LinkedIn is a professional platform with social technologies underpinning it,” Krishnan says.

“I’m being as high level as that because LinkedIn is different things for different people. For some folks it is their quintessential recruitment engine. Other folks think of us a publishing platform.”

Content is core

Make no mistake: content is core to LinkedIn’s strategy, driving acquisitions such as presentation sharing platform SlideShare (for US$119 million in May 2012) and mobile content aggregator Pulse (for US$90 million in April 2013).

“We want to be the pre-eminent platform for professional publishing,” Krishnan says. That goal however supports a broader strategy to deliver three value propositions: Identity, as a professional profile of record; Insights, to help members become better at their jobs; and Everywhere, ensuring LinkedIn is available wherever it is needed.

Nonetheless, LinkedIn’s content ambitions position the site as both possible friend and foe to business media.

Since hiring ex-Fortune digital editor Dan Roth in July 2011, the social network has been blending digital consumption trends, recorded by the 1.5 million plus sites carrying a LinkedIn share button, with editorial curation and direct contact with mainstream publishers, in order to deliver content to 238 million members worldwide (including 42 million here in Asia-Pacific).

Members can further customize their newsfeeds by following certain companies and sectors as well as business celebrities and thought-leaders.

Some of these have attracted sizable followings – more than 2.5 million for Richard Branson and more than a million each for Deepak Chopra and Jack Welch.

An initial batch of global heavy hitters will expand to include more leaders within specific sectors or markets.

The overall content offering, revamped in May to bolster reach and engagement, is adding up to become an increasingly attractive proposition for marketers.

“LinkedIn is the perfect storm among social media platforms at the moment,” remarks Don Anderson, Singapore-based SVP of regional strategic digital integration for PR network Fleishman-Hillard.

“For B2B advertisers, it should be a no-brainer. Since their IPO in May 2011, they have dramatically improved their audience targeting, data analysis and reporting capabilities.”

Advertiser aptitude

Nonetheless, it’s still early days as a publisher for LinkedIn, finding it hard to shake off its reputation among long-standing members as a place where people look for a job.

Brands could also help boost the site’s appeal, upping spend on content marketing to complement traditional paid advertising.
While few marketers in Asia are ready to invest today, that should change over time.

“LinkedIn’s move towards redefining itself as a content and thought-leadership platform, not to mention a lead generation tool, should be taken seriously by marketing and corporate communication teams, particularly B2Bs,” Anderson says.

Krishnan downplays LinkedIn’s competitive challenge to business media, pointing out that people have been using the site to share knowledge long before its current content push.

“They were using LinkedIn Answers or LinkedIn Groups to get insights from each other,” he says.

“That dynamic has existed on LinkedIn since we launched back in 2003. We have seen trends towards social technologies for consumers globally, and have made investments commensurately.”

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