LinkedIn Hits 500M Members

LinkedIn hit the half billion member mark, continuing its pace of adding 50 million members every nine months.  LinkedIn also supports ten million job listings and over nine million company profiles.  Members continue to post 100,000 articles per week.  However, the active monthly user rate remains around 25%.

In comparison, Facebook has 1.8 billion members and Twitter has 328 million.  The top five countries are the United States (138 million), India (42 million), China (31 million), Brazil (29 million), and United Kingdom (23 million).

LinkedIn published connection data by country and region for the first time with the top five most connected countries (i.e. average member connections) listed as the UAE, Netherlands, Singapore, UK, and Denmark.  UAE profiles average 211 connections.  By metro area, London leads in average connections with 307 per member followed by Amsterdam, San Francisco, Jakarta, and Milan.  Staffing and recruiting is LinkedIn’s most connected industry (unsurprisingly as the firm’s largest revenue source is their Talent Solutions products), and human relations its most connected job function.

LinkedIn connectivity rates by job function and level indicate a strong focus on staffing, consulting, and PE/VC roles.
LinkedIn connectivity rates by job function and level indicate a strong focus on staffing, consulting, and PE/VC roles.

LinkedIn connectivity rates by job function and level indicate a strong focus on staffing, consulting, and PE/VC roles.

The top five industries are all highly networked occupations including staffing and recruiting, VC/PE, human resources, management consulting, and online media.  With respect to job functions, product management was the number two most connected occupation after human resources.  It was surprising to see that sales reps did not even make the top five (outside of Business Development which is a senior level mix of partnership, licensing, and relationship management), but product managers had very high connectivity.  Of course, the sales function would span both junior and senior sales reps along with business and consumer sales, while product management consists of more mid and upper-level management.

“The impact of half a billion professionals connecting and communicating is very real, and very accessible to anyone who wants to take part today,” said Aatif Awan, LinkedIn’s VP of growth and international products.  “We’re excited to think about the potential of what a highly connected global community of professionals can do, and the value that is created for every member of the global workforce.”

LinkedIn, which is operated as an autonomous division within Microsoft, has over 10,000 employees.

LinkedIn StoryLines Launched

StoryLines are trending topics shown on the right side of the LinkedIn Desktop
StoryLines are trending topics shown on the right side of the LinkedIn Desktop

LinkedIn recently introduced their new Storylines feature parallel to the LinkedIn feed.  StoryLines are “curated interest-based feeds that surface developing stories to help you discover and discuss news, ideas, and diverse perspectives from the largest group of professionals, publishers and editorial voices ever assembled.”

Articles are based upon information LinkedIn has about each reader such as their industry.  StoryLines are intended to combine industry expertise with individual network commentary.  A unique hashtag makes “it easy for you to join the conversation and add your own take on the issue.”

LinkedIn emphasized that StoryLines promotes a diversity of opinions and sources.  “Each story includes multiple perspectives, ranging from news publishers and influencers, to people in your network, so that you can easily weigh up diverse opinions”

StoryLines are curated via a combination of editorial curation and algorithmic filters.  When stories break, an editor writes a summary and identifies diverse sources.  An algorithm then adds additional member commentary.  This approach ensures a multiplicity of views that pull members out of “filter bubbles” which would otherwise reinforce current views and biases.  Topics will be business related

“I don’t want just one point of view”

  • LinkedIn VP of Product Tomer Cohen

Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn believes it can avoid the problems of “fake news.”  Inaccurate content that is intentionally deceptive, including fake news, is not acceptable on our site,” said VP of Product Tomer Cohen.  “Our combination of algorithms and editors creates an experience where trending news is validated by editorial to ensure that it is professional and comes from trusted sources.”

Cohen added, “The content members write and share on LinkedIn becomes part of their professional identity — it can be seen by their boss, colleagues, and potential business partners. Promoting fake news can damage your reputation, and there is no hiding behind anonymity on LinkedIn.”

Other features include related stories and follow options for topical experts.

The new feature is being rolled out to US members and then will expand internationally.

LinkedIn mobile also added feed personalization tools which will soon be available via desktop.  Amongst the filters are options to follow companies, industry leaders, and publications.  Users can also hide posts, and unfollow people and companies.  Unfollowing people allows users to retain connections without seeing the connections posts.

LinkedIn has struggled to customize their feed for users, but StoryLines sounds like a smart innovation.  By creating a curated trending topic category and placing it to the right of the feed, they can provide relevant content and discussions without it overwhelming the user feed.  Furthermore, by curating a set of diverse viewpoints, members are provided with a broader set of perspectives.

Since the beginning of the year, I have noticed an improvement in LinkedIn’s feed.  Gone are the eye candy stories from Business Insider covering bots and bikes.  Also, there are fewer viral stories about enterprising individuals overcoming hardship.  Instead, they have done a better job of surfacing posts from my connections and articles in my field.

The launch of Sales Navigator Enterprise (covered last week) was another indicator that they are focusing more on the Professional side of Professional Social Networking.

Sales Intelligence Vendors Still Don’t Get Social

For some reason, sales intelligence vendors have never properly understood social selling and how to integrate social media into their products.  This has long amazed me.  Instead of building an integrated social media viewing tool with sharing and feedback, they all seem to nibble around the edges. You’ll find social hyperlinks directly from company or contact profiles, but these simply window out to the social media site.  Also fairly common is the inclusion of corporate blogs into their news and sales trigger feeds, but fully integrated social media tools have yet to be offered by vendors.

The closest any of them have come is InsideView which added a Buzz Tab about five years ago to its InsideView for Sales product.  The Buzz Tab provides a consolidated view of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter feeds.  However, the social content remains segregated from their other discovery tools and the population of Facebook and Twitter feeds is limited.  Other social tools include a Who Knows Who “Six Degrees” tool and the inclusion of Personal Tweets from business executives in their alerts.

The InsideView buzz tab supports keyword searching and filtering for company blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
The InsideView buzz tab supports keyword searching and filtering for company blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

There are also a set of social selling tools that focus on social media, blogs, and news but which are light on company and contact information.  As these tools improve, one of the sales intelligence vendors is going to make a build vs. buy decision and either OEM the upcoming service or buy a social selling service outright.

What tools such as Artesian Software, Owler, Contify, and Trapit do isn’t revolutionary.  They basically provide a unified view of news and social content.  Users can filter the feeds and interact with the posts.  If a free service such as Owler can build such functionality, why can’t the sales intelligence vendors?  Core functionality could provide the following features:

  1. A deep set of direct links for companies and executives to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, G+, etc.
  2. A unified view of the corporate social media content across Twitter, Facebook, SlideShare, YouTube, Vimeo, corporate blogs, business blogs, etc.  This view would be easily filterable by source, date, keyword, etc.
  3. Social Media Metrics for a company charted over time.  If the company is also selling into the marketing department, then comparative metrics should be available.
  4. When filtering Twitter, allow the user to see both the Tweets from a company and mentions (these are separate options).
  5. Support basic widgets from the major social media vendors.  These are small applets that display key statistics along with a brief description and logo/headshot.
  6. Allow any news article, sales trigger, or social media post to be shared via social media, enterprise social (e.g. Chatter, Yammer), and email.
  7. Support expanded alerts that include targeted social media alongside sales triggers.  Thus, an alert could consist of the half dozen most important sales trigger topics, Twitter posts from the company, Blog headlines, and YouTube / Vimeo uploads.
  8. Executive alerts based upon social media posts and news mentions.

Who Know Who Six degree tools are also worth considering, but this functionality is so well locked up by LinkedIn that relationship discovery tools have remained a standalone category.  Amongst Sales Intelligence vendors, only InsideView and DueDil Connect have built relationship finder tools in competition with LinkedIn.

To be fair, the sales intelligence vendors all understood early on that they needed to work with LinkedIn.  Most of them adopted the LinkedIn widget or the LinkedIn API to provide relationship and executive intelligence into their service.  But then LinkedIn decided it was going to offer its own sales intelligence service called Sales Navigator and began blocking sales intelligence vendor access to LinkedIn.  Since then, with the exception of InsideView, the sales intelligence firms have done little to integrate social content into their services.  Hopefully, the vendors begin to see this gap in their offerings and begin to address it.

MSFT – LNKD: Expanding the Economic Graph

Microsoft ($MSFT) put in a $26.2 billion cash bid for professional social networking company LinkedIn ($LNKD) yesterday.  The deal is the largest transaction of the Satya Nadella era and represents a fifty percent premium over LinkedIn’s Friday closing price. The deal provides Microsoft an entrée into professional social networking, enterprise recruiting, and learning and development (Lynda.com).  The deal also brings LinkedIn Sales Navigator into Microsoft’s enterprise product line.

Microsoft benefited from a dip in LinkedIn’s stock price earlier this year when the firm provided soft guidance for fiscal year 2016.  Although the stock has rebounded some following a recent strong earnings report, the bid is below LinkedIn’s stock price at the beginning of the year.

The deal is expected to close later this year.  Both boards have already approved the offer.  Regulatory approval is required in the US, EU, Canada, and Brazil with the firm “confident” in approval.

LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman called the transaction a “re-founding moment” for LinkedIn, which went public in May 2011.

Merger Plans

Jeff Wiener will continue as the CEO of LinkedIn with no changes in the firm’s organizational structure.  He will report directly to Nadella.  LinkedIn will continue as an independent brand and product line but will move to integrate the social network and its products with Microsoft Office and Dynamics.  Nadella is looking to accelerate LinkedIn’s growth rate while “partnering on product integration plans with the Office 365 and Dynamics teams.”

LinkedIn will be rolled into Microsoft’s productivity and business processes segment, which includes Office and Office 365.

One of the merger’s goals is to provide “a professional’s profile everywhere.”  Microsoft noted that professional data is scattered in disparate silos which are often outdated and incomplete, but that “in the future, a professional’s profile will be unified and the right data at the right time will surface in an app, whether Outlook, Skype, Office, or elsewhere.”

“Now you have the ability whenever you’re looking up a contact not only to see that contact with the information that’s contained in active directory, but you can get at the full richness of their information in the professional network and who are all the others in their professional network, so that is sort of what we mean by the social fabric of your digital work and Office 365,” said Nadella.

Microsoft is also looking to leverage LinkedIn’s newsfeed service which they built upon the Newsle and Pulse acquisitions.  Microsoft told investors that “since information lives in silos, professionals miss relevant news and waste time.  In the future, the newsfeed will be the place to go for every professional to stay connected with the happenings in their network, industry, and profession.  Beyond all this, the feed will be constantly informed and tailored to the happenings at work like the meeting coming up and projects underway.”

The intelligent newsfeed will increase membership, monthly active users, and ad revenue.

Likewise, Microsoft anticipates an improved digital assistant as Cortana leverages LinkedIn professional and news intelligence.  “Just imagine you’re walking into a meeting and Cortana now wakes up and tells you about the people you’re meeting for the first time, but tells you all the things that you want to know before walking in and meeting someone, because you have the access to the professional network. Cortana is about knowing everything about you, your organization, the work and now the professional network,” said Nadella.  “So really being able to reason about all of that and be your personal digital assistant, that’s truly the best professional digital assistance is a fantastic opportunity.”

Microsoft Dynamics sales reps will benefit from a direct connection with LinkedIn Sales Navigator allowing them to engage in social selling.  The firm told investors, “this will transform the sales cycle with actionable insights and the ability for each seller to build deeper relationships with prospects and customers – all to accelerate results.”

Other end user benefits include improved “organizational insights and transformation” via LinkedIn Recruiter and “just in time social learning” via Lynda.

Nadella told Microsoft employees that the merger expands market opportunities for Microsoft:

We are in pursuit of a common mission centered on empowering people and organizations. Along with the new growth in our Office 365 commercial and Dynamics businesses this deal is key to our bold ambition to reinvent productivity and business processes. Think about it: How people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world. It requires a vibrant network that brings together a professional’s information in LinkedIn’s public network with the information in Office 365 and Dynamics…As these experiences get more intelligent and delightful, the LinkedIn and Office 365 engagement will grow. And in turn, new opportunities will be created for monetization through individual and organization subscriptions and targeted advertising.

The merger will make business professionals more productive while “reinventing selling, marketing and talent management business processes.”

The Economic Graph

Microsoft published the following summary of “The Professional World” covered by Microsoft and LinkedIn:

Product counts from the Microsoft - LinkedIn Acquisition Fair Disclosure presentation on June 13, 2016.
Product counts from the Microsoft – LinkedIn Acquisition Fair Disclosure presentation on June 13, 2016.

Microsoft sees the acquisition as an opportunity to merge the Microsoft and LinkedIn Graphs.  In a presentation to the market, Microsoft stated that “today, all the information a professional needs to be successful lives in silos.  By connecting the world’s leading professional cloud and the professional network, we can create more connected, intelligent and productive experiences.  We also have the opportunity to accelerate the realization of the Economic Graph.”

The Economic Graph is LinkedIn’s BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal). A good BHAG should be viewed as internally achievable even if others view it as simply fanciful. Furthermore, a good BHAG provides a long-term vision and mission for framing business decisions and motivating employees.

In March 2015, Weiner said that the Economic Graph’s goal is to “create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce” of over 3 billion people and 780 million “professionals, knowledge workers and students” by capturing broad economic information including employees, companies, universities, jobs, skills, etc.

Merging the Microsoft and LinkedIn graphs to advance the Economic Graph (Slide from Fair Disclosure call on June 13, 2016).
Merging the Microsoft and LinkedIn graphs to advance the Economic Graph. (Slide from Fair Disclosure call on June 13, 2016).

Other elements of the graph include a “profile for every company in the world”. Weiner sized this at 60 million to 70 million companies “if you include small and medium-size businesses.”

Beyond people and companies, the economic graph would “be a digital representation of every job available in the world — that would be full-time, temporary, for profit and volunteer” along with “a digital representation for every skill required to obtain one of those jobs offered by one of those companies.”

“When you combine Microsoft’s corporate graph with LinkedIn’s professional graph we think we’re going to be able to take a very substantial leap forward in terms of the realization of our vision, which is creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce, and we’re going to do that through the development of the world’s first economic graph,” said Weiner.  “Just as we have changed the way the world connects to opportunity, this relationship with Microsoft, and the combination of their cloud and LinkedIn’s network, now gives us a chance to also change the way the world works,” Weiner said. “For the last 13 years, we’ve been uniquely positioned to connect professionals to make them more productive and successful, and I’m looking forward to leading our team through the next chapter of our story.”

Analyst Perspective

“Based on the income statement and balance sheet, the numbers look high for an acquisition,” Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insight and Strategy said. “I see the potential for a beefed up business social media service which is more than a resume posting service as it is today. I can envision a service where businesses more freely collaborate, leveraging online versions of Office 365, Skype for business and OneDrive.”

Mark Vickery of D.M. Martins Research views the transaction as one that wraps sales and recruiting professionals within the Microsoft-LinkedIn product universe:

At an individual level, it starts with pre-professional networking and the job search, areas in which LinkedIn has been dominant as the leading professional network platform for a while now. But then it continues with professional development, through LinkedIn’s Lynda and, most importantly, with the integration of productivity tools, including Microsoft’s Office, SharePoint and Skype. A sales representative at Company XYZ, for example, who originally found his or her job through LinkedIn, could not only generate sales leads through the same platform, but also manage calendar (MS Office), meetings (Skype), and share documents (SharePoint) more seamlessly, provided that the many tools are properly integrated, without ever having to leave the Microsoft umbrella of products and services – all with a single sign on. In the end, the hypothetical salesperson could very well have an all-Microsoft experience in the office, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and never have to seek (or encourage his or her employer to seek) workplace productivity solutions elsewhere.

Forbes contributor Grant Feller said that calling LinkedIn a social network would be akin to calling Google a search engine.  Both descriptions are accurate but miss the true value of the firms.  “LinkedIn is a content company.  In effect, Microsoft has just bought one of the world’s most influential, specialised, highly read, constantly-updated (and, it must be said, occasionally annoying) digital media companies around,” said Feller.  “The real value of the site is as a content-publishing platform in which key executives can expand their networks, their influence, their fame, their knowledge, their personas and their opportunities for a better-paid job by providing original content.”

Feller continued that while LinkedIn may at times be annoying or advertorial, LinkedIn produces much of its content.  “It doesn’t just steal and redirect, though it does perform those acts admirably – it allows users to create material that intellectually nourishes.”  However, Feller warned that Microsoft needs to protect LinkedIn from “a creep towards the banalities of Facebook” and improve the user experience.

Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp. and partner of venture firm Kapor Capital, noted that Microsoft has a mixed record with integrating acquisitions.  “Sadly, history has shown [synergies] are very difficult to realize when two big companies combine, especially to the extent LinkedIn is remaining an independent fiefdom within the Microsoft empire.”

A general concern is that Microsoft is probably overpaying for LinkedIn.  Some analysts also questioned the mixing of a non-profitable growth company with a slower growth cash flow company.

Moody’s has placed Microsoft’s  ‘AAA’ credit rating under review as Microsoft will be issuing new debt.

Note: I hold no positions in Microsoft and LinkedIn and have no professional relationships with either firm.

 

Sales Intelligence Vendors’ Twitter Followers (Source: Owler)

Twitter Followers for four Sales Intelligence Vendors (Source: Owler.com)
Twitter Followers for four Sales Intelligence Vendors (Source: Owler.com)

Owler provides a rotating set of competitive intelligence reports.  Users simply sign up for the free service and indicate their company and top competitors.  The system then sends a weekly alert covering various topics.  This week’s “Social Stats” report provided Twitter and Facebook Followers.  Next week’s covers corporate blogs.

Owler also provides a daily business news alerting service, company profiles, funding data, and user polls.

Coincidentally, Owler’s founder Jim Fowler also founded crowd sourced vendor Jigsaw, which he sold off to SFDC a few years back.  Jigsaw was rebranded Data.com and is now one of the major sales intelligence services.

LinkedIn Posts Lack a “Long Tail”

LinkedIn Posts lack discovery tools resulting in a rapid
LinkedIn Posts lack discovery tools resulting in a rapid fall off from the first day peak.

One of the frustrating things about LinkedIn posts is the lack of a long-tail.  Most posts peak within 48 hours and quickly die off.  The above chart is indicative of a typical post’s life.  If I were writing a gossip column or commenting on fluctuations in stock prices, such a pattern would be understandable; but I comment on the information industry so there is little reason that my ideas would have virtually no value to my followers after 72 hours.  The problem is one of LinkedIn’s design.  In their desire to be social, they forgot that good content needs to be discoverable.

The quick die off is due to several problems in LinkedIn design:

  • Posts generally come to reader’s attention via the update feed which means that it quickly moves down the reader’s list.  Thus, being seen by any of your followers is basically a function of timing and luck.  The writer is competing against LinkedIn’s author series, sponsored updates, other posters, and various LinkedIn generated updates.  It is therefore easy to have your content deeply buried in your followers’ streams.  There are certainly benefits in posting earlier in the week (which I am violating here by writing this on a Saturday).  Furthermore, marketing departments have an advantage over individual posters because they can task the sales force with liking and commenting on the original post.  This tactic helps distribute company news and posts.  It can also be used to revive older posts.  A sole practitioner lacks an army of sales and marketing amplifiers.
  • Posts and Updates lack a discovery tool.  I’m not aware of an easy way to search the Post archive (that I’m aware of) for topics.  So if I write a piece on data quality, it isn’t discoverable by the general public or my followers.
  • There is no easy way to view historical posts by an individual.  This is the most annoying thing about LinkedIn.  If I read an author who is clearly a subject matter expert (SME) on a topic of interest, I can follow the SME to view her future content (minus the content I miss because I don’t obsess about viewing my social media stream), but I cannot read her prior writings.  This is an annoying gap for general readers and an unconscionable gap in LinkedIn Sales Navigator.  How can a sales rep claim to be engaged in Social Selling when she can’ t easily read her prospects’ archived posts?  How is she to find the opening hooks and conduct account planning using LinkedIn when it traffics only in the ephemeral.  The lack of a LinkedIn discovery tool within Sales Navigator is an immense blind spot.  Users should be able to view postings and updates via keyword search and timeline views.  They should also be able to filter by dates, category, and business metatag.  There is a clear opportunity for a sales intelligence competitor to build a Google search against LinkedIn to deliver these gap tools.  If Social123 can mine the LinkedIn universe through backdoor Google, then somebody should be able to provide me with a way to view, search, and filter company and executive posts on LinkedIn.
  • There is no automated hyperlinking within Posts similar to those in general updates.  Thus, if I reference an executive or a company, it is not associated with a LinkedIn profile.  The silly thing is, if somebody comments on my post, she can use LinkedIn’s automated linking.  Google+ supported this internal hyperlinking at launch and Twitter provides a type ahead tool as soon as the tweeter enters an @, $, or # symbol.  I shouldn’t need to send a LinkedIn message to a marketing department to say “hey, I wrote about you” and hope they promote my post.  This leaves me dependent upon other parties to promote my comments and increases the likelihood that content would be tailored to please those about whom I’m commenting.  A simple example, I cannot associate this post with LinkedIn and they won’t promote it because I’m not kissing the hem of their garment.  On G+ or Twitter, I can still tie my ideas to their profiles.  On LinkedIn, that is not the case.

There is no question that I benefit from posting on LinkedIn due to the strong user base amongst business professionals.  I left G+ for LinkedIn posting as soon as it became available to the masses.  Other platforms are either flighty (Facebook), abandoned (Google+), or content islands that require their own promotion (e.g. blogs).  As such, I will continue to post on LinkedIn while recognizing its faults.