Snapchat. Meerkat. Periscope. Pinterest. If you scan tech news headlines you’ll notice a certain predilection for the shiny and new, a tendency to cover pre-IPO, still-nascent social platforms that have the potential to capture market share from current stalwarts. We’re constantly treated to ballooning valuations and think pieces about how Company X is attracting a lucrative demographic (usually millennials).
But one of the most well-positioned social media companies with vast potential for growth isn’t shiny or new. In fact, it held its initial public offering in 2011 and launched more than a decade ago. Yes, we’re talking about LinkedIn, the website that, up until recently, you only visited when you were looking for a job. With its $2 billion in annual revenue, it would be easy to dismiss LinkedIn as a tiny gnat buzzing around Facebook, which brought in $12 billion in 2014 revenue and currently boasts 1.3 billion active users.
But here’s the thing: while LinkedIn has been long known merely as a network to update and publicly display your resume, it’s becoming the central information and networking hub for career professionals, many of whom are now utilizing its new blog platform to engage in thought leadership and market themselves and their services to an ever-growing mass of daily, addicted LinkedIn users. Given that LinkedIn is the only major social platform focused exclusively on careers, it has a lock on the most high-value demographics, most of whom are coming to the site primed to do business.
As I’ve documented previously, LinkedIn’s blog publishing platform, launched to the public early last year, has been a game changer. According to the last publicly-available figure, users are publishing 50,000 posts a week (it’s probably higher than that now). Pieces shared on LinkedIn Pulse consistently rack up hundreds of thousands of views and even a modest push on a LinkedIn channel can result in several thousand readers. After seeing the amount of engagement LinkedIn blogging drives, I have to agree with Business Insider’s assertion that LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth is the most powerful business journalist in the world. It was only a matter of time that users would begin to recognize the unique value proposition of publishing to LinkedIn, especially since it’s almost impossible to drive real traffic to a company blog. Why drive potential customers to your blog when you can bring your blog to your customers?
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As LinkedIn becomes a daily habit for millions of businesses and professionals, an entire realm of revenue opportunities open up. It’s already becoming the go-to platform for both job listings and professional recruiters — an industry estimated to be worth an annual $457 billion. Unlike Monster.com and other job listings websites, LinkedIn users spend time on the platform regardless of if they’re actively looking for a job, meaning that hiring managers and recruiters can use it to poach employees who already have jobs. It also wouldn’t surprise me one bit if LinkedIn begins to segue into the personal services industry (think hiring a plumber or someone to mow your lawn), which has already attracted the likes of Amazon and Google.
I think we’re also going to see a huge influx in advertising dollars to LinkedIn as businesses begin to use it to market their services to other businesses and professionals. While it might not be the ideal network for, say, Pepsi to advertise on, it’ll certainly lure in B2B companies who derive the entirety of their revenue from other businesses. A recent research report projects B2B ecommerce to reach $6.7 trillion by 2020. LinkedIn only needs to bite off a small chunk of that market in order to vastly multiply its annual revenue.
And now, with the purchase of Lynda.com for $1.5 billion, we’re witnessing LinkedIn’s next industry expansion: professional education. Lynda.com, with its video tutorials and online courses, specializes in the creative and technical services for which there is insatiable demand in this new economy. Essentially, LinkedIn is seeking to dominate every segment of the job lifecycle, from professional training to the entirety of a person’s career trajectory.
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It’s not that these various industries don’t have major presences on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it’s just that for every business professional looking to network on Twitter there are five who just want to use it to follow their favorite celebrities or sports teams. That’s a lot of potentially-wasted ad dollars if your targeting is even just a little bit off. At the same time, no one is visiting LinkedIn to follow the travails of Justin Bieber, which opens the door for vastly more efficient ad spending.
With that in mind, one can understand LinkedIn’s potential even if it never reaches the user scale of Facebook. It doesn’t want to be the social network for everybody, but rather its goal is to be the fulcrum on which the entire business community pivots and interacts. The teens can have their Vines and Snapchats. When they finally grow up and graduate college they can join the only network that can actually get them a job.
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