Will LinkedIn have a talent for content publishing?

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan May 1, 2014
Summary:
LinkedIn is seeking a new identity as a content publisher. This could prove more challenging and may in part explain the poor reception that the company's first quarter results got from Wall Street yesterday.

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LinkedIn is not a social network; it's a professional network.

That's been the mantra for the firm for a long time now. CEO Jeff Weiner argues:

“LinkedIn profiles have become the standard way for hundreds of millions of people to build and maintain their professional identities, not merely a digital resume, but a rich portfolio of their experience, skills, and knowledge.”

But while it remains set on transforming the talent industry, LinkedIn is also seeking a new identity as a content publisher.

This could prove more challenging and may in part explain the poor reception that the company's first quarter results got from Wall Street yesterday.

Net losses were $13.4 million against a year ago figure of $22.6 million. That was actually better than the market had been expecting, but a cautious set of guidance for the rest of the year did nothing to improve Wall Street's mood.

Some other numbers of note:

  • Total revenues grew year on year to $473 million.
  • US revenues of $285 million accounted for 60% of that with international making up the remaining $188 million.
  • LinkedIn's now passed the 300 million member threshold, 100 million of whom are in the US.
  • According to its own metrics, unique visiting members grew approximately 26% year-over-year, while total member page views grew 43%.
  • Excluding SlideShare, the firm averaged 142 million monthly unique visitors and 11.5 billion page views during Q1.
  • Marketing Solutions grew 36% to $102 million revenue. Premium Subscription revenue was up 46% to $96 million.
  • Talent Solutions revenue rose 50% to $276 million – or 58% of total revenues.

LinkedIn's got Talent

Talent's still the cash-cow for now then, as Weiner admits:

“This Talent Solution business of ours continues to have a lot of solid momentum. We’re at a still now where we have north of 25,000 customer accounts and when you look at the growth in the quarter we actually added over 3,000 growth new customer accounts. “

But things are beginning to plateau out:

“As your scale becomes larger, and even if your churn is flat against that larger scale, in any given quarter [it] impacts your net adds. We’re experiencing that somewhat in terms of the net add growth. The other factor that is more important is that vast majority of the revenue now comes from existing customer. Given that we’re over 25,000 , so north of 75% of the revenue.

“In terms of the net adds, it’s not something that we’re concerned about when you look at the bigger picture of the dynamics of this business. This business still have a lot of momentum.”

Mobile ambitions

But attention is focused on finding ways of winning new revenue with mobile high on the agenda. It's easy to see why. Total page views, including mobile, grew 43% year on year. Strip out mobile and that figure drops to 13%.

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Weiner admits:

“Mobile continues to be the fastest growing channel for member engagement, growing nearly three times the rate of overall member uniques to represent 43% of our monthly unique visitors in Q1.

“In anticipation of our expectation that mobile will exceed half of total traffic later this year, mobilizing our technology infrastructure, engineering team, and products remains one of LinkedIn’s most important priorities.

“The value we deliver to members remains consistent, we enable professionals to build and manage their identities; create and leverage their professional networks; and gain the knowledge they need to be more successful in their careers, across multiple screens and devices."

LinkedIn recently launched an Android version of its  Recruiter for iPhone mobile app, which itself received an upgrade, but Weiner concedes that it will take time for the talent and recruitment industries to get on board with mobile:

“I think it’s going to take some time before we see significant shifts in user behavior amongst hiring managers and recruiters that are very happy with our existing set of tools. We want to make sure that we had a mobile product as part of the portfolio for those that would prefer that channel.”

All about content

So it's to content publishing that LinkedIn is looking for short term growth. Weiner explains:

“In February, we took the next step towards scaling our professional publishing platform by enabling any member to publish long form content on LinkedIn, helping define a member’s professional identity while also delivering valuable insights to their network.

“We are phasing in this functionality to ensure that as more content is being created on LinkedIn the right content is getting in front of the right professional at the right time. Long-form publishing is available to several hundred thousand members now, and will grow throughout the year.

“Early indications are positive. So far, we’ve seen greater than six times projected uptake of the functionality, more than four times the number of page views per post, and more than twice the number of posts per author, than we had initially projected.”

See also: LinkedIn looks to data analytics to achieve digital vision
Feb 7 2014diginomica.com

As to whether this content is unique or not, that's open to question, says Weiner:

 “It's really a mix. Some of the folks that often published on LinkedIn are doing so only on LinkedIn. They are extremely pleased with the levels of engagement, the quality of engagement, the quantity of engagement they are seeing.

"Anecdotally we hear from a number of influencers, folks whose content has been distributed across the web for many years now. They are suggesting that they’re seeing highest levels of engagement they've ever seen before which we attribute to the value of the professional context.

“There are other folks who are going to be interested in distributing across multiple channels and that's okay too. As long as we are creating value for members and one of the unique ways we do that is by enabling them to share content and share their professionally relevant knowledge in a way that also contributes to their professional identity. And that's one of the most unique parts of our publishing ecosystem.”

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But he's clear what the eventual aim is:

“The ultimate end goal is to allow all members to be able to author and publish content. The take rate - the percentage of those people whose switch has been flipped that are actually writing - is exceeding our expectations.  The number of posts per person being published has exceeded expectations. The amount of engagement specifically the page views being generated through each of those author posts, has also exceeded expectation. So net-net, we’re off to a good start - still very early days but were looking forward to continuing to scale the program.”

See also: LinkedIn: the latest spam merchants?
Feb 20 2014diginomica.com

As well as individuals publishing content, there's courting of third party publishers:

“We’ve got relationships on multiple fronts there. First and most basic is  the ability for publishers to add in share buttons and facilitate the sharing of their content on LinkedIn, especially for those publishers with an exclusively professionally oriented focus. They’ve seen significant results and significant traffic accrued to them as a result.

“We’re also working with partners to be able to redistribute some of the content to carry on LinkedIn and they’re linking back to the original story, they’re enabling our influencers and our authors to be followed from their sites.

“Ultimately some of these publishers have established a presence within our channel paradigm, so they can be followed directly and their content is being published directly into our feed and that creates greater liquidity, greater relevancy, more comprehensiveness, and so that creates value within our publisher ecosystem as well.”

Verdict

So how does all this position LinkedIn for the future?

Warwick Business School Professor of Practice Mark Skilton has some concerns, particularly in relation to its mobile strategy:

"LinkedIn seems to be treating the mobile trend as just another channel but this might prove problematic as members seek consistent multi-device experience.

"Its product development strategy is to continue to diversify from its social network base with the launch of a professional publishing platform and further data analytics to drive member behavior.

"Comparing this to the successes of Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, who have paid specific attention to a strong mobile user interface design linked to their business monetization model, LinkedIn seems to be seeking to be a business repository of knowledge to retain its membership, but it’s not clear yet how this could leverage its community groups and career development to build further potential revenue.

"But LinkedIn has surpassed 300 million members, and its unique online social network with employment market services has created a high-margin business not reliant on advertising revenue means it is still a highly profitable stock option for investors long-term."