You've probably heard at least something about YouTube, Vine and Snapchat stars. But how about LinkedIn stars?
Believe it or not, they do exist. Scattered throughout LinkedIn’s news feed of job updates and assorted links are articles published directly to the professional social network by so-called Influencers. If you're one of the casual members within LinkedIn's registered base of 433 million — rather than a daily active user — you may have missed them, but C-suite executives, professional speakers and other industry experts take to LinkedIn every day to share their insights on an assortment of issues.
While unpaid, these contributors sometimes wield considerable influence on the social network, and in many cases they have worked feverishly to establish themselves, build followings and shape their personal brands. In a sense they are digital sharecroppers on a plot of land owned by LinkedIn — and soon they will have a new landlord.
Monday’s announcement that Microsoft will acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 billion means that these writers will soon be contributors, still unpaid, to the Redmond software giant. While that prospect might mean a fair bit of uncertainty, it’s not carrying with it the sense of dread you might expect. On the contrary, some LinkedIn users are welcoming the fresh energy, and resources, that Microsoft might bring to the 14-year-old social network.
"I’m hoping, as a publisher by and large, that it’s one of those rising tide [things] where they can improve the user experience across everything they do," said David Berkowitz, who runs his own consultancy, called Serial Marketer. "I love LinkedIn, but it’s so inconsistent. Mobile and web are two totally different experiences."
For instance, publishers cannot write, edit or publish an article on the LinkedIn mobile app. LinkedIn does, however, offer more than 10 mobile apps.
According to LinkedIn, the site has about 500 “influencers” (top voices who publish content on the site). Long-form publishing is available to 250 million members globally and the site sees around 200,000 posts per week.
The Microsoft-LinkedIn deal didn't come as a surprise to some LinkedIn contributors. In fact, Rob Norman, chief digital officer of the ad agency GroupM and a LinkedIn Influencer, said he had suggested that very acquisition to Frank Holland, Microsoft’s head of advertising, last year at Cannes Lions, an international advertising festival. Microsoft had considered buying LinkedIn in 2008.
“No one owned a third-party, logged-in data, business-to-business play,” Norman told International Business Times. “They could infuse their inventory sources with LinkedIn data.”
For now, it seems the deal is less about advertising and is instead an effort to expand Microsoft’s Office 365 suite and cloud services, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella detailed in a conference call Monday.
That push is a blessing for publishers, said Olivia Barrow, a reporter at Milwaukee Business Journal and a blogger on LinkedIn. Microsoft’s acquisition “wasn’t a surprise. I figured LinkedIn had to have something because they don’t have ads. That’s what attracted me to it in the first place,” she said.
For now, the publishing tools are hosted solely within LinkedIn's desktop site. However, Slideshare, a hosting and sharing service for PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and PDFs, has shown potential for further connecting resources. A similar integration for Microsoft Word and LinkedIn publishing would be useful, said Jan Rezab, CEO of social media analytics company Socialbakers.
Additionally, LinkedIn’s news feed does not provide the same engaging and easy to use experience as Facebook and Twitter, bloggers said. “It’s not easy for someone to go on LinkedIn and look at articles,” Barrow said. “I hope that they’ll revamp their feed and promote the publishing platform a little more obviously.”
Outside of their exposure on the news feed, LinkedIn articles can now gain more reach across the web through connecting with Microsoft’s web services. Nadella said that Microsoft's search engine Bing and voice assistant Cortana could be empowered by LinkedIn data.
“For someone that publishes relatively frequently, it's all about reach and distribution. Do I believe that MSFT can extend my blog impressions into more applications? Absolutely,” Russell Benaroya, CEO of fitness data company Every Move, wrote in an email.