In our final report for the second quarter of 2014’s state of social media, we’re going to take a look at the dark horse of social networks, LinkedIn.
How is LinkedIn’s strategy of becoming a publisher working out, in terms of company performance?
LinkedIn’s growth continues on a steady upward trajectory, adding 16 million more monthly active users (MAUs) to reach 313 million, roughly about the population of the United States:
From a growth rate perspective, LinkedIn appears to be at roughly the same plateau as Twitter, about 6-7% quarter over quarter growth:
Bear in mind that a 6% quarter over quarter growth rate works out to about a 17% compound annual growth rate, which is still a healthy growth rate for any social network. The great question that Wall Street always ponders, however, isn’t user growth. Wall Street wants to see the money, and LinkedIn picks up from its first quarter stumble with a solid second quarter, for the most part. Overall company revenue crosses the half billion dollar mark:
As with its fellow social networks, LinkedIn traditionally takes a hit in the first quarter and recovers in the second quarter, a natural seasonal ebb and flow. This year’s second quarter rebound is weaker than previous second quarters on a percentage growth basis:
It’s important to keep in mind that unlike other social networks, LinkedIn has a different, more diversified revenue model. 60% of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from its Talent Solutions group, which sells enterprise HR software to companies who want an instant source of candidates for recruiting purposes. Roughly 20% of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from its Premium memberships, and the final 20% comes from its advertising offering, Marketing Solutions. It’s this last group where LinkedIn is showing weakness:
Growth in the Marketing Solutions group revenue was almost flat and has been on the decline for some time:
Fortunately, LinkedIn doesn’t need advertising revenue as much as Facebook or Twitter, but it’s still an important part of their revenue model. This suggests that their strategy of becoming a publisher and a media outlet may not be working as well as intended. Strong media outlets typically see strong advertising revenue growth, and LinkedIn’s advertising dollars simply don’t back up that conclusion.
What does all of this mean for marketing and communications professionals?
It’s possible that LinkedIn’s troubles with advertising might have a broader macroeconomic cause, found in the overall unemployment rate:
Despite its attempts to pivot as a business publisher, LinkedIn’s reputation is still steeped in its employment roots, as an online resume service and a place to find jobs. As the civilian unemployment rate continues to decline, the need for people to be using the service for job seeking purposes lessens to some degree. We see the inverse of this with its Talent Solutions customer base, experiencing 49% year over year growth as companies ramp up hiring efforts.
Whether LinkedIn’s play as a publisher will bear fruit in the future remains to be seen. However, brands can get started publishing today on LinkedIn and potentially (if your post becomes popular enough) be featured in LinkedIn Pulse. To get started, choose an employee who will act as spokesperson (LinkedIn publishing is currently not open to all brand pages) and look for the pencil icon in their profile homepage:
Begin composing long-form content, and then use LinkedIn’s advertising solutions to give the post a boost.
Expect LinkedIn to continue bolstering its Marketing Solutions offerings to help recover its lackluster financial performance for advertising. Their recent acquisition of Bizo gives LinkedIn the remarketing and retargeting capabilities that it desperately needs to keep pace with competitive offerings from Facebook and Twitter; Bizo’s offerings are tailored specifically to B2B, so companies in the B2B space may find more value from future LinkedIn retargeting services than from Facebook or Twitter services. Bizo’s software will also give LinkedIn more robust display and video advertising capabilities, capabilities that B2B brands will presumably be able to leverage in concert with LinkedIn’s rich member profile data.
Keep your eye on LinkedIn, especially if you’re a B2B marketer or PR professional – the dark horse of social media isn’t out of the race by a long shot.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology