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LinkedIn Sticks To Business, And That's Good For Marketers

The newly ad-friendly LinkedIn is poised to become “The strongest social media network for professionals,” according to analysts at Frost & Sullivan, and despite the buzz about young-turk competitors. LinkedIn last week further cemented its go-to position for professionals by acquiring professional content sharing platform SlideShare for $119 million in cash and stock.

LinkedIn shares have more than doubled since its initial public offering (IPA) in May 2011, and the network claims its membership increased by 11 million in Q4 2011. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Weiner is pushing mobile technology to woo more professionals to its subscription services: Also to attract advertisers who want to reach the growing user base.

LinkedIn is working hard to stay business-like while going more social. "The company has in recent years done quite a few amazing things to its portal including allowing for twitter feeds to be sent via LinkedIn and that itself has brought about a lot of discussion amongst professionals," said Audrey William, Head of ICT Research for Frost & Sullivan Australia & New Zealand.

What About BranchOut On Facebook?

“BranchOut Looks to Dethrone LinkedIn,” observed Forbes in March. BranchOut is a rising professional-networking site, built on the Facebook platform. BranchOut in March announced a $25 million round of financing of $25 million led by the Mayfield Fund, who joined such venture capital luminaries as Norwest Venture Partners and Redpoint Ventures for a total of $49 million in capital.

The value of BranchedOut over LinkedIn, claimed CEO and founder, Rick Marini, is that “LinkedIn is focused on the white-collar segment, but this is only 10% of the market…We’re providing a professional profile for the Facebook generation.” Hence its value to C-level executives, as well as recent college grads.

Perhaps: But some recent findings by NetPop revealed that among social networks, LinkedIn is the only network that is first among males, particularly in early to mid-career—thus, serious job hunters. Knowing that, LinkedIn on April 30 launched the Connect Professional Women’s Network, sponsored by Citi, which is a branded discussion board to which members can post and comment on articles. And as AdWeek reported last week, LinkedIn is offering a special edition of its LinkedIn Today social news curator geared toward professional women.

LinkedIn does favor the knowledge worker, and Marini expects BranchOut to be the go-to working platform for workers of all kinds. (He named cashiers as a group in the Forbes story.) But Frost & Sullivan expects that LinkedIn's revenue model via various areas such as premium membership, recruitment fees, and advertising, will make it an attractive platform for advertising and recruitment: "The 'Facebook' of the professional networking world," as William described.

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LinkedIn has also striven to make ad-entry and management easy, promising that the bar is as low as $10. In mid April, it launched its self-service ad platform, LinkedIn Ads, with which marketers can target audiences based on job title, job function, industry, geography, age, gender, company name, company size, or LinkedIn Group, via a tool called Targeted Updates.

Finally, in a survey of more than 5,000 businesses, HubSpot found that traffic from LinkedIn generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate at 2.74%, almost three times higher than both Twitter (.69%) and Facebook (.77%). LinkedIn's conversion rate also outranked social media as a channel overall. In other words, of all the traffic that came to these business' websites via social media, .98% of that traffic converted into leads, compared to LinkedIn's 2.74%.

The uptake is that LinkedIn appears to understand that it is in the business of business. The SlideShare acquisition may appear incidental to advertisers, but it will drives traffic to LinkedIn as surely as social gaming does to Facebook. Users expect to enjoy themselves on Facebook, they expect to work (or find work) on LinkedIn.

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