LinkedIn has always been overshadowed by its rowdy younger siblings. Born way back in 2002 — before Instagram and Snapchat, even before Facebook and Twitter — the button-downed business platform has never attracted the drama or hype of other social networks. There’s no movie about its founder. It’s not in the crosshairs of Congressional investigations. And its “influencers” are more likely to be boring business leaders (myself included) than Kylie Jenner wannabes.
But quietly, in predictably business-like fashion, LinkedIn has emerged as a social force to be reckoned with. It now counts more than 500 million members. More than 100 million of those are monthly active users, meaning people who check in frequently to post and engage with followers, rather than just update their resume once or twice a year. Perhaps more to the point, these users are — by definition — business professionals. They’re generally upwardly mobile and turn to the network for serious engagement, not to share memes or launch into toxic rants.
As companies seek new ways to engage customers, employees and stakeholders, while also wrestling with the fallout from scandals on Facebook and Twitter, a surprising number are turning to LinkedIn. All of which raises the question: could LinkedIn be the next big thing?
Professionalism that’s sorely needed
Yes, social media can (and should) be fun. But we’ve seen the consequence of too much of a good thing. The glut of memes and clickbait clogging feeds has forced Facebook and Twitter to radically recalibrate their algorithms in an effort to surface more relevant, useful content. Both networks have battled the proliferation of bots and contended with bad actors intent on either scraping data or manipulating users with fake content. Unless you’ve been asleep for the past two years, you know the consequences all too well.
LinkedIn has been mercifully spared most all of this controversy and confusion. It was never a place for viral videos or buzzworthy headlines. Posts have always skewed toward the courteous, the actionable and the insightful — something social media fans are increasingly hungry for today. Meanwhile, hardcore LinkedIn users know that there’s a certain warm professionalism that underlies many exchanges on the platform. In short, LinkedIn offers a kind of stability, civility and real value that’s sorely needed on some social platforms.
A no-brainer for employees
Right now, the U.S. is experiencing the tightest labor market in recent memory. In this context, employer brand — a company’s reputation as a place to work, above and beyond whatever its brand reputation may be — has become a significant differentiator. Companies able to send the message that they’re a genuinely progressive, engaged and even fun place to work often have a real leg up over rivals. And LinkedIn — which is filled with nothing but professionals looking (or soon to be looking) for jobs — is the optimal place to convey that message.
I’ve seen this firsthand in the tech space, where the competition for recruits is notoriously tight. Not only does Hootsuite cultivate a presence through its LinkedIn Company page (which has grown to more than 200,000 followers), but for years I’ve also shared updates and blog posts as CEO from my own profile. By relaying stories about building culture, employee perks and leadership, we’ve been able to project Hootsuite’s employer brand and give a uniquely human face to the company.
The impact has been real and sustained. Posts receive dozens of likes and comments — thoughtful, insightful responses from professionals in tech and social media. And the trickle-down effects can be dramatic. A LinkedIn blog post on how much we value our sales team and how hard it is to find great tech salespeople led to more than 1,000 visits to our career page and 100-plus applications.
For more than just B2B
For companies operating in the business-to-business space, the benefits of being active on LinkedIn are pretty obvious. An estimated 40 million business decision makers (i.e. the people who seal the deals and sign the contracts) spend their time on LinkedIn. It’s widely regarded as the number one social network for lead generation and, according to some sources, boasts a three times better conversion rate than Facebook or Twitter.
What’s easily overlooked, however, is that LinkedIn can also be an effective way to for brands to reach a general consumer audience, as well. After all, the half-a-billion business professionals on the network are also consumers themselves. And they generally have disposable income to spare. More than half have a college degree and 44% make more than $75,000 per year. Plus, as other networks grow increasingly crowded with ads and clickbait, LinkedIn is proving attractive as not simply the “professional network” but the social network of choice for many users.
Importantly, it’s not just “boring business updates” that find an audience. In my experience, LinkedIn content that hits the sweet spot of personal-meets-professional garners the most engagement. (Think pics of your latest team-building outing, not pdfs of your latest whitepaper.) Videos and photos — gold on other social platforms — perform equally well on LinkedIn. Adding topical hashtags and directly mentioning other users improves organic engagement. Meanwhile, having your own employees follow their company’s page, and interact with updates, can dramatically extend the reach of your LinkedIn posts. (Thankfully, there are some great tools that make it easy to amplify posts company-wide.)
Innovating behind the scenes
Perhaps the most exciting element of LinkedIn is its quiet, but absolutely relentless, pace of innovation. A few years ago, the network was just a place to post your resume. In 2015, they added blogging and now publish 100,000 articles a week. Last year, they unveiled native video, become a video publishing platform. This fall, they beefed up their Groups functionality, anticipating an industry-wide shift by social users to more intimate, member-only spaces. Plus, a host of new integrations with LinkedIn’s Company Pages — including one that enables users to post videos and respond to comments directly from Hootsuite — has made the platform more attractive than ever for brands. Other networks may steal the headlines, but LinkedIn has aggressively remade itself behind the scenes.
Then, there are the premium data analysis and targeting capabilities that many users never see. The detailed info provided by LinkedIn members means it’s possible to gain insight into exactly who’s viewing your profile and content — right down to current company and job title. While LinkedIn’s ad platform isn’t as widely used as Facebook’s, this same detailed demographic info allows for precision targeting. Not to mention, Microsoft’s recent acquisition means that LinkedIn data and profiles are now being integrated into the full range of Microsoft products, everything from consumer apps like Outlook and Word to enterprise CRM software like Dynamics 365.
Little wonder that LinkedIn keeps bucking social media trends. While other networks’ user growth in North America has somewhat slowed — a consequence of both market saturation and recent privacy concerns — LinkedIn continues to amass followers. The platform has ballooned from 500 million to 575 million members over the last 16 months, with no signs of slowing down.