Visit LinkedIn’s about page and you’ll learn that LinkedIn was founded nearly fourteen years ago and today is the world’s largest professional network with more than 467 million members in over 200 countries (when this article was published.)
Yet, despite LinkedIn’s success in the social media stratosphere, it was seemingly not as shiny an object as other social media platforms in 2016.
Facebook has been encroaching on LinkedIn’s turf with Facebook for Business which integrates Messenger, Instagram, Pages and Targeted Advertising with a robust offering for marketers, including B2B marketers.
While Facebook may be more preoccupied with one-upping Snapchat rather than LinkedIn, many people have become so predisposed to the Facebook experience that the lines are blurred between professional networking, and just networking. In fact, many professionals are actively engaged in Facebook Groups on business topics. Business groups used to be the sole domain of LinkedIn.
Let’s face it, LinkedIn has needed a makeover to become more than a platform for job hunters and recruiters. LinkedIn Marketing Solutions has been hard at work to deliver value to marketers who want to reach their target audience through sponsored updates.
The makeover plans began on June 13, 2016 when the world’s largest professional network agreed to be acquired by Microsoft. Now that the Microsoft acquisition has closed, it’s a new day for LinkedIn. CEO Jeff Weiner himself said in a company wide email, “in so many ways, we’re just getting started.”
And, I agree…
As a B2B professional, I’m optimistic for LinkedIn’s potential. I believe the combination of LinkedIn and Microsoft can benefit you and me in many ways. Here’s a glimpse of what I think we might see in the next 12 to 24 months.
In 2017 I expect LinkedIn to take steps toward becoming relevant again. The LinkedIn experience has to become both more enjoyable, and more productive.
Let’s look at the issues that are important to B2B professionals and how LinkedIn and Microsoft can address them.
Ongoing Skills Improvement
Business Development and Sales Success
To address each of these, Microsoft and LinkedIn are planning tight integration between their respective technologies at scale. The potential impact is exciting.
In an email from Jeff Weiner to LinkedIn employees, he lists eight areas of focus.
I’m honing on three of these to keep this article brief.
LinkedIn identity and network in Microsoft Outlook and the Office suite
A day is coming where you will be able to engage with your LinkedIn network from your Outlook email as well as while you’re working on a spreadsheet in Excel, or a report in Word or in a presentation in PowerPoint, or on a Skype call. Add artificial intelligence to the mix and we can expect to get suggestions about who to engage on LinkedIn to share your PowerPoint deck, or who in your LinkedIn network can help you complete that report. Let your imagination flow. The possibilities are many.
Extending the reach of Sponsored Content across Microsoft web properties
Microsoft has a gigantic, global footprint. Sponsored Content opportunities will get more sophisticated, including the ability to reach subscribers to Microsoft properties such as MSN.com. This is a huge opportunity for marketers because targeting people within LinkedIn’s traditional eco system has always been limited to reaching users who are logged into LinkedIn. By reaching people in Microsoft’s digital properties, that dependency is eliminated. Imagine the potential of reaching and re-targeting people on Microsoft web properties.
Redefining social selling through the combination of Sales Navigator and Dynamics 365
I believe this is perhaps the biggest breakthrough potential for LinkedIn. No other platform, not even Facebook or Google, has the combined benefit of technology at scale and reach at scale as LinkedIn and Microsoft have together. No other social network addresses the needs of the business professional as robustly as the combined LinkedIn and Microsoft. As Sales Navigator eats into Salesforce’s turf with integration to Microsoft Dynamics, the B2B professional will have more networking power, more sales power and more educational power than is possible with any other social network. The insights that will be available on customers and prospects will be exponentially greater.
LinkedIn is No Copy Cat
I don’t expect to see LinkedIn copy Facebook’s feature hype. For example, I don’t expect to see live video available in LinkedIn anytime soon, except maybe for brands with advertising accounts. LinkedIn understands that a stream full of individuals posting live video has potential to create an extreme case of video spam and a bad experience for the member. I don’t expect LinkedIn to get into a tit-for-tat feature war as we’re seeing between Facebook and Snapchat. Of course, I could be proved wrong.
What Else I hope to See
I hope to see very tight integration with all Microsoft products without showing preference for Windows users. As a Mac user, I hope not to feel left out because I’m not a Windows user. I use Office 365 every day on my Mac. I look forward to enjoying the integration features I mentioned above. I also hope to see deeper analytics with potential to provide greater insights into engagement opportunities for improved business development potential. This is what will keep LinkedIn members loyal.
With accelerated popularity in Account Based Marketing (ABM), I look forward to tighter integration between Navigator and Microsoft Dynamics to provide more robust targeting opportunities with greater ease. This will help companies reach their target accounts with more effectiveness.
Overall, LinkedIn has potential to re-emerge as “cool and useful” for business users. I hope the evolution stays focused on adding value to its members with a balance of free value and paid value. Unfortunately, I’m hearing that several features currently free such as advanced search are going away to be available only in Sales Navigator.
I look forward to seeing LinkedIn be the professional network of choice for many years to come. The Microsoft acquisition should provide the boost it needs to achieve this goal.
Disclaimer: I have no access to inside information. The thoughts expressed here are mine based solely on articles in the public domain and my speculation.