LinkedIn & Microsoft: Laggards or leaders…?

microsoft_linkedinScanning my facebook feed this morning, I came across this view of the LinkedIn and Microsoft wedding plans from John Sumserin which provides an interesting perspective. John makes some great points, well worth a read.

I think one of the challenges for LinkedIn has been that their original magnetic north was never in recruitment. They started as an online Rolodex and then discovered the potential in recruitment and the rest is history. Which I think also kind of explains why they have never quite been on the money in my view. They have also been a bit of a laggard at times, being sluggish about both mobile and social. I’ve never personally classed them as “social media” in the sense I would Twitter or Facebook.

Having said that, despite not being able to “monetise the huge personal productivity improvements’ as John puts it (Paraphrasing there John, sorry!), which is an excellent point he makes, I suspect what they have been able to monetise through recruitment has far exceeded Reid Hoffman’s original expectations.

John also points out that there is often a difference between what the seller sells and the buyer buys and I agree. I do think we can see a higher purpose here. I’m not convinced such things as the data base of PowerPoint presentations or even Lynda.com’s stock of content will yield the potential value he speaks of. With tech moving the way it is, this feels like a solution for today, not tomorrow. A bit “this special offer includes” kinda thing. Don’t get me wrong, each has value in their own right, but it will need some re thinking to make that value exponentially more than it is now.

What I see is data. Unstructured data and content to be precise. Next to Facebook, LinkedIn have the most ‘social and professional’ data but with the added bonus in that they have a unique blend of structured and unstructured data and content about you and I and 433 million other professionals. That’s where the money shot is for me. My slide decks as a template might be useful. My slide decks as a data point, particularly about me and my behaviour, are far far more valuable.

Which brings us on to be final thought. Will Microsoft leave LinkedIn alone? There’s the stated intent to do so by Microsoft. But then there’s the view, as John hints to, that why would they? The suggestion that they look beyond the current play and seek more left field, off plan use for the technology and network – for example to power their CRM offerings – is a solid one.

However LinkedIn got to where it is, precisely because it is LinkedIn. The professional networking site. For Microsoft to take this value “as is” and use it for something else, would be very shortsighted in my view. Far better methinks, to put the data engine as the central point, and take a “front end/back end” approach to a next generation of blended consumer and business solutions.

On the front end I would leave LinkeIn where it is and use the might of Microsoft’s resources and distribution to super charge it. I’d de-emphasise the need for driving revenue via recruiting (Which has arguably detracted from providing the quality members demanded) and rebuild the platform and create the professional network of the future. Make it truly social and make it deliver more for the members than it does today. I’d also remove recruiters and recruitment thinking from the product development team and instead staff it with more data scientists and community experts.

On the back end hang off it the next generation of tools for personal and business use that are powered by, and can exploit the potential of what could be the biggest and most active professional network on the planet. There is no need to blend the offerings at the brand level. Keep them separate. Any dilution of LinkedIn’s core offering will undoubtedly result in a reduction in the quality of the network, at which point it becomes valueless.

Whatever the direction they take, and aside from any competitive moves in the professional sector from the likes of Facebook, Microsoft’s ability to leverage the value from this deal remains to be seen. They also have a track record of being sluggish when it comes to innovation; famously poo pooing the internet/web, being slow to recognise the value of mobile and social and employing people like Balmer to lead the strategic thinking.

If they get it right though, and put data at the heart of the model, this could be a gamechanger.

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