In July 2016 Microsoft purchased LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. Only at that scale does Instagram’s acquisition by Facebook years earlier for $1 billion look cheap. When Microsoft announced the acquisition, they said it was because they remain interested in connecting people. Industry observers, however, noted Salesforce was also bidding for LinkedIn. Both companies were after the treasure trove of professional data LinkedIn houses.
There’s a difference between social networking and social media. Social media is what you consume — your friend’s photos, videos, re-shares, links, etc. Social networking is the act of connecting to people, asking questions, making comments, and building relationship bridges between online and offline worlds.
Which is what makes LinkedIn such a weird place. Initially, it was a way to keep track of co-workers and friends you meet at happy hours and networking events. The problem is it won’t let you add someone more than one-degree removed. So if you meet someone genuinely new at an airport one morning, chances are you can’t add them. That nixes the “social networking” aspect.
There’s also the matter of what people say and do on LinkedIn. I’ve described it to people as “a group of salespeople who walk into a room, stand in a circle and yell ‘Buy my stuff!’ At the top of their lungs, then walk out.” Everyone seems to be posting something on LinkedIn, but no one seems to be reading it. In that metric, LinkedIn is doing better than Google+, which Google announced earlier this month they were shutting down. Either way, it’s not fun social media.
LinkedIn does have some advantages going for it. Microsoft has been a good steward of almost every company they’ve ever purchased, often giving them the benefits of buckets of money and individual leadership that scales. Sometimes a recruiter does patrol the site and find someone interested in a new job. And LinkedIn has yet to become the swampy bog that is Facebook and Twitter. If someone catches you on LinkedIn at work, it’s passable.
LinkedIn is its own territory, one packed with influencers, gurus, ninjas, and other trite buzzwords people use to describe their skills. If you want to know what the CEO of Starbucks has to say about Washington or see some Milton Friedman quotes, LinkedIn is ready to show them to you. And without an algorithm as aggressive as Facebook’s or Twitter’s, it harkens back to a time when you could reasonably believe you were seeing everything you subscribed to see. LinkedIn is like a professional speaking gig platform while Facebook and Twitter are where you hang out with friends on weekends bar-hopping.
This is where LinkedIn’s purpose becomes clearer. When you’re targeting an audience of people-at-work and not at-play, you make your message broad and all-appealing, rarely contentious, and designed to sell to the mass-market.
To find success on LinkedIn you need to tap into America’s professional id and remind people how to be leaders. You’re following the same path blazed by countless sales and leadership coaches. Remind people that your work should strive for something beyond excellence, and to never forget you should delight your customers.