Will perennial bridesmaid LinkedIn ever become the bride?

Will perennial bridesmaid LinkedIn ever become the bride? It pains me to say I suspect not. Before anyone thinks this is an anti-LinkedIn or anti-Microsoft rant, this X-Box playing marketeer wants nothing more than LinkedIn to realise its potential. Sadly, the diversified IT supplier appears to place more effort into PR than innovation when it comes to LinkedIn.

Taking the recent positive press coverage put out by Microsoft-owned LinkedIn at face value would deem my comments unfair. Any business moving forward in 2020 should acknowledge that achievement – I do agree with that. However, the well-crafted platitudes and noteworthy achievements written by LinkedIn’s PR team belies the real story.

A quick google of LinkedIn news and you’ll see Microsoft are reporting LinkedIn user numbers have risen to 722 million members and claiming, ‘record levels of engagement’. Ensuing copy portrays a story of advertisement success claiming, ‘advertiser demand on LinkedIn returned to near pre-COVID levels, up 40% year over year’. LinkedIn say the growth this year, up from a reported 675 million members in January coincided with a platform redesign and the roll-out of Stories for (almost) all users. Encouraging stuff.

Hmmm, sadly, I’m not jumping on the socially distanced high-fiving followers who are forgiven for thinking this is positive indeed. Let me explain. Firstly, LinkedIn are using the term ‘members’, not ‘active users’. An important differentiator when looking at monetization forecast. Whenever I’ve covered Earnings Calls in the BBC studio, looking at probably financial growth, you always look to active users. It’s all well and good claiming bold numbers, but if only a percentage of those are active on platform, then that limits advertisers Reach. To secure the big bucks of Paid Media spend, active users and their reach is revenue gold.

Next, I look to Stories. And yes, it is true that LinkedIn has rolled this out. It is also true it’s been well received and we’re using it at IF. It’s a welcome development and an important release. However, the context to Stories being rolled out lies in the fact Instagram launched their Stories on 6th October 2010. LinkedIn is over a DECADE late to the party. Some may feel this is an unfair comparison given Instagram’s ability to play to none-professional users. Stories do of course resonate socially, I take your point. So, let’s look at something critical to corporate content, live videos. Spoiler alert, I’m about to detail how our beloved bride almost missed the wedding party…

On 6th April 2016 Mark Zuckerberg delivered the first Facebook Live, launching his new proposition to users. At IF we were rather excited by this evolution. We could instantly see the value it offered industry and we worked closely with businesses, like Fujitsu, to build a live broadcast proposition. Regular follows of content will know that we’ve broadcast live to millions of C-Suite officers globally for years. I don’t need to bore you again with the jaw-dropping metrics of full-views on interviews circa 15-minutes long. What I do need to share with you is the story of delay, after delay, after delay by LinkedIn in bringing their own live proposition online.

In 2018, during the pre-production of Fujitsu Forum TV Live 2018, Fujitsu and IF met with LinkedIn to discuss using their BETA version of Live Video. Having successfully broadcast live simultaneously to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, we wanted to add LinkedIn to the mix. “It’s too early and live video is not ready.” we were told. Sigh. In 2019 we repeated the effort and again sat down with LinkedIn, knowing their BETA version had been running for some time in the US. LinkedIn’s response was “it’s not in Europe yet, and it won’t do what you want. Only selected businesses have access and they can only use it for one-off lives, from the platform. It’s not able to plug in to broadcast desks using streamkeys”.

FINALLY, in the second half of 2020 LinkedIn opened up their live video offering and industry could jump in. This time, they had reduced their industry lag to 5-years. Credit where due, they’ve reduced that from 11-years…

In the automotive industry, it’s often said if you want to know what tech you’ll have on everyday cars in 5-years’ time, look at the Mercedes S Class functions today. Sadly, the same can be said of Facebook and LinkedIn. And that’s my frustration. The June 13th, 2016 acquisition of LinkedIn, by Microsoft promised much. Excitement heralded from the owner and pioneer of Microsoft Dynamics getting to grips with LinkedIn and finally helping it to achieve its promise. Sadly, we’re still waiting for this to happen.

Stories have been released yet we don’t garner any meaningful insight or even have a dashboard display. The account teams at LinkedIn are too focused on trying to sell Sales Navigator licences or Paid Media budget direct to brands, not realising what Facebook did about a decade ago, that independent agencies manage huge portfolios of brands spending significant budget. Yet, try to get an Account Manager on a call is akin to finding a winning lottery ticket. Facebook though, created the Partners Team and assign an account manager to agencies managing portfolio spend. When you try to involve Facebook or feedback on innovation opportunities, they listen.

The release of Stories is absolutely a welcome development, but sadly it’s another example of being a bridesmaid. For LinkedIn to become the bride, Microsoft needs to harness the talent which it undoubtedly employs and have them truly innovate on propositions. LinkedIn promises much, but sadly well-crafted copy of design and innovation success is nothing more than spin.

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