Betting on LinkedIn
A year after its acquisition by Microsoft, LinkedIn is leveraging its new parent's tools and capabilities to strengthen its position in the market.
By Steve Boese
I recently was invited to attend a quarterly product update from the folks at LinkedIn Talent Solutions, an online event where the product and marketing teams provide demonstrations and details about new product initiatives and capabilities that are (or are about to be) released. I get these kinds of invites from solution providers quite often, and admittedly do not usually attend -- either I am busy planning the annual HR Tech Conference or I simply don't get all that excited by incremental updates to existing platforms or solutions.
But I made an exception in this particular case and watched this most recent LinkedIn update. The reasons why were twofold: I had some extra time; and I was interested in one particular update that LinkedIn planned to share information regarding the integration of LinkedIn information with Microsoft Word in the context of a user creating a resume.
And, since Microsoft finished its $26.2-billion acquisition of LinkedIn about a year ago now, I figured it was an appropriate time to reflect on that industry development, as well as some new capabilities being added to the platform, the challenges the company faces, and what might be coming next.
On its latest product update webcast, LinkedIn showcased two new initiatives that reflect its continued need to provide value to two distinct constituencies: HR and talent-acquisition professionals; and its rank-and-file members. Each obviously have very different needs and goals.
The first enhancement for organizational users of its Talent Solutions products was a new performance summary report, which provides them with a simple but comprehensive overview of organizational activity and results on the platform. On one dashboard, HR and talent management professionals can see data such as the number of hires who were "influenced" by candidates viewing company profiles and content on LinkedIn prior to being hired; the effectiveness and response rates of candidate outreach; and most interestingly to me, the top five companies that organizations are losing and winning talent I can recall working at an organization where we were suddenly losing lots of talented sales reps over a short period of time, and had to scramble (and pull up lots of individual LinkedIn profiles) to figure out which competitors were poaching them. We would have loved to have had this information in one place.
The other new capability -- and probably the more innovative development -- was the announcement of a deeper integration of LinkedIn data with Microsoft Word. For users drafting a resume in Word, information from other LinkedIn profiles is used to help craft a resume. This Resume Assistant asks them to provide a job role of interest and then surfaces examples from LinkedIn of typical work-experience summaries and skills descriptors. It even brings forward current job openings that are a potential match for job seekers. If they want to apply to the job opening on LinkedIn, the integration easily facilitates it. It is really an innovative and potentially powerful tool that surfaces open jobs to candidates at the very beginning of their search process, precisely when they are polishing up their resumes in Word.
One of the challenges that faces any dominant platform provider such as LinkedIn is the call for more transparency and access to data. This challenge is especially relevant for LinkedIn, as many would argue that the fundamental unit upon which LinkedIn creates its value -- a person's profile -- does not actually belong to LinkedIn, but to the individual. While the LinkedIn user agreement (you've read it, right?) does indicate that "you own the content and information that you submit or post to the Services," it also states that "you are granting LinkedIn and their affiliates a worldwide, transferable, and sublicensable right to use, copy, modify, distribute, publish, and process information and content that you provide."
Essentially, you own your LinkedIn profile and any content you post or publish, but then you are granting the company rights to create and charge for value-added products and services that leverage your profile information and content. What LinkedIn has successfully relied on for years is that the value that individual users derive from the service is sufficient enough that they don't mind the fact that LinkedIn is more or less selling access to these profiles. As evidenced by the company's sustained user growth, individuals on the platform are deciding the trade-off is beneficial for them.
Could that possibly change? I suppose so, but, for now, it seems unlikely. More likely is that LinkedIn will be challenged to make its platform more open to other service providers -- one example is the recent legal action from HR tech startup HiQ Labs, which sued for access to LinkedIn public profile information -- and to ensure various governmental regulators that it is not operating unfairly and is remaining compliant with the myriad of user data-security and protection laws around the world. With parent Microsoft incredibly well-versed in these areas, LinkedIn has expertise and experience it can draw from as it navigates these challenges.
It seems like LinkedIn is just scratching the surface of the potential value it can create and offer after its acquisition by Microsoft. Deeper integration with its parent's other enterprise product and service offerings such as Office 365, Dynamics and Skype, where LinkedIn user profiles and activity data can be leveraged by business users across a range of business processes, seems to offer significant upside for the platform and additional value for end users of these services.
Additionally, there exists opportunities for LinkedIn to create and offer enhanced talent-management insights and capabilities beyond simply helping organizations find new talent. With a massive and growing data set of professional profiles, skills inventories, education, recommendations, job roles, job movement, salary, professional networks and career progression, the company could quite logically begin to provide more and better tools to help inform talent-management decisions such as promotion, compensation, succession and training. It is not at all a stretch to think LinkedIn will become an essential tool for more than just recruiters, but for all talent professionals. It will be interesting to see what the coming years will hold.
With more than 500 million profiles worldwide, and no significant challengers to its position as the world's largest repository of professional profiles and career information, LinkedIn will continue to play an important role for many organizations and professionals for the foreseeable future. The challenges will lie in its ability to continue to evolve and innovate in creating products and service offerings that can enable HR and talent-acquisition leaders to achieve their recruiting and talent-management goals, while simultaneously presenting valuable and relevant information, and showcasing career opportunities for their members.
One year since the acquisition by Microsoft, LinkedIn seems to be on the right path to meet both those challenges and grow. While the platform certainly is not perfect -- I have spoken with corporate talent-acquisition leaders who have been pretty critical of LinkedIn -- no one can question its influence on the HR space. I would bet that influence will only increase as the connections and synergies with the Microsoft parent strengthen over time.
Finally, I simply couldn't end this piece without an offer to connect with me on LinkedIn.
Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at email@example.com.