By Shafqat Islam, Crain News Service
NEW YORK (Aug. 12, 2013) — Publishers, there's a new sheriff in town. Yesterday, LinkedIn was a social network. Today, it is a powerhouse publishing brand.
And with the kind of scale and audience targeting that it's built, it will be an advertising juggernaut that can't be stopped.
This past year LinkedIn rolled out a game-changing feature, the Influencer program, which has made it a go-to site that offers far more than just the world's largest virtual Rolodex.
The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and other top-tier business publishers should be worried. LinkedIn is arguably the world's largest business publication (or any publication for that matter). With a registered audience of more than 230 million, LinkedIn has more than 50 times the number of registered users as the Financial Times. LinkedIn drives around 10 billion page views per month, compared to 133 million for The Wall Street Journal. LinkedIn had 116 million unique visitors last quarter, compared to 13 million average monthly uniques for The Journal.
LinkedIn can drive traffic back to individual articles via the site's Today's News hub. However, that traffic to publishers pales in comparison to the enormous number of page views being driven to the original content that the site is now creating and distributing through its Influencers program.
This program has allowed the company to position itself as curator of high-quality content, pushing out personalized content to a vast audience of global professionals.
For example, on July 22, Richard Branson published an Influencer post entitled, "What Inspires Me: Game-Changing People Everywhere." Mr. Branson has more than 2.2 million LinkedIn followers, and his article was shared directly from the LinkedIn site roughly 8,000 times, generating nearly 1,000 comments and 140,000 views.
Assuming that Executive Editor Dan Roth (formerly of Fortune magazine) hires away some of his past colleagues and friends in the publishing industry, don't be surprised to see LinkedIn starting to break news just like The Wall Street Journal or New York Times. Once that starts happening, the transformation to full-fledged publisher will be complete.
While the notion of brands acting as publishers is not new anymore, the concept of social networks acting as independent publishers is novel and completely disruptive to the traditional publishing ecosystem.
With LinkedIn's massively engaged audience and its ability to target extremely accurately with diverse inventory, why would an advertiser go elsewhere? Don't be surprised if advertising and revenue from the marketing side ends up outperforming the revenue from the traditionally dominant recruiting side of LinkedIn's business.
One compelling alternative, when it comes to scale, would be Facebook. I won't be surprised to see Mark Zuckerberg take a few moves out of LinkedIn's playbook and double down on premium content on Facebook. While sponsored posts on LinkedIn are a lot more native to the experience, given the traditionally content-heavy news feed, Facebook could emerge as a credible threat. With a little re-architecting and new formatting, could influencer-style content be just around the corner?
LinkedIn has built trust and authority by positioning itself as a premium professional network that provides a utility—helping people find jobs and advance their careers—and also informs, educates and spreads knowledge. Could any traditional news publication have predicted a few years ago that it would be competing for readership against a career-driven social network? The answer is probably no.
This opinion article originally appeared on the website of Advertising Age magazine, a New York City-based sister publication of Tire Business.
Shafqat Islam is CEO of NewsCred, which says its mission is "to put content at the heart of every business. By fusing game-changing technology, premium content and an experienced editorial team, we're reinventing the way content is distributed, consumed and shared across the social web."