Take a look at LinkedIn today, and it’ll bear little resemblance to the LinkedIn of just a few years ago.
The design is slick. The mobile apps are polished. And the site has begun to look like a full-fledged consumer social network, replete with content that you actually might want to read.
In that vein comes the next phase of LinkedIn’s evolution: Personal publishing. On Wednesday, the company announced that everyone can now publish personal, long-form content to their LinkedIn profile pages, providing the site’s 277 million-plus users with their own professional blogging platform.
It’s essentially an expansion of what LinkedIn calls its “Influencer” program, an initiative launched in 2012 that touted high-profile business personalities who wrote professional missives for LinkedIn users to read. (It also popped up shortly after Twitter cut off its tweet syndication to LinkedIn, and used a follower model similar to the microblogging site.) LinkedIn will also add another spate of high-profile influencers to its roster on Wednesday, including Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and CNBC host Suze Orman.
Previously, only the select Influencer crowd was able to post longer items to LinkedIn, while regular folk like you and me were made to passively consume what’s been posted to the site. Now, users will have rudimentary blogging tools to publish that same longer-form material.
“The big benefit for a member to publish this is that it will become a part of their professional identity,” said Ryan Roslansky, Head of Content Products at LinkedIn, in an interview. “So if someone looks up your profile, it’ll be there. It’s a great way to show your knowledge and expertise.”
This is all part of LinkedIn’s larger push into original content, a major initiative the company began a few years ago. LinkedIn wanted to escape the image of being a repository for resumes, a place that users visited only when they wanted to look for a new job or tweak the details on their existing one. In order to do that, LinkedIn had to provide users with a reason to return to the service on a daily basis.
It seems to be working. Monthly active users continue to grow, and active mobile users now account for 41 percent of the company’s overall traffic.
Aside from drumming up activity on the site, the push into original content has real implications for LinkedIn’s bottom line. Every new user visit offers another chance for ad clicks and views. Every visit makes it potentially more likely for a user to subscribe to LinkedIn’s bread-and-butter premium subscription services. And the more time people spend on the site, the more they’ll update their profiles with timely information — that’s valuable data to LinkedIn’s massive pool of paying recruiter subscribers who watch the network for talent to poach.
The big question now: Even though LinkedIn certainly looks more like a consumer-facing social network than it did years ago, will we want to treat it like one and start to blog it out on our profile pages? Considering there’s already a wealth of options — Medium, WordPress, Tumblr, and what have you — it’s tough for me to think I’d need another outlet to express my thoughts.
But as Roslansky said, the company hopes users will use LinkedIn as an outlet for professional expertise and thoughts, a vertical distinguished from other personal blogging platforms.
It’s not entirely unheard of these days, either. Take a look at any number of venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road, all of which have basically mandated their partners to regularly blog out their thoughts on the business landscape. (I’m looking at you, Andreessen Horowitz.) Late-stage startups, too, have been hiring ex-journalists and writers for hybrid marketing and content-creation roles. To wit: LinkedIn poached ex-Fortune journalist Dan Roth to head up its entire content initiative years ago.
As the philosophy goes, it’s not just about making an ad pitch anymore — it’s about proving you know what you’re talking about.
“Sharing your knowledge in long form is one of the best ways to promote your professional identity online right now,” Roslansky said. “I think it makes complete sense for us to move into that space.”