LinkedIn celebrates its eleventh birthday today, but this has been a year full of firsts for the professional network. In addition to opening its publishing platform to its members, LinkedIn purchased mobile news platform Pulse in April of last year. These moves signal a focus on content distribution and, by extension, a play for more ad revenue. But why would a professional (please, don’t call it “social“) network want to become a content platform?
LinkedIn isn’t the only network to recognize that content distribution is a natural element of social networks. Just about every social network is crafting ways to monetize content, whether it’s through Promoted Pins or branded Snapchat messages. LinkedIn stands apart from other social networks because most of its revenue currently comes from recruiter and individual paid memberships.
But as social takes its place at the center of how people choose, consume and share content, LinkedIn is pointing to the next step in content distribution for big brands. Whether small- and mid-sized businesses will be able to follow, however, is still up for debate.
Big Data, big money
LinkedIn’s 300 million members bring a wealth of data with them. Recruiters looking for qualified candidates—and B2B companies looking for clients—can rely on that data to target their audiences and engage with people directly.
But although LinkedIn has a built-in price scale for access to its data, networks like Facebook are loath to start charging users. Instead, Facebook has put a premium on NewsFeed real estate, shrinking the reach of big and small brands alike and giving them incentive to pay for advertising.
The power of Big Data is drained if a brand can’t use a social network to reach its audience with useful content. What can a small brand—or a big brand with a suddenly stunted reach—do to regain ground?
The ultimate in crowdsourcing
The jury is still out on the success of LinkedIn’s newly opened publishing platform. But one thing is certain: brands and individuals with audiences on other social networks will be able to leverage those connections, and use them to attract new people on LinkedIn. Content can be valuable not just for the data it can help brands collect, but also for the communities it can help build. A community built around an influencer whose work lives on LinkedIn could mean more time spent on its site, and more ad dollars spent.
That serves as just one example of how smaller and mid-sized brands can take advantage of the social element of content. One of the most useful and lucrative features of using social media to distribute content is the ability to curate not just content, but content creators. BuzzFeed, for instance, has been especially successful at finding writers and editors on Twitter, hiring people whose follower counts give the publication a built-in audience boost. And while BuzzFeed isn’t a social network, it’s still a content platform that depends a great deal on social. Just like LinkedIn.
While LinkedIn and BuzzFeed brand dwarf even some big B2C brands, every business can use community and social to propel useful and engaging content. By offering real connections with real people along with content that’s good enough to share, brands can grow their audiences through social.