CAITLIN FITZSIMMONS Online editor

Caitlin covers social media, marketing and technology and is BRW's social media editor. She has worked as a journalist in Sydney, London and San Francisco, writing for titles including The Guardian and The Australian Financial Review.

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Why LinkedIn is more useful than you might think

Published 09 October 2012 06:00, Updated 10 October 2012 04:51

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Why LinkedIn is more useful than you might think

Influential ... Freelancer.com founder and BRW contributor Matt Barrie is one of two Australian entrepreneurs to have made it on to LinkedIn’s list of “global influencers”. Photo:

LinkedIn has taken another leaf out of Twitter’s book and launched a feature to let you follow people directly, with no connection required.

For now the Influencer program is limited to 150 so-called “thought leaders”, which include Barack Obama, Richard Branson and Deepak Chopra. Two Australian entrepreneurs made the cut, BRW contributors Matt Barrie of Freelancer.com and Naomi Simson of Red Balloon and LinkedIn has called for applications as it expands the program.

The move aims to inject life into users’ LinkedIn news streams, as the “influencers” must produce original content such as blog posts and SlideShare presentations as well as status updates and links.

It helps fill a gap left when Twitter severed ties with LinkedIn earlier this year. Previously, LinkedIn users could link their accounts to send Twitter updates to LinkedIn and this accounted for a lot of the content in most people’s LinkedIn news feeds. After June, LinkedIn referrals to non-Twitter content reportedly shot up as a result, because of the reduced clutter.

In a further change, LinkedIn has also rolled out its newly redesigned company pages, highlighting company updates and making it easier to add pictures.

The updates follow a renewed emphasis on content for LinkedIn and continual design and functionality improvements that often borrow the best features from Facebook and Twitter.

For example, you can write status updates, share links, “like” and comment on other people’s content. You can start and join groups – there are now more than 1 million on the site. You can also add third-party apps to your profile page, such as the Reading List by Amazon.

In 2011, the site launched LinkedIn Today, a customised home page and email update with links to stories that are trending in a particular topics and networks. You can follow certain industries and topic areas, such as the LinkedIn Today Professional Women edition.

In the past, LinkedIn attracted criticism for being a low-engagement medium but the changes have made the site much stickier for users. According to the company, the unique visitors increased 30 per cent year on year to an average of 106 million in the second quarter, while page views increased 31 per cent to 9.3 billion. LinkedIn bought SlideShare in May 2012 and the combined figures make it the 26th most visited website in the world.

As of the end of June, 23 per cent of visits came from mobile apps compared with 10 per cent a year ago and another 4 per cent came from mobile browsers.

LinkedIn was founded in 2002, making it one of the oldest social networking sites. It grew fairly slowly in the first half of the 2000s but in the past few years it has grown from a fairly static directory of former colleagues into an essential business tool.

The company floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2011 and is by all measures on a serious growth trajectory. As of August, the site has 175 million members in more than 200 countries – 3 million in Australia – and revenue was up 89 per cent year on year to a record $US228.2 million in the second quarter.

Facebook and Twittter may have 1 billion and 500 million users respectively but LinkedIn is relatively more profitable. More than half of that was revenue from recruitment advertising but marketing revenue and premium subscriptions were also significant.

The idea of being able to follow people without a reciprocal relationship was novel when Twitter began but is quickly becoming the norm. Facebook adopted a similar concept when it launched subscriptions in 2011.

The LinkedIn Influencer service is different to Twitter because it allows long-form content and the contributors are pre-vetted. The curation also differentiates it from Facebook, where any user can enable subscriptions for their own public content.

The downside is that this makes it harder for individuals who are not already known to build a following from scratch and LinkedIn may get pushback for taking a less democratic approach.

The upside is that it allows LinkedIn to keep quality high and the content focused on business. It also neatly side-stops the problem of fake accounts that has plagued Twitter.

The site plans to list and regularly update the influencers based on their popularity.

MATT BARRIE AND NAOMI SIMSON ON BRW:

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