Microsoft and LinkedIn: a happy marriage?

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by Rik

Microsoft and LinkedIn: a happy marriage?

Big news this week: Microsoft bought LinkedIn for 26 billion dollars. What does the technology giant want with the professional social network? Compete with Google and Apple? Turn LinkedIn into a worldwide Sharepoint? Or finally make its software social?

Do you remember those brilliant Apple commercials, aired about ten years ago? That stereotypical grey 'I'm a PC nerd', probably a system administrator, bragging about all the configuration options his Windows machine has. And of course the hip 'I'm a Mac user', most likely a designer, who shrugs and says that a Mac just works.

That's what the recently announced marriage between Microsoft and LinkedIn feels like. A prissy, introverted computer nerd, now in his forties, marries a jumpy super social teenager. What does LinkedIn see in Microsoft? Is it, after the profit warning and 40 percent decrease in value earlier this year, all about the money? But more interestingly: what does Microsoft want to do with LinkedIn? I see three possibilities.

1. Big boys

It's undoubtedly a big eyesore for Microsoft. It was the smartest (and biggest) kid in class for two decades but it was surpassed by nemesis Apple several years ago. Google is also bigger now, and Amazon and Facebook are rapidly approaching as well. 

These rivaling American technology giants have something in common: their focus on services, networks and mobile. According to many, these all have a brighter future than software does. But it's exactly these three areas that have proven difficult for Microsoft. Who still uses a Hotmail account, a Nokia phone or MSN?

Spouse LinkedIn has it all. A strong network of almost half a billion members (and over 100 million unique visitors per month). More than 50 percent uses LinkedIn on mobile. A business model based on services, the main one being recruitment. The network currently has more than 7 million jobs posted, worldwide. 

LinkedIn seems to fit into the line up: Skype (purchased for 8.5 billion dollars in 2011), Nokia (7.2 billion in 2013) and Mojang, creator of Minecraft (2.5 billion in 2014).

Unfortunately investors don't believe in this particular purchase. Microsoft's share price dropped 4 percent after the announcement of the acquisition. 

2. SharePoint worldwide

There's no doubt that Microsoft also sees the possibilities of using LinkedIn as a sales channel for Microsoft software. They are probably watching and learning from Google. Google is successfully up selling Google Apps to Gmail users - the most used email client in many countries. Google is even attacking Microsoft at the large corporate market. For example here in the Netherlands, Ahold has already partially switched to Google Apps. 

Of course many collaborations exist on LinkedIn: companies, knowledge groups, projects, industry associations, alumni. Microsoft can easily offer all of them its collaboration tools through LinkedIn, from shared Office365 files to a list of members in Dynamics. So will LinkedIn become a worldwide Sharepoint? We will definitely receive more of LinkedIn's notorious marketing emails...

On a side note, LinkedIn hasn't been very successful at up selling anything besides the obvious recruitment tools. LinkedIn apps such as Elevate (for sharing knowledge within organizations) and Sales Navigator (name speaks for itself) have not sold well.   

3. LinkedIn like Yammer?

Of course in this case, up selling is also possible in the opposite direction. Integrating LinkedIn's social functionalities into existing Microsoft products is a possibility, especially for business customers. I personally think this is the most interesting angle. But that's coming from someone who's working with internal social networks within organizations on a daily basis, such as social intranets and knowledge sharing platforms. 

Microsoft could use a little help here too. Sure, the latest versions of SharePoint have some social features. But I don't know many organizations who are actually using them. That was probably the reason for Microsoft's 1.2 billion dollars purchase of social networking service Yammer in 2012. However, even though these two are now offered as a package deal (also with Office365 as a cloud solution), many SharePoint users keep struggling. 

Sure, the latest versions of SharePoint have some social features. But I don't know many organizations who are actually using them. 

SharePoint and Yammer are 'ICT stuff'

Both SharePoint and Yammer are regarded as 'ICT stuff' in many organizations. On the one hand they have all the configuration options you need, but on the other hand you need a consultant to set it up the way you really want. LinkedIn is different: it's intuitive, you are in control, and it looks modern too. 

Additionally almost everyone has a rich profile on LinkedIn - a requirement for creating a successful business network. But do people want to use that profile within their organization too? When we implement our social platform Plek we're often asked if it's possible to import LinkedIn profiles. That seems like a very good idea... Until you ask an organization's employees about it. They often want to present themselves differently to their colleagues than to the outside world. And that's not just when they're secretly looking for a new job!

MS LinkedIn: do they have our blessing?

Ultimately the customers decide whether or not the intended marriage will be a success - and we are the customers. Almost every one of us uses Microsoft software and has a LinkedIn profile. So what do you think?

We will probably all benefit from a little bit more of LinkedIn's ease of use in our Microsoft software. But do we want to use our external profile within our organization as well? Should we be happy with a Dynamics database for our LinkedIn knowledge group? Or do we just congratulate LinkedIn's shareholders for hooking up with that rich old bastard?

(Edited) image intro thanks to 123RF.