Social networks aren’t just for kids anymore. Instead of telegraphing social status and posting party photos, social networks like career-focused LinkedIn attract a mature audience by emphasizing the “network” over the “social.” And the need to make contacts across companies and countries has made LinkedIn one of the fastest-growing social networks.
Over the course of 2007, LinkedIn doubled its membership from 9 to 18 million users. With this impressive membership growth, LinkedIn emphasizes keeping its core technology able to deal with the demand of an estimated 25 new members linking in every minute. “We are focusing on building a powerful network that will scale as our membership grows,” says CEO Dan Nye.
The site’s growth is thanks in part to new features added this year. Although the use of real names has always been the site standard, profile pictures were introduced in late 2007. While its goal is still to make connections, LinkedIn also promotes itself as a place to swap reliable user-generated career questions and answers. LinkedIn Answers allows users to post a question to the entire community, tapping into fellow members’ expertise. Questions range from technical to theoretical, and answers pour in from top-level executives and managers. The forum provides space for debate and discussion, and it allows readers to rate which replies are best. To add a little high-profile sparkle, LinkedIn has brought in celebrities such as presidential candidate Barack Obama, business author Bob Sutton, and Wall Street Journal writer Kara Swisher to ask and answer questions. This move sparked thousands of replies from members and shined a media spotlight on its open-forum feature.
LinkedIn shook up its leadership structure this year in naming Nye its new CEO, taking in some technical minds formerly with Google, and moving founding CEO Reid Hoffman to his new chairman position. Nye’s leadership objective has been to give companies and members new ways to make profiles and networks that reflect their unique personalities. “People are realizing the importance of creating a positive online brand for themselves,” says Nye, “and they get that building a professional profile on LinkedIn is an effective way to do that.”
On LinkedIn—as in life—it’s all about who you know. For members, who you know is graphically mapped out by degree to help make new contacts, stay in touch with old ones, and identify potentially beneficial matches within friends’ networks. Rather than the Wild West environment of social networks like MySpace, LinkedIn has built a reputation on carefully controlling how connections are made. Members link to people they know, and then, if they find someone interesting within their connections’ networks, they can request an introduction. Only paid-account users have the option to search outside their networks, keeping strangers and spambots at bay. LinkedIn’s priority is to make connections as meaningful and strategic as possible, and that environment of trust has attracted a high-quality user base. “All 500 of the Fortune 500 now have employees on LinkedIn,” says Nye, including 1.5 million C-level executives from more than 150 industries. Seventy-five percent of users are more than 29 years old, and they boast an average income of more than $130,000. While its users are all grown-up, there’s something sort of “high school” about the appeal of being in the network with the coolest (and most connected) users. “The quality of the network means that LinkedIn is an extremely effective tool to help achieve professional goals,” Nye says.
Networking can lead to opportunities, and job hunters know the best jobs rarely make it to the classifieds. To empower its users’ career advancement, LinkedIn strengthened its recruiting features for corporate members. LinkedIn Corporate Solutions debuted LinkedIn Project in April 2007, which lets staffing departments establish advanced search parameters to locate candidates for particular projects or positions. LinkedIn Project also lets companies send private messages to court passive candidates. With its new Targeted Recruiting Advertising, LinkedIn uses profile and demographic information to put relevant now-hiring ads directly in front of members with the target location, skill level, or experience.
Targeting, in fact, is what LinkedIn does best. Companies and CEOs don’t have time to browse hundreds of profiles for the one person who can speak Arabic, program Flash, and juggle. With a growing pool of professionals who are educated, ambitious, and connected, LinkedIn hopes to give high-profile companies—and high-profile workers—a better way to network while they work.
Fun Fact: The company celebrates its birthday (May 5, 2003) each year with a “Cinco de LinkedIn” party.