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LinkedIn and Microsoft aren’t building community

By July 18, 2016Article

By now you’ve probably soaked up the details of Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion – its largest acquisition in the company’s history. Time will tell if the two giants can combine forces to improve both professional networking and a generally static productivity suite. But if it wasn’t obvious before, LinkedIn now has ensured us that its focus is no longer with online communities. 

I’m pretty big on the idea that your community shouldn’t live on rented land. I and other community builders have been vocal on how communities living on LinkedIn won’t thrive. It’s not a platform to help you with your data, SEO and inbound traffic. It’s a useful tool for professional networking, but it’s not focused on the community user experience. 

The Wall Street Journal said it best last week: “LinkedIn has so far done a poor job of getting [users] to come back to the site regularly to connect with and expand their professional networks. Only about one quarter of LinkedIn’s 400 million ‘cumulative’ users return to the site every month.” 

Can Microsoft Office and LinkedIn groups unite? 

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner still clings to the concept of community as LinkedIn’s backbone in his recent blog on the acquisition news. But it has evolved to focus on a more standard, desk-job, 9-to-5 worker. The mission to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful” now essentially equates to “while using Microsoft Office products by yourself.”   

Will this tag-team really revolutionize something as streamlined and basic as Microsoft Word? Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got pretty specific in explaining the possibilities. He’s quoted in Randall Stross’ New York Times article as saying, “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” including, “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.” He went on to predict that such experiences would “get more intelligent and delightful.” 

I’ve heard similar overtures from Microsoft and others before. In 2012 when SharePoint failed to become the “social hub” for business, Microsoft acquired Yammer, an enterprise social collaboration company, in the hopes of staying relevant in the space. And who can forget the announcement of Facebook at Work, the version of Facebook specifically built for enterprise collaboration? 

Stross makes a funny albeit relevant connection: Is this Clippy all over again? And furthermore, can both companies build a sense of community within the otherwise secluded confines of writing and editing products like Word or PowerPoint? 

Community, part ways with the LinkedIn platform 

I’m firm on the idea that there are stronger community platforms out there, and LinkedIn has been deviating from the community path for a while. If I had to boil it down, here’s what community needs if it’s breaking ties from LinkedIn or simply staying away.

  • Dedicated community platform. Whether you want a tricked-out system with great features or a simple forum for regular discussions, here’s the bottom line: you and your community members should own the data, the SEO, the traffic and the content.
  • Integrations with databases and vendors. It’s great help to have your community connect to other databases – community managers and admins can more easily track activities and cater the experience to members’ actions and needs.
  • Clean user experience. A public platform will be riddled with advertising and promotions that aren’t targeted to what your members are looking for on the community. A dedicated platform and a better user experience can go hand-in-hand if you have the right features.
  • Focus on members, not marketing. LinkedIn has been shifting towards a B2B marketing and sales platform for a while (remember when it bought Bizo in early 2015?). A true community will focus on helping members, not upselling.

This acquisition may be just what LinkedIn and Microsoft need to improve the professional networking and productivity experience. But it’s not what your community needs. 

Dave Sabol is director of marketing technology at Higher Logic, where he oversees CRM, marketing automation, inbound, SEO/SEM, analytics and managing the company’s web assets. Dave has 15 years of technology and marketing operations experience, including user experience design, information architecture and social media marketing. Prior to joining Higher Logic, he spent over three years as the director of marketing technology for an award winning marketing and PR agency.












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