In 2011, I started working for myself after leaving my job of 13 years. I knew how important it would be to leverage my contacts. I also knew my network needed to grow--fast.
It wasn't long before I discovered LinkedIn. At the time, I had never heard of it. It appeared to be a mix between an online résumé and electronic Rolodex. I would spend hours daily on the site: learning the platform, perfecting my profile, building connections and strategizing. I devoured blog posts like "What Your Profile Picture Says About You" and "How to Get 200 Views a Day on LinkedIn." I read so many 'Influencer' articles I could tell you Richard Branson's favorite brand of toothpaste.
That was just three years ago, but since then the platform has changed dramatically. Just yesterday, the company announced its latest acquisition, online learning platform Lynda.com, for the hefty price of $1.5 billion (that's billion with a b). The goal? According to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner: "Together, we can bring opportunities and access to knowledge that everyone deserves."
No surprise there. LinkedIn is simply continuing its plan for world domination.
LinkedIn boasts more than 350 million members in over 200 countries and territories. It's become the primary tool of recruiters and headhunters, and its sales and marketing solutions are growing steadily. InMail, LinkedIn's private messaging system, is slowly replacing email as the cold call of choice.
And did I mention that this company has even spawned a new job category? ODesk, the popular freelance platform, currently boasts more than 13,000 'LinkedIn consultants.' Seriously.
Then there's the LinkedIn publishing platform. Beginning in 2012, the company invited a select number of "thought leaders" (LinkedIn's term) to publish articles as part of its Influencer program. With contributors who run the gamut (from President Obama to outspoken billionaire Mark Cuban), LinkedIn Influencer posts have been read by millions.
But the Influencer program was only the beginning. In 2014, LinkedIn began rolling out its blogging platform to remaining members. This allowed individuals to "further establish [their] professional identity by expressing [their] opinions and sharing [their] experiences." The result? Thousands of mini-influencers across the globe have published their professional opinions on a variety of subjects.
These developments are transforming the publishing industry as we know it. LinkedIn executive editor Daniel Roth has been labeled by many as "the most powerful business journalist on the internet." At one time, traditional stalwarts like The Wall Street Journal sent pitches to Roth and his team on a daily basis; however, some of these publishers now view LinkedIn as competition.
When I think about companies and their ability to influence the future of business, I can't help but draw comparisons between Amazon and LinkedIn. Although their products are very different, they both have lofty goals in trying to manipulate their respective markets. But whereas Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is often criticized for decisions that seem brash or distracted, Weiner has struck that incredibly difficult balance of building for the future yet keeping shareholders (relatively) happy.
So what does the future hold for LinkedIn?
At a technology conference held by Morgan Stanley last year, Weiner delivered a 20-minute presentation outlining LinkedIn's vision for the next 10 years. It was clearly ambitious, and accompanied by what Weiner called 'The Economic Graph.' That graph detailed LinkedIn's strategy, which involved creating the following:
- A digital profile for every member of the global work force (three billion people)
- A digital profile for every company in the world
- A digital representation for every job offered by each company
- A representation of every skill required to obtain those jobs
- A presence for every higher educational institution and learning development tool that will enable members to develop those skills
- A position in which LinkedIn can overlay all professionally relevant knowledge to the extent that individuals and groups would like to share
The ultimate goal, as stated by Weiner, is:
"We want to step back and allow capital, all forms of capital, intellectual capital, working capital, and human capital to flow, to where it can best be leveraged and in doing so, help lift and transform the global economy."
How feasible is that? Weiner concluded his presentation with the following words:
"All of the building blocks currently exist ...The only thing standing between us and the realization of this economic graph is scale. And that's going to require simply time."
Yes, time will tell if LinkedIn can bring these high-reaching aspirations to fruition.
But if the company continues at this rate, it's not so difficult to imagine.
2003: Founder Reid Hoffman launches LinkedIn, with help from former colleagues at PayPal and SocialNet. Growth is slow but promising.
2004: The Groups feature is introduced, eventually proving to be one of the company's most prominent features.
2006: The company achieves profitability. Core features like Recommendations and People You Know are introduced.
2008: LinkedIn opens its first international office in London and launches Spanish and French versions of the site.
2009: Jeff Weiner joins LinkedIn, first as president, then CEO. Members reach the 50,000,000 mark.
2010: The company shifts to hypergrowth. By the end of the year, membership nearly doubles, to 90 million. The company employs almost 1,000 workers in 10 offices around the world.
2011: LinkedIn becomes a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. They also host a town hall with President Obama.
2012: LinkedIn acquires professional content sharing platform SlideShare for $119 million. The Influencer program is introduced, publishing articles by 'thought leaders.'
2013: By its 10th anniversary, LinkedIn has reached 225 million members, and continues its growth rate of more than two members per second.
2014: Launch of simplified Chinese version of site, in an attempt to attract more members in the world's largest country. The company also begins the rollout of its long-form publishing platform to all members, with the goal of becoming 'the definitive professional publishing platform.'
2015: LinkedIn announces its largest acquisition to date, online learning platform Lynda.com, for $1.5 billion.