LinkedIn becomes a community, finally

linkedinLinkedIn, boasting 28 million registered users in close to 150 industries, is at last doing things to incorporate community and the exchange of information within its network.

Since its launch in 2003, the professional networking site has served more as an online destination to store business contacts than a community offering value to our working lives. With the highly anticipated introduction of new social features, such as branded groups and custom applications, LinkedIn is trying to change this. At the same time, the company is offering brands a chance to engage with desirable business professionals in unique ways.

LinkedIn groups evolving
Groups aren’t new to LinkedIn. For the last year, members have been to able to create and join user groups. But the capabilities were very limited. There was virtually no interaction within a group. Joining a group was essentially adding a badge to your profile. The good news is that discussion features have been integrated so that groups actually resemble what you’d imagine a group to be. According to LinkedIn’s blog, adding group discussions is just their first step in a series of upgrades to the Groups functionality.

The opportunities for brands within groups include creating a company group or sponsoring a user group. While all the features of a company group have not been released, admins will be able to monitor the group and approve or deny members. Company groups will provide links and downloads to content including white papers and POVs. Kontera text ads will be used, but it isn’t clear how beneficial contextual advertising will be, as LinkedIn contends that they are not a content driven site. Sponsoring a user group allows advertisers to purchase 100% share of voice through various verticals or “federations.” The opportunity to serve media within user groups will be available within a few months.

New applications opportunities for brands
Unlike Facebook, where anyone can create and launch an application, LinkedIn custom applications require a review and approval process. An official list of qualifications does not exist, but the application must offer value to members and must have a professional benefit for its use. Currently, we have not heard of any custom built applications designed for a specific advertiser (although a handful are in the discussion phase).

With their large professional audience, the potential of LinkedIn as a branding platform for marketers is massive. And with their recent partnership with ad network Collective Media, they have extended their reach. Marketers were already able to target groups such as IT professionals when on the site and now will be able to target groups outside of LinkedIn on relevant sites within Collective Media’s publisher network. But serving ads to members is one thing, and engaging members in a quality dialogue is another. It will be exciting to see how interactive groups and business-focused applications will improve the way we do business. Hopefully, these new features will help marketers connect with LinkedIn’s professional audience.