With millions of highly skilled employees on LinkedIn, the professional networking site is an essential tool for corporate and agency recruiters alike. The ‘serious network’ has been the dominant player since it first launched in 2003 and no new platforms have seriously challenged its market position.
The world’s largest professional social network has over 467 million users worldwide, including 133 million in the United States. For individuals, it’s a place to network, for recruiters it’s a platform to post jobs and source talent. LinkedIn today remains the ultimate tool for anyone looking to make professional connections or find employment.
Cornering the market
LinkedIn hasn’t become the “Facebook for business” by accident. The network was first launched by founder Reid Hoffman on May 5, 2003. Within one month it had 4,500 users. Today, they have 467 million users and no serious English language challengers.
LinkedIn was successful early on at driving high quality professionals to their site. Hoffman deliberately seeded the product with power users, as he knew that creating an aspirational brand was key to going mainstream. The network would have failed if there hadn’t been a major adoption of influencers in 2003.
LinkedIn also crucially deployed an Outlook style contact uploader to allow it to go viral. By doing so they managed to increase their user base far quicker than any competitor. Even today, no other brand has invested in this area despite the distribution benefits you get from Outlook compared to webmail.
During its formative years, LinkedIn deferred any content related revenue or engagement strategy until its growth path was established. Despite substantially increasing its B2C content output since then, most employees consider LinkedIn a low maintenance network. It doesn’t require constant engagement or day-to-day management.
Most LinkedIn’s users have no tangible need to register anywhere else. The account creation process is lengthy and once completed, the average LinkedIn user has little incentive to job hunt on smaller platforms. As LinkedIn grows, more people use the exact same platform, and using any other professional networking website becomes less attractive.
Where’s the competition?
From being the first major online CV directory to becoming a content powerhouse for recruitment, B2B sales, marketing, and lead generation. LinkedIn is now established in more than 200 countries, receives 100 million unique visitors a month and currently up to 60% of US companies use it to hire staff.
That’s a phenomenal market share by anyone’s standards. Indeed, there doesn’t appear to be any successful English speaking business networks other than LinkedIn.
LinkedIn could face serious competition from Workplace by Facebook (previously Facebook at Work), which launched in October 2016, and millennial focused entrants such as Jobr and Debut. While European companies such as Xing (Germany) and Viadeo (France), are too small to rival their 467 million user base, Workplace by Facebook has the brand power to challenge LinkedIn.
“Workplace by Facebook lets you create a work account that is separate from your personal Facebook account,” says Facebook. “With a Workplace account, you can use Facebook tools to interact with co-workers. Things you share using your work account will only be visible to other people at your company.”
Facebook has the global popularity to attract millions of professionals, despite being banned at several workplaces. The professional version is separate from the social network, and if successful, it might be easier for them to challenge LinkedIn, than some of their European competitors.
However, it doesn’t appear to be a traditional market challenge as Facebook is targeting team building within an organisation, while LinkedIn remains a medium for users, recruiters and organisations/industries. Facebook at Work is more likely to disrupt team building apps such as Slack and Yammer than LinkedIn’s global network.
Is LinkedIn unstoppable?
Microsoft successfully closed its $26 billion deal for LinkedIn in December 2016, making it the largest acquisition in the tech company’s history. Bolstering their respective markets, LinkedIn will be looking to accelerate their growth by integrating Microsoft’s premiere features (Microsoft Outlook and Office 365).
Having cornered the business market early doors, LinkedIn began as a frontier product and only fragmentation and niche competitors can threaten their long-term position as the world’s leading business-network site.
Will it last forever? Unlikely, but for the foreseeable future it remains an essential tool for recruiters and employees. Like all successful empires, LinkedIn’s biggest competition is probably themselves.