I’d argue that there were three principal considerations that led up to the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal:
1. Rosy outlook
If you remember, years ago, there was a lot of chatter about the ability to integrate Microsoft Office and LinkedIn. So if you look back for example to 2010 and the emergence of the Microsoft Social Connector, we see tongues beginning to wag. Imagine a product, it was foretold, that could integrate the email might of Outlook with the networking database of LinkedIn. What a connective utopia that would be!
But somewhere along the line it seems that LinkedIn got wind of its own worth. BIG data became the talk of the town, products like Salesforce began to show their value and crucially as social media grew, LinkedIn found itself in prime position to bridge the gap between the corporate and social networking worlds.
2. The latter years
But with such promise comes responsibility and from those dizzying heights LinkedIn has more recently floundered under the strain of its own ambition. I myself have taken to the airwaves on numerous occasions for example to discuss the validity of a channel geared up towards corporate networking in an increasingly non-corporate world. And as the reality of the stock market has dawned on LinkedIn and the giddiness created by its one-time status as social media darling began to dissipate, it’s possible that the big red light bulb did go off in the company’s Mount View Headquarters to signify: “It’s time to cash in”.
3. Social mobility
So you couple that timeline with what must by now be a sheer desperation on the part of Microsoft to establish itself socially in a Facebook, Google (who will probably buy Twitter) and Apple dominated world and you find a weekend trip to Rome and a late night stroll over to the piazza fountain: proposal time. Here you have a corporate entity desperately looking to enhance its social credentials, and a one-time poster-boy of the social world built almost exclusively around corporate networking. Deal done. And in many ways this is the correct move for Microsoft to make at this time. They do need a foothold in social, and corporate side is probably the most relevant they are going to get it.
Will it work?
Of course the question that everybody is now asking – analysts and consumers alike – is will it work? And the answer, in reality, is that it doesn’t need to. Yes, we may see an enhanced version of outlook shipped out by Microsoft over the coming months and years. Yes, LinkedIn may be allowed to keep its corporate identity and benefit from the huge financial and network backing of its new owner. But the bigger trend runs much deeper. What we are seeing here is a sort of death for LinkedIn, and the particular brand of ‘social’ networking that was only really ever an evolutionary step between our old offline and our new online cultures anyway. ‘Corporate networking’ is, by its very nature, anti-social, because it is contrite and artificial and business driven. LinkedIn should serve Microsoft very well in its new role, but as far as the social networking landscape goes I would not mourn the loss, because it was never really a social network in the first place.
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