For years, Twitter and Facebook have had a monopoly on celebrities and big-name influencers, who would use the social networks to engage with fans. But soon, you may be choosing a different platform to keep up with the world's luminaries.
Today, LinkedIn, the professionals' social network, launched a new publishing platform designed to connect experts and thought leaders in business with a broader audience. Whereas before, users could only "connect" to other LinkedIn members, as of today they can start to "follow" influencers across a variety of industries, who can use the service to author long-form content and leverage their brands and insights to generate a larger audience. The new tool essentially acts as an extension of LinkedIn Today, the social news product the company launched in 2011, and demonstrates LinkedIn's commitment to broadening the network's traditional scope and using editorial to boost platform engagement.
Unlike Twitter, which emphasizes short-form content, and Facebook, which lacks curation, LinkedIn's publishing service will place value on higher-quality content from a select number of influencers, according to Daniel Roth, executive editor at LinkedIn. His editorial team, which includes veterans of AP, Reuters, and Forbes, has amassed an all-star roster of publishing partners, including Richard Branson, JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson, and chef Marcus Samuelsson. Posts available at launch will include an article by Arianna Huffington entitled, "How to sleep your way to the top—literally," as well as dueling posts on the economy from President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"The goal is to boost engagement on LinkedIn, but not in the typical way," says Roth, who points to posts from Branson and Deepak Chopra as being major draws for the service.
While LinkedIn Today has become a significant driver of readers to external news websites, today's announcement signals an attempt by the company to retain some of its typically outbound traffic. The posts published on LinkedIn, for example, will start to show up in LinkedIn Today, thus competing with media outlets for reader attention. But Roth clarifies the company is "not biasing one over the other."
"We're still going to be a 'Linked-Out' culture," Roth says. "If that means clicking and going to a Fast Company article, that's great. If it means coming and staying to read a post by Richard Branson, that's perfect too."
The trick now will be to make sure the content remains curated and of high quality. Roth's editorial team has been working with the big-name writers to ensure it doesn't become a platform for PR-approved boilerplate. "We've been talking to them a lot about what works and what doesn't work—we're here to give suggestions and push-back," Roth says. He cites one instance where an influencer involved wrote a vague draft that didn't seem to have the editorial muster Roth was hoping for. "We wrote back, 'What you wrote was just a press release,'" he recalls, and worked with the influencer to improve the post.
On the whole, however, Roth adds, "I've been surprised by how many executives I talk to who insist on writing their own material. I was really prepared to suggest how to work with a ghost writer."
To address any concerns about scaling, LinkedIn has decided to roll out the platform to only 150 influencers at launch, though it will be adding more in the coming future. It's also accepting applications from LinkedIn members who can prove that they can consistently provide quality content.
Asked how LinkedIn's editorial ambitions will help the company come its next earnings call, Roth is quick to crack, "Well, first off, I'm incredibly cheap."
But, he clarifies, "Anything that LinkedIn does to bring people back is a good thing from a financial point of view. If you have people who are engaging more and more on LinkedIn, we think that's good for our users, the business world, and LinkedIn's bottom line."
[Image: Flickr user Ralph Hockens]