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LinkedIn Aims To Turn New “Trending Storylines” Into A Daily Habit–And A Moneymaker

The better-informed LinkedIn keeps you about news, the more likely you’ll visit frequently, in ways the company can turn into profit.

What’s the first thing you read in the morning? Unless you’re looking for a new job, chances are that it isn’t LinkedIn. But the business-oriented social network hopes to grab your attention with Trending Storylines, a new curated experience that brings together the day’s headlines with commentary from LinkedIn users, providing an easy-to-digest look at what’s newsworthy in your network and beyond.

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Reminiscent of Twitter’s Moments feature, Trending Storylines let you get a quick view of developing stories and delve deeper into the ones that interest you. The idea is to make LinkedIn more of a daily destination for businesspeople. And if the company accomplishes that, it stands a good chance of being able to reap even more revenue from its sponsored-content business, which is already growing fast.

Beyond Networking

“Up until five or six years ago, if you used LinkedIn you were using it to make connections. You had your résumé, you knew who you were connected to, and you were on it to get better at what you did,” says LinkedIn editor-in-chief Dan Roth, a former editor at Fortune who joined the company in 2011. “And you got better at what you did by being connected to the right people and figuring out how they could help you reach new opportunities.”

Trending Stories, Roth says, is the newest expression of the company’s desire to go beyond its original mission of putting businesspeople in touch with each other: “If we could tell you what your colleagues were reading and talking about, and what people who you wanted to be your colleagues or your customers or your business partners were reading and talking about, that will help you get smarter.”

LinkedIn’s Trending Storylines announcement builds off the increasing popularity of its timeline. In 2016, the company saw a 40% year-over-year growth in the number of weekly engaged feed sessions from its users and a 30% increase in the number of mobile daily active users. People are sharing and publishing content on the platform at the highest rate ever, thanks to a 2015 overhaul of the newsfeed that made it a better vehicle for a wider variety of items.

Each storyline will start with a post from sites such as the Wall Street Journal (and, ahem, Fast Company), recapping a news event. Scroll down, and you get analysis from LinkedIn contributors and links to other news stories covering different aspects of the same topic. Hashtags make that content easier to find and share. New stories will be added 24/7, so if you check in with your morning coffee and during the afternoon commute home you’ll see different headlines.

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The idea is to provide members with “things that will help them become great at what they do,” says VP of Product Tomer Cohen. He says that part of the inspiration for the product came from users, who expressed a desire to feel like they were “in the know” by the time they arrived at the office in the morning.

“If I have five seconds I can get a headline. If I have 30 seconds I can get a quick description. If I have two minutes I can read the best story. but if I have five minutes I want to get multiple perspectives,” Cohen says. “We’re trying to cater to that attention span.”

Turning Eyeballs Into $$$

Trending Stories aren’t just about keeping LinkedIn members informed. Content is now a huge part of the company’s overall business strategy and its fastest-growing source of revenue. In Q3 of 2016, Sponsored Content–advertising messages in a LinkedIn-friendly format–was the company’s primary driver of growth, now approaching two-thirds of its total Marketing Solutions revenue. Overall, Marketing Solutions revenue increased that same quarter 26% year-over-year to $175 million.

“Over the last three years, as the company has refocused more on content in our newsfeed, it created this opportunity to focus on native advertising and help companies with sponsored content,” says David Thacker, LinkedIn’s VP of product. “Sponsored content is our flagship advertising product now, and it represents most of our advertising business today. It’s been really welcomed by our advertising customers for a variety of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is it’s very engaging to our members.”

While the new Trending Storylines are going to be useful for members, they have the long-term potential to be equally good news for advertisers. Users are often very engaged with the content that they see on LinkedIn, Thacker says, because they see their feed as a place to get informed about what’s going on in their professional world. When marketers create content to sponsor in that feed, they can see healthy engagement rates, sometimes well above what they’re able to get on other social networks.

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Thacker says that the company hasn’t yet decided whether to insert marketing messages into Trending Storylines. But he adds that the new feature is nevertheless helpful to the company’s advertising strategy as a whole.

“Even if we don’t put sponsored content in these Trending Storylines directly, as people engage with a storyline they’re going to spend more time in our feed. They’re going to hopefully start following different people and topics that interest them, and all that data becomes really useful to power our sponsored content targeting,” he says.

LinkedIn will also be able to share information about what’s trending with advertisers, who can then create content that will be more relevant to their audience–which, thanks to the service’s résumé-building feature, can pinpoint not only members’ locations but also their job titles. “Helping people on Linkedin explore and discover and explore all the topics that really matter to them is really valuable to our business,” says Thacker.

About the author

Emily is a journalist based in San Francisco.

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