Will LinkedIn's Publishing Platform Fix Its Biggest Problem?

LinkedIn is quietly rolling out its publishing platform. Will it improve user engagement, and change the media industry in the process?

Jul 1, 2014 at 1:27PM

Ben Scholzen, Flickr.

LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) is rolling out a publishing platform that, when complete, will allow each of its 300 million members to create and share content. While first-timers likely won't reach the status of "Influencers" like Richard Branson or the Fool's Tom Gardner overnight, the service offers valuable reach.
In between jobs and looking to impress potential employers? Want to improve your reputation as an industry expert? Or would you simply like to know exactly who's reading your articles? LinkedIn believes it can help. But beyond the obvious advantages for users, the publishing service has the potential to fix one of LinkedIn's biggest problems: a lack of "stickiness."
The problem
A buzzword of sorts, stickiness is really a synonym for user engagement. LinkedIn generally has far less impressive engagement statistics than competitors like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). Alexa, one source of industry data, reports the average LinkedIn user spends a little over seven minutes on the site each day. That's about one-fourth as impressive as Facebook, and nearly two minutes less than Twitter's average. Statista estimates the gap may be even bigger.
LinkedIn has acknowledged this problem in the past, most notably with its acquisition of newsreader Pulse last year. And because the social network's main function is job hunting (officially called Talent Solutions), it's understandable why many employed users don't spend hours on the site. According to LinkedIn's latest quarterly earnings, Talent Solutions accounts for 58% of all revenues, while Marketing Solutions (ads) make up just 22% of the company's top line.
The grand vision
Given that LinkedIn allows brands to create content, its publishing service could very well reel in more ad dollars. But the grand vision is broader than that. 
LinkedIn's Head of Content Products, Ryan Roslansky, explained the strategy in a blog post earlier this year. "We believe in giving our members access to the business knowledge they need to be great at what they do," he wrote. Roslansky, and LinkedIn, believe the "time you spend on LinkedIn will make you better at your job today." It already offers a personalized newsfeed, and assuming it filters out inaccurate submissions, an expanded publishing platform could keep users online longer.
Roslansky alludes to this vision:

The valuable Influencer posts and the wide range of professional content from millions of publishers that we currently aggregate on LinkedIn are powerful, but only the tip of the iceberg. Combined, our members have extremely valuable and varied experiences; however, their knowledge and expertise has not yet been captured and shared.

'Rise of the platishers'
LinkedIn isn't the only tech platform with its eye on the publishing industry, though. On Re/code earlier this year, Sulia CEO Jonathan Glick termed the movement the "rise of the platishers." In addition to LinkedIn, sites including Medium, Gawker, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, and Digg are examples of hybrid platform-publishers. One can argue that even Forbes, which allows brands to sponsor content, also fits in this category.
While there are plenty of kinks to work out -- Glick says potential issues include maintaining objectivity and finding a balance between different kinds of contributors -- the concept has a bright future. In the Internet age, more so than before, written content is no longer a one-sided conversation -- it's the start of a dialogue between an author and his or her readers. Look no further than a popular article on Fool.com to see this dynamic in action. Platishers simply standardize the process by giving users the same tools its journalists have access to.
The bottom line
Of course, it's possible some platishers will fail. If a platform publishes too many low-quality, user-generated pieces, readers will turn to another, more reliable source of news. There's also a risk some platishers will rely too heavily on sponsored content -- another turn-off.
In the face of these challenges, LinkedIn's collection of professionals is its biggest advantage. Hopefully, an audience made up of employers and industry peers will incentivize publishers to write within their expertise, and not outside of it. If LinkedIn succeeds, the web may look very different in the future. At the very least, it could boost user engagement.

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Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and LinkedIn. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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