LinkedIn, the “social network for professionals”, is easy to mock, especially as it regularly sends out creepy notifications of the “[A colleague from long ago] has added you to her profesional network” or “12 new people have viewed your profile” variety. This habit has even spawned its own meme, in which random New Yorker cartoons are simply re-captioned: “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn“.
But LinkedIn is also the largest professional social network in the world, and today we learned that it will soon be bought by Microsoft for $26.2bn.
That’s a lot of money for a deal of this kind. Facebook bought WhatsApp, the hugely popular messaging app, for $22bn in 2014. Microsoft bought Skype, the video call applcation, for $8.5bn in 2011. This deal surpasses both.
So why is Microsoft so keen? The key may lie in its press release announcing the deal, in which Microsoft describes itself as the “world’s leading professional cloud”. Microsoft appears to be positioning itself as a one-stop shop for business – you can now host your entire server on its cloud network; and recent acquisitions have included Yammer, another professional social network, and Xamarin, a platform where developers can easily build apps.
At the moment, it is also lacking a successful social network on its roster. Yammer hasn’t taken off, and Microsoft shut the doors on its once-successful MSN Messenger chat platform in 2014. LinkedIn could be a chance to show that Microsoft can do social in the noughties.
It’s not clear how or if LinkedIn’s offering will change post-move, but co-founder Reid Hoffman said the sale will be a “re-founding moment” for the network.
Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s current CEO, will stay in position and will report directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Nadella’s statement on the acquisition shows that the platform will link to Microsoft’s other office-based systems:
“The LinkedIn team has grown a fantastic business centered on connecting the world’s professionals. Together we can accelerate the growth of LinkedIn, as well as Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics as we seek to empower every person and organization on the planet.”
Given that Apple and Google have all but cornered the consumer end of the market, this business-focused approach is a smart one for Microsoft: businesses large and small have money to spend on IT, and will be attracted by Microsoft’s reliable reputation and growing list of services. Connected offices may not be as sexy as the iPhone 7, but they could well find more of a market.