At Flow we make a point of regularly sharing knowledge with our peers from within our particular area of expertise by means of Flow School presentations. Here, Angela Blake shares an overview of LinkedIn and how it has evolved from its early status as a recruitment tool:

LinkedIn has seen substantial growth over the past few years. A key indicator hinting at this success was Microsoft’s $26.2-billion purchase of LinkedIn in 2017. In 2018, LinkedIn has reached over 550-million members (compared with 414-million members in February 2016).

LinkedIn was born of humble beginnings in 2002 by way of a meeting in Reid Hoffman’s (founder and chairman of LinkedIn) apartment to brainstorm ideas for a professional networking platform that wouldn’t resemble a dating site, but would act as a recruitment platform. However, as the internet has shown us through its exponential morphing as a digital custodian of matrix connectivity and portals, nothing that resides within its space can stay the same for long.

Now, at the sweet age of 16 (and older than Facebook and Twitter), LinkedIn’s global presence spans “more than 200 countries and territories”. Facebook might currently be looking at introducing a job-application feature to its portfolio, but this was a slam-dunk feature of LinkedIn’s from the get-go, in that it started out as a recruitment platform.

This silent giant has evolved radically since its early days. Let’s take a look at how:

1. Initially, LinkedIn’s modus operandi was to allow professionals to create their own unique identity, which they could then use to network with other professionals
2. The next and most crucial aspect of LinkedIn’s model was the idea of sharing knowledge. It is this component that has separated it from other social media platforms over the past decade or so. LinkedIn’s focus on and investment in this model led to its developing the following products and features: Slideshare (similar to MS PowerPoint); the ability to create open or closed groups for more focused online discussions between professionals; Pulse (an online news aggregation feed within LinkedIn, designed for members to share self-published content with their audience); and the Influencers program. In my opinion, it was the inception of Pulse and Influencers that allowed LinkedIn to evolve to where it is now in 2018 – the silent giant of social media.
3. By allowing members to self-publish articles/blogs, LinkedIn immediately moved away from merely being a networking and recruitment platform, and instead positioned itself as “the definitive professional publishing platform”.
4. The precursor to the Influencers’ program was LinkedIn Today, which was launched in 2011 as a social news platform that collected news and articles shared by its members. Members could customise their experience by selecting which of the shared articles they wanted to see more of. However, this was still limiting in terms of being able to publish and share original content as a “thought leader” (or expert in one’s field)
5. Thus, in 2012, the by-invitation-only Influencer program was launched, and with that a direct link was created between members and prominent profiles – people such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson. These high-profile professionals no longer needed to wait to be interviewed by media in order to share their thoughts with fellow professional supporters/admirers; they could now publish and share their thoughts directly in real time.

The notion of thought leadership is an old one. In the world of public relations and news publications, it is often referred to as opinion pieces. In a recent online Forbes article, thought leadership is described as still holding relevance because “directly engaging your audience with valuable insight is still a top way to reach and connect with customers, partners and other industry influencers”. LinkedIn has recently identified three types of thought leadership, which it explains in a recent ebook it has published: industry, product and organisational.

In a world where we are flooded with information every second of the day, we now know we need to be discerning about digesting and engaging with it, as much of it is often irrelevant. Thought leadership provides the opportunity to rise above this “noise” by making available relevant, insightful and thoughtful content that adds value. The LinkedIn Influencer program allows members to be more informed professionals and provides the opportunity to spark thoughtful conversations.

In an age where the internet has been criticised for decreasing people’s critical thinking skills because of information being too readily available and often factually incorrect, LinkedIn stands apart from other social media and news-sharing platforms by encouraging deep thinking and meaningful, intellectual engagement.

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