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LinkedIn Now up to 433 Million Members, Posts Better than Expected Q1 Results

Back in February, when LinkedIn released its full-year 2015 numbers and 2016 forecast, the news was pretty bleak. Engagement was down, in terms of both active users and page views, and the company also revised their guidance for 2016, saying that their full-year earnings would be significantly lower than expected. Shares in the company tanked, dropping more than 40% and erasing around $10 billion in market cap from the stock. As I said, not a great day for LinkedIn.

But things have changed for the professional social network, with LinkedIn today releasing its Q1 ‘16 numbers. And those figures were far more upbeat than had been anticipated.

First off, on users and engagement – LinkedIn continued to see growth in total members, adding 29 million more to it's count, taking its total up to 433 million users.

That growth is the biggest jump the platform’s seen in members for six quarters, and the equal biggest increase over the past nine. But more important than that, LinkedIn’s other critical engagement metrics also went up, with both ‘Unique visiting members’ (monthly active users) and ‘Member page views’ seeing significant increases.

Those metrics are particularly relevant when compared to the previous quarter stats – at the time of LinkedIn’s last release, we noted that LinkedIn has seen steady growth in Member Page Views since 2012, with only one drop in that period (Q2 ’14), and that metric is a strong indicator of engagement on the site. And as we’ve seen with Twitter, lower engagement, and more importantly, growth, can eventually lead to weaker results in all areas, hence the market focus. The fact that those numbers are up will be a big relief for LinkedIn, and particularly that the increases on both fronts are so significant - member page views in particular increased more than they have in any previous quarter.

So what's driving those increases in engagement? In the accompanying press release, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner pointed to their new and improved mobile app as a key driver of that growth.

“Q1 marked the first full quarter for our new mobile flagship experience, and we are pleased with the performance thus far. Members are engaging at record levels with the more relevant and comprehensive feed. During the quarter, viral actions increased more than 80%, daily shares were up nearly 40%, and traffic to third-party publishers grew more than 150%. We also continue to see significant growth in other core engagement metrics, such as profile edits, connections made, and messages sent.”

Definitely, feedback around the new LinkedIn has been largely positive – and the numbers don’t lie. While Weiner didn’t specifically note how much of their total traffic is being driven to the platform via mobile, in their previous results announcement, Weiner put that number at 57%, which you can only expect has increased. The figures once again underline the growing importance of mobile and mobile experience – if the new LinkedIn app is, in fact, the core driver behind all the user growth and engagement, it’s another strong endorsement of the importance of a solid mobile presence.

In terms of revenue, LinkedIn posted an almost flat result for the quarter, dropping $1 million to $861 million.

Given the lower projections in their last announcement, analysts had been expecting a result of around $828 million, so while the result, on a progressive scale, is not amazing, it was well beyond what was anticipated. Shares in the company spiked as high as 14% following the results announcement.

In addition to the improved performance in user engagement, LinkedIn also saw increased activity with its recruitment and job search options, with Weiner noting that total unique visitors to job listings hit a record high, up more than 20% versus the same time last year, while job applicants from the mobile app were also up more than 50%. Weiner also noted that their revised Recruiter platform has also seen increased use, with the number of candidates viewed per search rising more than 40%, and InMails per search up more than 30%.

Recruitment is really where LinkedIn could see real growth and influence. As we’ve written about on SMT previously, LinkedIn is in a unique position, given its access to the largest database of career and educational records ever created. Using those insights, LinkedIn's right on the brink of being able to create a predictive engine that would be able to help people find the career best suited to their personality and interests. They’ve already started moving along this path, with LinkedIn University Finder and their newly released LinkedIn Students App both aimed at utilizing LinkedIn’s vast data stores to help connect people with more personally relevant reference points to help guide more informed career choices. But Facebook, too, appears to be looking at similar data – while Facebook would have nowhere near as much career and educational insight, some of their recent research experiments do suggest that The Social Network is looking at how it might be able to provide users with more information about job choices.

Still, this is where LinkedIn is likely to gain real traction, by improving their Recruiter platform and making it a more customizable and personalized information source that can help people advance their career in the right direction by using their 433 million profiles as guiding data points.

In regards to advertising, Weiner notes that their refined focus on Sponsored Content is already paying dividends, with sponsored posts growing nearly 80% in Q1 and now representing 56% of total Marketing Solutions revenue.

Weiner also talked up the platform’s efforts to improve their ad offerings through Lead Accelerator, conversion tracking and enhanced campaign analytics: 

“By the end of 2016, we anticipate a Sponsored Content customer will be able to expand targeting using their own data such as customer account lists, use conversion tracking to better measure their return on investment, and leverage improved tools including APIs to better manage their campaigns, all of which will ultimately drive even higher ROI.”

Overall it’s a positive result for LinkedIn, and one which has delivered much more than expected. With an improved mobile app boosting engagement, and additional work being done on recruitment, education and honinh in on the ad products that are delivering the best results, LinkedIn looks to be on track to stay in the market’s good books, and advance the platform accordingly.

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