Last month, news broke that Microsoft would be buying the social platform LinkedIn for the low, low price of $26.2 billion USD. The announcement has already made its rounds through the business press, with analysts parsing through the price and wondering about the effects on shareholders.
But as regular users of the only social network that's actually devoted to fostering business connections, should we be concerned? What does the deal mean for us?
Why Would Microsoft Pay So Much for LinkedIn?
Given that it started as a recruiting platform, LinkedIn gathers a lot of unique data that you won't find on other social platforms. Individuals eagerly post details of their career history, share their business connections and get endorsed for a number of different skills. For a corporation with so many business-facing products, it only makes sense to tap into those resources.
Additionally, there's most likely a defensive element. Troubles associated with Windows 10 and a handful of unsuccessful product launches have caused many in the technology industry to feel Microsoft has been falling behind for a while. Buying LinkedIn could give them a head start on catching up again.
What Will Change for LinkedIn Users?
In the short term, probably nothing. Microsoft's announcement said virtually nothing about their plans for the future, and it seems unlikely that they have any immediate goals for changing the platform in any noticeable way.
Looking further into the future, though, are a couple of evolutions that are easy to envision.
One is the possible integration of LinkedIn profiles with Microsoft accounts - already, MS-Office users are required to set up profiles so they can validate their software and take advantage of cloud storage features.
It's not hard to envision a scenario in which LinkedIn users have to sign in via Live. Here's hoping it's the other way around.
Such a move would mean more convenience for some LinkedIn users, but would probably annoy others. To give you a bit of perspective, my company KAYAK is a Mac-based creative and marketing shop, so we don't actually own any MS-Office products - intentionally. Having Microsoft (with it's terrible history of spam and viruses) in our system via LinkedIn isn't something we're excited to think about.
Another change that was hinted at in Microsoft's LinkedIn release was that the suggestion that they'll be looking to "monetize" the social platform more effectively. What exactly that might mean is anyone's guess at this point. Perhaps we'll see more ads, more aggressive recruiting, or additional options for paid messaging to people who aren't in your network.
I hope we won't see too many of these, as they go against the concept of real engagement and user friendliness. In the same way we don't log on to Facebook to view ads, we don't turn to LinkedIn because we want to dig through a stack of InMails which allow you to buy credits towards email non-contacts from would-be third-party recruiters and sales people, either. We already get enough of that.
The potential for more advertising, and more spammy tactics, should probably be our biggest immediate concern with LinkedIn. For now, though, it makes sense to reserve our judgment until we see what happens. Still, there is one more question to consider...
What's the Chance Will Microsoft Kill LinkedIn?
As harsh as it might sound, this has to be a real worry. When Microsoft bought Nokia, the plan was to have the established cell phone manufacturer build the Windows phone. The only problem? Very few people wanted the Windows phone, so the purchase essentially ended up destroying an important brand.
Because we don't really know why Microsoft is buying LinkedIn - very few details have been offered and we are stuck with speculation at this point - it's difficult to guess what they will do in the future.
LinkedIn is one of the most productive and underrated social platforms around today. It's the only major networking app that targets business people directly, and can bring you into contact with CEOs and other executives who don't have time for Facebook and Twitter.
It's still way too early to know what Microsoft will do with their new toy, but I for one am hoping they don't ruin a good thing.