Late last year, LinkedIn launched a new tool to help freelancers find jobs called 'ProFinder'. Built to capitalize on the growing demand for contract work - the number of freelancers on LinkedIn has grown by nearly 50% in the past five years - ProFinder enables employers to post freelance-specific work, separate from LinkedIn's normal job search functionality, and use the network's data-matching capabilities to locate the right person for what they need.
The project has clearly shown promise - LinkedIn has now announced that ProFinder will be expanded nationwide in the US, meaning all US members will soon be able to use the platform to find freelance work.
And according to LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, ProFinder could well be expanded internationally in the near future too.
To provide some perspective on ProFinder's growth and popularity, at launch, ProFinder was only focused on freelancers working in three sectors - accounting, graphic design and editorial. There are now more than 140 service categories available within the app, and the service is being used by more than 50,000 LinkedIn-approved freelancers. That's huge growth within less than a year, particularly when you consider ProFinder has only been made available to a small subset of users. And as noted, LinkedIn executives are already considering the app's future potential, with a view to making ProFinder a global platform capable of serving millions of customers - and posing a significant challenge to other job marketplace options like Upwork and Thumbtack.
And through the use of LinkedIn's unmatched professional database (now up to 450 million members), the professional social network will likely have a significant advantage on this front.
On this, LinkedIn has also released some new data insights on the growth of freelancers on their platform, both by geography and sector.
First off, there's the growth stats - LinkedIn says Florida and Texas have seen the biggest increases in the number of freelancers, with Colorado another top contender.
In overall terms, however, it's the east and west coasts that have the most freelancers listed.
In regards to the specific industries seeing the biggest freelancer growth, the "Healthcare & Pharmaceutical" sectors have seen more than 50% growth in freelance workers over the past five years, with "Retail & Consumer Products" second on the list.
The data here is based on LinkedIn profile listings, so it's not all-inclusive, but given LinkedIn has more than 130 million members in the US, it's no doubt largely indicative.
As noted, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is particularly interested in the growth and expansion of ProFinder.
Hoffman recently told Forbes that:
"[ProFinder] fits very well, both within the theory I've looked at for how one can build great new applications on top of networks, and within LinkedIn's mission - to economically empower every professional in the world"
Hoffman has also noted that he believes LinkedIn's acquisition by Microsoft will help boost ProFinder and enable them to scale the project to new heights.
If they can pull it off, LinkedIn could be well placed to capitalize on the freelancing trend, using their ever-advancing algorithms to link the right people to the right jobs. That's great for freelancers and the businesses looking to hire them, but it could also be significant for LinkedIn as a new source of revenue (users need to upgrade to a LinkedIn business account once they exceed ten ProFinder proposals per month) and a means to drive greater on-platform engagement and growth.