When Microsoft first announced that it was acquiring LinkedIn for $26.2 billion back in June, there were a heap of questions around how the new partnership would work - what might Microsoft do with LinkedIn to justify such a high price tag? Will Microsoft cut off access to LinkedIn data for other CRM providers? How will this change the platform moving forward?
And while both Microsoft and LinkedIn have assured users that they'll remain separate entities, we are starting to get hints of how the two will work together, and what that will mean for future development.
The latest details come from a new LinkedIn presentation on what's coming next for the platform in 2017. And while they don't get into the details, there are some pointers as to what to expect - here's a video of Russell Glass, LinkedIn's VP of Products for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, talking about future projects and where Microsoft might fit.
As Glass notes in the video, the support of Microsoft has enabled LinkedIn to ramp up their marketing offerings, with LinkedIn Marketing Solutions set to launch more new tools and options in the first half of 2017 than they did for the entirety of 2016.
Glass says that LinkedIn's Marketing Solutions team is focused on three key areas:
LinkedIn's looking at new ways to enable marketers to bring their own data to the platform and combine that with LinkedIn's data sets for more effective targeting.
The options here would include uploading email and account lists, connecting LinkedIn to your existing CRM and marketing automation platforms, and pixel re-targeting - which has proven to be an effective option on other networks (most notably Facebook).
Currently, LinkedIn's ad targeting options are restricted to the platform's own information - which is extensive, but doesn't offer the same level of customization available with the advanced options.
LinkedIn did announce a new Account Targeting feature in March last year, but that only enables targeting by company (and job specification), not specific audiences.
Also interesting to note on the data front, LinkedIn's just launched a new monthly Workforce Report which will highlight key employment trends, based on LinkedIn insights.
2. Reporting and Analytics
According to Glass, LinkedIn has "a ton of analytics and reporting" options that they're looking to roll out in 2017, including website audience analytics and conversion tracking (LinkedIn began the roll out of conversion tracking back in September).
This is a smart move for LinkedIn, and an area that will be an increasing focus for all platforms, highlighting specifically how each brand's social media marketing efforts are contributing to the bottom line.
3. Return on Investment
Glass also notes that they're working on products that will help businesses more easily convert LinkedIn users into buyers.
One of the products they're looking to launch on this front is lead generation forms, which will enable users to submit their LinkedIn profile information to a company while on LinkedIn, without having to manually enter those details on a separate landing page.
In terms of Microsoft's integration, Glass says they see more opportunity in better utilizing their data on the back of Microsoft's framework in order to improve their ad targeting, along with improved distribution potential through the promotion of LinkedIn ad content within Microsoft's eco-system.
This was one of the most obvious ways many predicted they'd see Microsoft and LinkedIn working together, and with Microsoft already being one of the biggest players in the CRM space, that opportunity is significant.
And there is also the chance, as SalesForce has highlighted, that Microsoft could hurt their competitors in this market by limiting their access to LinkedIn data, though there's been no movement on this front as yet.
In addition, Glass also notes that they're considering how they might be able to integrate Microsoft's Cortana bot platform with LinkedIn data.
We've already seen hints of LinkedIn's bot strategy with the coming launch of their @inbot personal organizer which can help you schedule meetings through LinkedIn messaging.
Given that the use of messaging on LinkedIn has increased 240% in the last year, it makes sense for them to look at more options on this front, and to have a stake in the machine learning/bot integration which looks set to become a more prominent social media trend.
Microsoft's resources will also give LinkedIn more capacity to improve their algorithms to refine the user experience.
Really, Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn was all about data, and in that sense, it likely means we won't see LinkedIn change much, at least from a user perspective. The platform's still growing at a good rate (now up to 467 million members) and it increasingly serves an important role in the modern business landscape.
What we're most likely to see is an improvement in LinkedIn's offerings as the platform seeks to find more ways to keep you logged in for longer - and sharing more of your data. To do that, they'll need to learn more about your individual preferences, then create tools that better cater to them.
As such, the result of Microsoft's takeover will likely be a more compelling LinkedIn experience, and more data for marketers to use for ad targeting. This may become a problem for Microsoft's competitors in the CRM market, but for LinkedIn users, the results could make the platform much more useful.