Microsoft recently (June 13, 2016) announced it would be acquiring LinkedIn, the popular professional social network.
New MetaFacts research confirms that LinkedIn’s active members are indeed an attractive demographic, and yet there are headwinds ahead for Microsoft. Our recent Technology User Profile survey of over 10,000 respondents span the US, UK, France, Brazil, and China.
An attractive demographic
Active LinkedIn members stand head and shoulders above the average connected adult professional. In the US, they are 1.4 more likely than average to be employed full-time, and 1.6 times more likely than average to be a college graduate. They are also unique in their employment role, being 1.5 times as likely to be working in Marketing/Communications or in IT/IS, 1.4 times as likely to be a Specialist (e.g., design, engineering), 1.3 times a likely to be a contractor or IT Consultant, and 1.2 as likely to be an Executive or in an HR-related role. A similar pattern holds for the UK, France, Brazil, and China.
Microsoft’s ready access to this important population spells many opportunities for Microsoft, if managed well. With a service relying heavily on user-provided content, and with its members showing a high degree of sophistication, education, and strength, member trust and satisfaction will be especially vital to LinkedIn’s future.
Active Ad Blockers
To the extent Microsoft’s strategy involves increased advertising to LinkedIn members, it faces an existing and growing challenge. LinkedIn members are some of the world’s most advertising-averse. Forty-three percent of active US LinkedIn members use an Ad Blocker on at least one of their connected devices – PCs, Tablets, Smartphones – and in many cases have Ad Blockers on all of them. That is 1.3 times higher than the rate among the average connected adult. This is similar around the world – ranging from 1.1 to 1.5 times higher than average among active LinkedIn members in the UK, France, Brazil, and China.
Microsoft will need to continue to maintain the trust that active LinkedIn members have come to rely on. It’s possible they will whitelist ads on LinkedIn. It’s not as if LinkedIn has been specifically targeted by its members, it’s simply that its members are well above average in the practice of blocking ads across their devices. Adblocking has already been a significant challenge for media giants from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal as technology users increasingly take control over their experiences.
If part of Microsoft’s strategy is to encourage LinkedIn’s active members into (or back into) the Windows ecosystem, then it has a trend to reverse. LinkedIn’s active members are well-endeared and engaged with Apple’s devices and ecosystem. In the US, they are 1.8 times as likely as the average connected adult to be using four Apple OS devices, 1.5 times as likely to be using three, and 1.3 times as likely to be using two. Furthermore, LinkedIn’s members are 1.6 times as likely to be using an Apple mobile PC, 1.4 times as likely to be using an iPad, and 1.3 times as likely to be using an iPhone. This similar pattern holds true in the UK, France, Brazil, and China.
The Microsoft Graph
There’s another climb ahead for Microsoft – LinkedIn’s active members are already well on board with many of Microsoft’s types of professionally-oriented offerings, whether from Microsoft or competitors. So, growth ahead will be incremental, and less about mass introduction into new ways of working. With respect to these key workforce activities, this acquisition might be seen as a defensive retrenchment to hold off further encroachment by the likes of Google. At present, LinkedIn’s active US members are 1.8 times as likely as the average connected adult to already be using one of their connected devices to participate in a web-based group meeting, collaborate on work files, or create work graphics/presentations.
Microsoft faces other risks. Imagine how a Google, Apple, or other leading-tech HR executive might consider Microsoft’s unprecedented access to their employees and projects. Any of Microsoft’s direct competitors are likely to have concerns about the depth and details Microsoft will have access to with the richness already in LinkedIn. Although Microsoft will undoubtedly take steps to reassure companies that their data is being held secure and not used directly for its own gain, trust will be a key concern for competitors. Some will likely step up their policies to prohibit or discourage user participation on LinkedIn.
The view ahead
At MetaFacts, where we directly measure active market demand, we contend that people matter first. If the members of LinkedIn feel their trust might be compromised, they may flee. Worldwide, there isn’t a single professional social network anywhere near the size or scope of LinkedIn. Rival xing has solid footing in German-speaking countries, while Viadeo is especially strong in France. Potentially, country-specific or language-specific competitors could grow, offering an independent haven for professional social networking. Instead of switching, members may trim their profiles, limit their participation, or simply cancel and close their profile.
Microsoft will need to reactivate the membership. In disclosures shared in the acquisition announcements, LinkedIn shared that of their reported 433 million members, 104 million were active within the prior month. This means less than one-fourth (24%) of its members are currently active. This low activity rate is the lowest of nine major US sites: Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, and Pinterest. Also, membership growth has increased faster than the share of members which are active, further highlighting the decline in member activity. Microsoft’s resources and support may help reverse those trends.
This TUPdate includes a complimentary brief summary from the Technology User Profile survey of adults throughout the US, UK, France, Brazil, and China. The results are based on a multi-country survey of over 10,000 representative respondents conducted by MetaFacts. Current TUP subscribers can obtain additional analysis and supporting datasets at a substantial discount. Technology companies who want to know more about their current or future customers can contact MetaFacts to learn how to subscribe to the rich resources of Technology User Profile.