The $26bn acquisition of Linked-In by Microsoft last week is a bit of a digital Rorschach test. To some folks I’ve talked to it’s a visionary master stroke that opens up all sorts of new possibilities in “social selling” and cements the role of email in an increasingly Slacky world. To others, for whom Linked-In is still something of a mystery, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. And then to some it’s a colossal waste of money. $26bn! For what? A web-site where people put their resume and scratch your back in the hope that you’ll scratch theirs! Man, the sell-side bankers did an outstanding job!!! $26bn for a company on the brink of implosion! http://nyti.ms/25Uawxk. Take a bow, Frank Quattrone.
Personally, I see in the ink-splatter all sorts of upside for Microsoft. Consider this;
Linked-In is the de-facto corporate directory for business nowadays; talking to someone on the phone you don’t know? You’re probably looking at their Linked-In profile as you chat. Even if it’s someone in your own company. Listening to someone talk at a conference? You’re probably checking them out on Linked-In (and Twitter) as they blabber on. Before you head back to SI.com.
- Linked-In is becoming the de-facto thought leadership platform; why have your own website or blog nowadays? Go where the fish are and put your stuff up on Linked-In. Hey, look! You’re reading this on Linked-In!!!
- Linked-in is the de-facto way of connecting with people you don’t know but would like to know; sure, you probably still meet folks at the golf club or the Rotary or the gym or the resort bar or the Opera but if you want to get connected with someone nowadays a direct call seems hopelessly crude and old-fashioned. And nobody answers their phone anyway if you call them.
- Not having a presence on Linked-In marks you out as an eccentric or a dinosaur. Even if you’re not in the market for a new gig, don’t want to buy anything, or don’t want to sell something. And if you’re not in any one of those three categories then what are you doing at work all day?
In short, Linked-In is close to becoming a utility in the 21st century digital economy. When you’ve got $100bn parked in banks around the world collecting 0.5% interest spending some of it (even a quarter of it) to buy your way into the next form of business infrastructure seems Bellicheckian (i.e. a good play). (BTW: if you still don’t care for the deal, tell me, what would you do with all that money???!!!)
And in reality the $26bn isn’t buying today’s Linked-In; it’s buying what Linked-In will become. Three years ago, I wrote this piece outlining how HR processes would look in a world of Code Halos. http://bit.ly/1Myr2VR. Far be it from me to tell you “I told you so”, but I told you so.
Fast forward to mid-2016 and this is how HR, and selling, and working with other people is beginning to change and shift into an always-on, mobile, social, intelligent network based experience. Fast forward to 2020 and this type of experience will be ubiquitous and unremarkable.
Of course for Microsoft the ability to migrate the best elements of Office (no sniggering at the back of the room please) into this, not particularly brave, new world gives the Office franchise a post desktop future and sends a shot across lots of bows; the aforementioned Slack, the new BFFs at Salesforce.com, and the folks down south with a Mountain View. Microsoft will integrate the tools we use to work with the utility we use to connect and collaborate, throw AI based analytics, recommendation engines and best next action platforms into the mix, stir in a little advertising, light the blue touch paper, stand back, and hope the resulting explosion produces commercial propulsion, not reputational disaster.
$26bn to have a shot at being relevant to people who’ve never ever heard of Clippy? http://theatln.tc/1GHTL90. Like.
Like also because it prompted me to go and play this again http://bit.ly/1Fye23P. Really Like.
In a world of weak ties, not club ties, Linked-In is increasingly how the world works. Expect your Microsoft rep to start talking about social graphs and digital assistants and just in time social learning before the quarter’s out.
$26bn? Ok, hardly chump change. But not a chump move.