Professional networking site, LinkedIn recently crossed 20 million member mark, in India. Nishant Rao, the country manager tells Katya B Naidu, why is India the next best market after the US, how they are fighting social media fatigue and why is their site has suddenly become more active
In the last six to eight months, we have been able to innovate new products. In the last three quarters, we were spending a lot of time internally on our systems and working to ensure our infrastructure was ready for more page views rendered on time. Now that we have the underpinnings in place, the focus is turning to a host of products for our members. That is why there is a sudden burst. We are also rallying as a company, moving away from the professional profile tracker to becoming a publishing platform for the professional. That’s why profiles are updated. Through these, members can share rich media presentations of who they are as professionals and make it a content hub for professionals. That is a big shift that has happened over the last year or so.
How successful have you been in shifting from the professional tracker space to content consumption?
The shift has been happening through a year and a half. It happened in the US two to three years ago, when people stopped updating only when they were looking for a job. Now, features such as the address book not only keep you in touch your colleagues, its contacts update your interactions as well.
LinkedIn is increasing content and activity amid a social networking fatigue. How would this affect your plans?
People are still figuring social media. I always say being social for the sake of it isn’t social. What LinkedIn is focused on is relevance. If I can cut through the clutter and give members stuff that is relevant and of interest, it makes them more productive. Linkedin knows more about you than any other site out there.
Is LinkedIn far away from fatigue? Would this keep you going for long?
We believe context matters. People tend to club all social media together. We try to stay true to our roots and add a lot of value to our members. We did a research on it and were told while individuals go to personal networks to spend time, they go to professional ones to invest time. They are looking for different stuff on each network. They look for entertainment on the personal and professional fronts. They also seek updates from brands. And, brands, too, are realising this.
LinkedIn is pushing its members with a lot more e-mails. Why?
Right now, the push is one of different content pieces. If members are with certain groups as a part of a contact, they get daily updates on meetings. If news is relevant to members, it is pushed to them. So, there are various properties and, therefore, more e-mails. The other factor is as more and more people are connected and realise being connected in the global world is very important, one sees more invites, as they reach a critical mass.
WE send different e-mails, with summaries of different properties members engage with. We take our group digest seriously. If people are not necessarily engaging with our daily digest, we give a weekly one, if it is selected. We want to strike a balance in getting the insights members care about ensuring we are not overloading in the process.
How have page views increased after you launched new products?
Page view growth stands at about 56 per cent year-on-year. In India, I am seeing more people view more pages on their profile dashboard and check what is going on with people; there are more engagements. A million and a half publishers saw material increase in their traffic; we are referring them. These include Tech Crunch. Because we know who you are, we can match you to the content better.
Have you increased advertising as well?
Unlike some other networks, we have not increased our ads per page, consciously. We want it to have a simple look and feel. Our ad-to-edit ratio is still very healthy. Interest from advertisers increased, as they figured they have a healthy and a marquee audience---only professionals. It is not just about the affluent class, but about the affluent class that is aspirational. Advertisers are seeing material engagement from senior people participating in forums. Beyond display ads, we have a variety of marketing products, too.
What are your marketing products?
We have three buckets of products---targeted reach products, engagement products and spur-to-action products. Targeted reach products are display ads, with other ad formats called partner messages, through which a company can push a partner message for a particular target audience. We have rules to protect members---they can’t receive more than a certain number of partner messages to avoid spam. For engagement products, there are groups and followers. A company can have followers with targeted status updates, with a different bucket of followers. Also, in India, we have a member drive to refer certain products to others. For example, if Volkswagen has a recommendation you enjoyed, please recommend and go on record with the interest. It is our spur-to-action product, as you are acting and getting a user to do something.
How are you paid? Are premium accounts growing? How are these faring in India?
We don’t give a break-up of our numbers at the country level. Premium subscriptions saw healthy growth of 70 per cent year-on-year. We don’t measure success on premium subscribers, as our mission is to connect professionals. We don’t follow a fremium model. We want the free experience to be solid. We have a sales navigator product for which both the buyer and seller want the call. We have a product called Team Link. If I am looking for a person, I can contact someone in my network who knows the person. Maybe, there would be a pop-up; I’ll go through the details and ask for an introduction. It could be the person you are looking for isn’t interested.
What is the relevance of LinkedIn in India?
India is extremely important, not just for members, but also strategically. We have 20 million members here, which is great. Also, India accounts for a sixth of the world’s professional base. A sizeable chunk of these professionals go through India. It is the next-fastest growing market after the US. India is also strategic, as it is the only country outside the US where we have invested more than sales and marketing. We have research & development and customer support operations here.