Facebook Tries to Monetize By Annoying; LinkedIn Adds to Value of its Site
In the span of 24 hours this week, the two most important (for now) publicly traded social networking companies in the world, Facebook ( FB ) and LinkedIn ( LNKD ), each made fairly minor strategic moves that did a magnificent job of highlighting the major differences not only in their corporate identities but why investors have thus far embraced one and abjectly shunned the other.
First, LinkedIn on Tuesday unveiled a new feature that will let its 175 million-plus users easily follow a panel of 150 or so "influencers" including the likes of President Obama, Richard Branson, a slew of other business leaders, entrepreneurs, bloggers and even LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner himself.
The idea is that because LinkedIn users generally skew older and more "professional" than the 950 million-plus Facebook devotees, giving them convenient access to these prominent thought leaders' will encourage longer and more frequent visits to the site which, in turn, will generate more advertising revenue and that elusive "stickiness" that all online operations crave.
LinkedIn is still working out the "Who" and "How" and "Why" of this evolving reservoir of deep thinkers but the overall idea would seem a logical fit for its audience of professionals who mainly use the site for job-seeking purposes or to inundate their networks with links to their various professional endeavors. Users can pick and choose which influencers they do and don't want to hear from. Bottom line: it's free and potentially adds to the value of the site for users.
And while LinkedIn has been trading for almost exactly one year longer than Facebook, it's still very, very early. That said, the stock's performance (on the stodgy, old NYSE) has been nothing less than spectacular as you can see here:
Meanwhile, Facebook on Wednesday countered (indirectly) with news of its own, announcing a new feature that will let U.S. members pay to promote their posts to friends in the same way that advertisers do now. Having a blowout Halloween party or garage sale or conniption fit that you want everyone in your network to know about? Pay the piper.
The company didn't detail the exact price it would charge users to bump up their posts in all their friends' news feeds but this potential new revenue stream has been in dress rehearsal in 20-some other countries and, apparently, is something that Facebook thinks its younger, more socially obsessed users would be willing to punch in their credit card numbers to leverage. It costs users money and, quite certainly, will be an annoyance to users who receive the "favored" posts. The move further cements the view here that Facebook is a great service, if sharing is your thing, but not such a great business. If you have to pay to get your ramblings noticed on Facebook, isn't that a little sad? Perhaps Aunt Sally has already hidden your posts.
As you can see from this chart, Facebook's post-IPO run has actually been worse than advertised when juxtaposed against the sharp performance of the "younger, hipper" NASDAQ as a whole:
Time will tell if either of these new initiatives will make much, if any, impact on the short- and long-term financial performances of both of these social networking giants. But at least they're trying.
On the surface, LinkedIn's new feature smacks of a snoozefest waiting to happen and probably not particularly engrossing to the majority of its users who are either too busy working or looking for work to nestle in for Richard Branson's musings on whatever. Likewise, Facebook's pay-to-display scheme probably will find some takers -- depending on the price -- among the child-photo-sharing and Spring-Break-updating crowd. But then again, chances are most of the people who would actually consider paying to barnstorm their "friends'" news feeds probably are long on time but short on the expendable cash required to sustain an extended self-promotion campaign.