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How LinkedIn wants to be cooler than Facebook

How the unglamorous social network is quietly evolving into a content provider. LinkedIn is reportedly in talks to buy the news reading app Pulse.

When you think of flashy, buzzy social media sites, LinkedIn may not spring to mind. It’s a forum for professional networking. But LinkedIn’s stock has nearly doubled since it went public two years ago. And the company is on the move. It’s reportedly in talks to buy Pulse, a news aggregator that 20 million people use to read stories on mobile devices. 

While Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr and other social media sites seem totally different from each other, in the end, they’re after the same thing. So says Chrysanthos Dellarocas, chair of information systems at Boston University’s School of Management. “The ultimate goal of every site is to have more users spend as much time as possible on their properties,” he says.

One way to get users to stick around, Dellarocas says, is to provide more content. Buying Pulse would let LinkedIn users create their own newsfeeds.

“The premise is probably that the more things you can go to LinkedIn to get, the more utility the site will have,” notes Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor of strategy at Columbia Business School. She says it all comes down to getting more eyeballs for advertising dollars.

LinkedIn says it has over 200 million sets of eyes. But according to comScore, they’re not looking long enough. Over 80 percent of our social networking time is spent on Facebook. We use LinkedIn just over one percent of the time.

The most active user in my LinkedIn network -- my mom, who is a public relations consultant -- has over 500 connections, but she says news won’t enhance LinkedIn. That it’s a fluffy feature like LinkedIn’s endorsements, which are similar to a professional version of a Facebook “Like.”

“If you’re active on LinkedIn, you’re noticed. And if you’re noticed, people are just endorsing you all over the place,” she says.

Even if they don’t know you, and what is the point of that? LinkedIn says its endorsements are meant to be a lightweight way for users to recognize their colleague’s skills. It wouldn’t comment on Pulse.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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