$60 – that’s what you and I are worth to Microsoft as one of the 433 million members of the LinkedIn social networking platform – at least we are based on the $26 billion deal the two companies announced yesterday. And if you count yourself as an active member, then the good news is that you are probably worth more in the region of $250!
As ever the deal – the biggest acquisition that Microsoft has made in its 40 year history – raises plenty of questions. Does it mean that, yet again, an unprofitable online business (LinkedIn is running with annual losses of >$166m) has been valued for way more than is realistic? Does anybody except Microsoft really believe that LinkedIn should be worth more than, say, Rolls Royce ($24.8 billion), Delphi Automotive ($17.6 billion) or Agilent Technologies ($14.4 billion) – all companies that actually make a profit? Certainly not the markets – the premium offered by the software giant is 50% above last week’s stock market closing price.
Away from the financials, what will the move mean to the people who regularly use the platform as a business tool? And how will it impact the activities of companies for whom LinkedIn serves as an element of their integrated social media strategies?
One thing that the Microsoft deal does, of course, is reinforce the view of the network’s inherent ability to reach and engage with business users – thus the price of between $60 and $250 that has been placed on our heads. This reach, if managed correctly and supported with high-quality content, has been shown to enhance B2B marketing communications campaigns – whether executed via a company’s own LinkedIn channel or as a result of appropriate engagements with relevant groups.
For now Microsoft is effectively saying it will not interfere in the company, preserving its culture and its brand. But it’s going to want a return on its investment so it’s hard to see it accepting ongoing losses for very long – which could lead to significant changes for both users and the people trying to reach them. At the very least we should expect greater integration with Microsoft’s core office suite. Indeed, there is already talk of the ability to mine data to offer automated suggestions – for instance to provide information about the individuals you may have scheduled to meet through an Outlook calendar event.
Obviously time will tell whether this acquisition is a triumph and doesn’t go the way of less successful deals (the acquisition of Nokia, anyone?). In the meantime I’m going to sign in to LinkedIn to endorse Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella for valuation skills and the LinkedIn management for selling skills.