Why LinkedIn wants to make original journalism

LinkedIn is stepping up its original content efforts across international bases such as this one in London

Having reached the point where more than a million posts, videos and articles are being shared on its platform every day, LinkedIn is now moving beyond merely hosting others’ work and is attempting to forge a surprising reputation of its own for original journalism.

The Microsoft-owned company, which started life as a social network for professionals 15 years ago, has been metamorphosing into an increasingly sophisticated publishing platform and is today home to a 50-strong and growing team of professional journalists spread across five continents.

Alumni of distinguished publishers such as Reuters, The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, it is their job to sprinkle editorial credibility on top of the mountains of user-generated content – of varying degrees of quality – posted into LinkedIn news feeds every day by legions of ‘thought leaders’.

LinkedIn’s original content includes the Daily Rundown digest of business news sent direct to users each morning, video interviews with corporate heavyweights produced in studios in New York and Bangalore and a podcast examining people’s working lives dubbed Work in Progress. Most interesting, though, are the news stories the editorial team are beginning to mine from LinkedIn’s ‘Economic Graph’, its dataset of 560 million members, 50,000 skills, 20m companies, 15m open jobs and 60,000 schools.

“We’re doing more and more of our own journalism,” says director and senior managing editor Isabelle Roughol. “One of the sweet spots for our original reporting is illuminating trends in the economy thanks to the Economic Graph and the data we have at LinkedIn.” A recent report headlined ‘In some cities, it’s too expensive to be a nurse’ stands out as an example of what it can accomplish. Written by LinkedIn’s healthcare news editor, Jaimy Lee, the piece maps employment data to paint a vivid picture of how US cities like Denver and Seattle are facing a shortage of nurses because wages aren’t keeping up with spiralling living costs.

Previously foreign desk news editor at France’s venerable Le Figaro, Roughol joined LinkedIn seven years ago this month to build its editorial team outside the US, hiring regional news editors and specialists to cover sectors such as finance and tech. “Everyone here is a journalist,” she says. “We adhere to the same values and exercise the same judgement – always thinking, what does the reader need to know? [We hire] journalists who have that mix of strong news judgement and editorial background and training as well as that entrepreneurial sense that is needed in a tech company.

“For someone who’s come from newspapers, [here] there’s a lot more working from the beginning with product managers, with engineers on designing the products that are going to help distribute content and create conversations. You’re not just writing a story and letting it go; you’re really involved in creating conversation around it.”

LinkedIn’s appetite for journalism contrasts starkly with fellow social network Facebook reducing news in news feeds having decided that it is too much trouble to manage. Roughol says LinkedIn members demand it. “We don’t live in a world any more where people can update their CV every four or five years and think that’s going to keep them on top in their career. We’re all always continuously learning, continuously making connections with people and you do that through the content you share. That’s a big part of our professional lives and therefore a big part of what LinkedIn is.”

And while Facebook’s relationship with publishers has become increasingly strained, LinkedIn has been going out of its way to entice them onto its platform by offering them first dibs on new tools. When it launched its native video functionality last year, Business Insider, The Economist and The Financial Times were given access before anyone else. “Many of these publishers are seeing strong growth in referral traffic (an increase of 2-4x quarter on quarter on average) and follower count (average 120% year-on-year growth to Company Page followers) as a result of publishing on LinkedIn,” says Roughol, although analytics service Parsely suggests LinkedIn accounts for only 1% of all global referral traffic.

The upshot is vast amounts of content swirling around on LinkedIn, making users’ news feeds a melting pot of professional journalism, brand content and user-generated blogs. Given LinkedIn’s open publishing policy, doesn’t Roughol worry that amateur (and at times amateurish) content could detract from its desire to be taken seriously as a quality news source? “People put their professional identity on the line when they are publishing and sharing on LinkedIn,” she says. “They’re using their real name with their boss and their employees and their customers seeing what they’re doing. So I think that helps people self-police and think about what they’re sharing and what it says about them, and it helps us maintain a high-level conversation.”

It is partly the responsibility of LinkedIn’s editors to maintain that “high-level conversation” by making sure the better content on the platform is surfaced to users. But Roughol is coy about just how much of the material that appears in news feeds is curated by humans rather than machines. “We strongly believe that it’s the mix of algorithms and editors, of humans and machines, that will give you the best experience,” she says. The aim, she adds, is to strike the right balance between the “scalability and personalisation that algorithms allow as well as the quality control and the serendipity that editors can bring”.

Those of us who have been subjected to one too many “my morning routine” posts might posit that LinkedIn is still to get that balance quite right. But just like the old adage that you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep, the experience users receive on LinkedIn is to some degree shaped by their own business network. “You can always improve your feed by choosing the things you want to follow or not follow,” says Roughol.

LinkedIn’s monetisation strategy around content mirrors that of most other major publishing platforms. The company’s advertising repertoire includes sponsored content and programmatic display ads and it plays heavily on marketers’ ability to target a unique audience using the data it holds on job titles, functions and industries. Ultimately, the stickier its pages become, the more enticing these packages become, and that’s where Roughol and the editorial team come in.

A recent award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, for LinkedIn’s “impressive reporting effort to show a US labour market in the grip of rapid change”, was a sign of its growing editorial credibility. Roughol’s ambition now is for the platform to become something members “check every morning to be aware of what’s happening in their professional world”. The question is: do users want to endorse LinkedIn for original journalism?

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