Professional networking website LinkedIn recently announced the launch of a 'follow company' button. Similar to liking a brand on Facebook or following it on Twitter, the new option allows users to follow a brand and in turn receive automatic updates from the brand in their LinkedIn feed.
Commenting on the launch of the feature, Deepa Sapatnekar, head, communications, LinkedIn India, says, "The 'follow company' button makes it easier for marketers to directly reach their target audience of professionals, amplify their messages as community members and spread them to others, and for brands to expand the number of professionals from their target audiences within their follower ecosystems."
Strengthening market presence
Many in the industry view this development as an attempt to make its presence felt more strongly in the social networking segment, which has for long been seen as a more serious social networking platform.
Ram Bhamidi, senior vice-president and head, online marketing, Shaadi.com, says, "LinkedIn is trying to increase the engagement level on its site by making it easier and more relevant for users to connect with brands. This should provide a better experience for the users, leading to higher levels of engagement. Marketers should be able to target users not just based on demographics but also based on their interests."
Altering brand communication strategy
The big question everyone seems to be asking is whether brands and companies will have to change their communication strategy to fully optimise this feature?
"Yes, it will have to," asserts Sudhir Nair, senior vice-president and head of digital, Grey Digital. Nair says, "One cannot have a unilateral strategy for social media and expect it to deliver across platforms. The strategy has to be a natural progression in terms of how social networking sites are evolving. I personally feel that LinkedIn is a different ball game all together. It allows you to reach the right set of people for sure. But we can't predict the reason why someone is browsing on LinkedIn. As long as we have exposed them to our message and got their attention, the first level of expectation is achieved. Beyond that, a clear-cut communication and content strategy has to be deployed."
Bringing in the brand's perspective on the development, Pravin Kulkarnii, general manager, marketing, Parle G, says, "The reasons people have been generally known to browse LinkedIn is more professional than a site like Facebook. Here, a person comes to know more about job openings in a particular company or to explore business opportunities. Companies will have to alter the way they reach out to users to ensure that the purpose of browsing LinkedIn is sufficed."
Change in social media behaviour
Digital experts also feel that a 'follow company' tab on LinkedIn will change how people behave on social media. Commenting on the changes it may bring to social media behaviour, Krishna Kumar, CEO, Media2win, says, "This development will make it easier for users to follow companies. Hence, it may boost the popularity of that feature on LinkedIn. For brands, having more followers may result in them increasing time and effort on what they do on LinkedIn."
Bhamidi adds, "By adding this functionality, LinkedIn is of course tapping its database of 2 million member companies to provide relevant and engaging content for its current member base to get new members on board. Users will follow brands and companies they are associated with but will also be quick to unfollow if they do not find relevant and engaging content."
The challenge as far as LinkedIn is concerned is to incorporate it into the social marketing plans of brands. Facebook, Twitter and of late, Google+ have been actively tapped to spread a brand's message. This has not been the case with LinkedIn till now. So, will this prove to be a winning formula for LinkedIn? It depends on various factors, believe experts.
Bhamidi adds, "It will not be enough to just provide a button and hope that brands and companies will lap up the new feature. LinkedIn will have to do much more than that to be seen as a social media company and not just a recruitment site."
As Nair sums it, "There cannot be a comparison between Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. For the other two, to scale up to also have a professional network is easy; but for LinkedIn to be a Facebook and Google+ is not so easy. However, I don't think Facebook and Google+ will have the same measure of success on a professional networking aspect as LinkedIn. If the idea is to achieve parity, then all of them have a huge task at hand to change the paradigm in which they are being perceived."