James Dennin, Kapitall: LinkedIn's selling shares, Twitter's making hires. Social Networking is monetizing. And the market is responding.
LinkedIn (LNKD) - in a move surprising a number of investors - is selling off what could amount to a billion dollars worth of stock. This of course follows backlash to the employment-focused social networking website's new monetization strategy, allowing job-seekers to purchase "premium badges" that get their resume extra views.
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Calling the practice discriminatory, opponents argue that it gives unjustified preference to people who can afford the $30 a month fee, while also cheating employers by bombarding them with applicants who may not be qualified or deserving. But the practice is not entirely unusual - CareerBuilder.com has a similar feature. Nor is it particularly that big a problem considering less than 3% of new hires come from all the major online job boards combined.LinkedIn's stock took a hit when the share sale was first announced, but this isn't particularly surprising. The market usually expects that introducing new shares into the float will dilute the value of existing shares. However, the real question is what the company is going to do with all that extra cash. LinkedIn was one of the best performing stocks last year. Unlike Facebook (FB), the company's stock soared after its IPO, up 45% in a single day. It doubled in value in 2013 alone, and was the best-performing IPO of 2011. With over 200 million users, it's one of the largest social networking sites out there. And with an extra billion dollars – on top of what the company already has on its balance sheet – they could be poised to grow even more. Or not. Some are calling the sell-off a blunder, or at least an indication that LinkedIn's stock has peaked out. Expansion is easier to fund from the inside, or by taking on some debt, than by taking on new equity. This is actually described by some investors as the "pecking order" of acquiring capital. The only time issuing stock can be a particularly lucrative option is if your stock is overvalued. After all, why borrow money that you'll have to pay back when people are willing to overpay for your stock? With the stock market already relatively hot, on tech companies in particular, an additional stock offering could be the cheapest way to raise a lot of money. With Facebook introducing video ads and Twitter hiring a commerce officer, now appears to be the time when a number of social networking sites are pursuing monetization strategies. With some companies, like Groupon (GRPN) or Pandora Media (P) these efforts are largely self-evident. Groupon is providing a service directly to merchants and Pandora has about 70 million listeners that advertisers want to reach. But what about the more etherial social networks? These are the companies that often have much younger audiences, but very little 'product' that they can tangibly sell. If LinkedIn can't figure out a better way to monetize, aside from running as just another ineffective job board, what are they going to do with all that cash? Click on the interactive charts to view analyst ratings over time. Which of these social media stocks has the best monetization strategy? Use the interactive charts below to begin your own analysis.