Like de facto monopolies in so many other fields, Internet monopolies are prone to delivering sub-par user experiences, being slow to react to technology trends and leaving behind a mile-long trail of missed opportunities. For every well-run monopoly such as Facebook (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report there are at least two or three eBays (EBAY) - Get eBay Inc. Report , Twitters (TWTR) - Get Twitter, Inc. Report or Cragslists to be found.
LinkedIn certainly falls into the category of web monopolies that never realized their full potential. While the hundreds of millions of digital resumes held by the professional social media leader have let it create a booming job search/recruiting business, its efforts to become a place that users want to visit when they're not looking for a job have mostly fallen flat, and outside of recruiting, the payoff for its attempts to use all of the data it has on professionals and their connections has been mixed.
Ironically enough, Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report, a company that for years took two very lucrative monopoly positions for granted, might prove to be just what LinkedIn needed to start acting like a hungry competitor out to grow its active user base and addressable market. While it's still far too early to make any kind of final judgment here, some early developments are encouraging.
Five months after closing its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, Microsoft says it's integrating its Dynamics 365 business app platform with LinkedIn's Sales Navigator software, which helps sales professionals sell to individuals and companies on LinkedIn. Microsoft's Dynamics 365 for Sales app -- it competes with products from Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get salesforce.com, inc. Report, Oracle (ORCL) - Get Oracle Corporation Report, SAP (SAP) - Get SAP SE Sponsored ADR Reportand others -- will provide recommended actions based on data obtained via LinkedIn, as well as e-mails and CRM apps. It will also rely on LinkedIn to provide sales workers with professional info about their contacts, such as their work history, news mentions and job changes.
Microsoft is also rolling out:
Dynamics 365 for Talent, an app that helps HR departments manage employee recruiting, onboarding and retention, and which integrates with LinkedIn's recruiting services to pull up profile data on job candidates. Oracle, SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand are the leaders in this space.
Dynamics 365 for Retail, a cloud app promised to give retailers an "end-to-end view of their operations with centralized management and clear visibility across stores, employees, customers, inventory and financials." Oracle's NetSuite unit and Salesforce's Demandware unit are among the existing players in this field.
A bundle featuring Sales Navigator and the Enterprise version of Dynamics 365 for Sales. It goes for $1354 per user per month, or $15 per month less than the most popular version of Salesforce's mainstay Sales Cloud software.
And LinkedIn has announced it now has over 500 million registered users -- not the same as active users, of course -- up from 467 million last September. It also claims to have over 10 million active job listings, and to publish over 100,000 articles per week.
Microsoft might still face an uphill battle selling Dynamics 365 for Sales to large enterprises, given how its Dynamics have historically skewed towards small and mid-sized businesses. But tight LinkedIn integration does make for a unique selling point, as does Dynamics 365's existing integrations with the Office 365 productivity suite. And the company could use its AI investments, together with the data it can glean from LinkedIn and Office 365, to provide a compelling alternative to Salesforce's Einstein AI platform.
Microsoft's total Dynamics revenue, whether for on-premise or cloud apps, rose 7% annually last quarter. The company doesn't break out Dynamics revenue by itself, but in 2015, an exec said the business did $2 billion in annual sales. LinkedIn did over $3.6 billion in revenue during its last 12 months as a publicly-traded company.
Since announcing the LinkedIn deal last June, Microsoft has promised to integrate LinkedIn's data and services with a slew of products. In addition to tying together Dynamics 365 and Sales Navigator, the company wants to:
Create a news feed for professional Windows users that contains a user's LinkedIn news feed content, as well as business news and content from Office 365 apps (for example, e-mails and appointment data from Outlook).
Use LinkedIn profile data and photos to build a professional "identity layer" across Microsoft's products, including Windows, Office, Skype for Business and Cortana.
Integrate Office 365 with LinkedIn's online learning services, the product of its $1.5 billion 2015 acquisition of Lynda.com.
Use LinkedIn data to provide enterprises with analytics tools for better understanding their workforces and business trends. This fits with LinkedIn chief Jeff Weiner's long-standing goal of creating what he calls "the world's first economic graph," a platform that identifies "the connections between people, jobs, skills, companies, and professional knowledge -- and [spots] in real-time the trends pointing to economic opportunities."
But in addition to pushing ahead with such integration efforts, the post-acquisition LinkedIn is also getting serious about revamping the much-criticized user experience provided by its core social networking services. Two weeks ago, it unveiled a major revamp of its PC site that (among other things) gave users better control over notifications and comments, highlighted trending news feed stories, made it easier to search for specific types of content and provided a more streamlined messaging interface.
The revamp by no means fixes everything that many LinkedIn users dislike about the service -- cutting down on the spam-like e-mails users receive and fixing its broken "Endorsements" feature would certainly be welcome improvements. However, ahead of the expected Windows business feed launch, it does suggest that LinkedIn is getting more serious about being something more than a place to build a digital resume and create an online rolodex for the average user.
Just as its integration efforts with Microsoft point to a strong desire to exploit a treasure trove of business and professional data that to a large degree remains an untapped asset. LinkedIn may not be executing like Facebook, but under new ownership, it doesn't seem to be in the same boat as Twitter either.