linkedin-logoMore than most social networks, LinkedIn has gone through some pretty radical changes since launching back in 2003. Today, status updates, ‘Likes’ and comments are as much a part of the LinkedIn user experience as resume revisions, making it a contender with leading social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

And with the February 2014 announcement that it will be opening its blogging tool to all members, LinkedIn is still evolving. In fact, the platform is making publishing part of its DNA. With so much going on, is LinkedIn going through an identity crisis or is it the well-rounded kid on the block worthy of brand attention?

From professional network to professional platisher

While changes to LinkedIn’s core offerings have been constant, last year LinkedIn took a serious turn towards publishing territory with the acquisition of the newsreader app, Pulse. The once-standalone app is now integrated into LinkedIn’s platform and curates both user-generated and publisher content.

Reinforcing this shift was the February announcement that every LinkedIn member will be given access to its blogging tool, previously only available to the 500 members of its elite “LinkedIn Influencer” group (introduced in 2012), which includes the likes of President Obama, Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington. The service will be rolled out for all of its members over the next few months.

With these changes, it appears that LinkedIn has become what pundits are awkwardly calling a “platisher” – the portmanteau that describes the increasing number of sites like LinkedIn (or Medium or Gawker) that combine publically available publishing tools (platform) with in-house editorial content (publisher).

The idea, according to Deep Nishar, SVP of products and user experience, is for LinkedIn to become “the definitive professional publishing platform – where all professionals come to consume content and where publishers come to share their content.”

Everyone is an influencer

From a user perspective, the advantage of blogging on LinkedIn lies in the opportunity to establish thought leadership. As Ryan Rolansky, LinkedIn’s head of content products recently put it: “Sharing your knowledge in long-form is one of the best ways to promote your professional identity online right now.” And what better place to do that than on the same platform that hosts your professional profile and contacts?

Francisco Rosales, founder of Social Mouths, notes that by publishing long-form content, members can expand their reach, display their expertise and complement the brands they represent. LinkedIn of course, stands a lot to gain, too. Since the platform – ahem, platisher – operates on a freemium model, LinkedIn profits when members upgrade to its premium paid services. So giving people more reasons to use the site could result in more subscriptions.

Mike Isaac, re/code’s senior editor explains that the more new users visit the site and keep their profiles updated, the more opportunities there are for ad clicks and views, which in turn, makes it more likely that brands will subscribe to paid services such as targeted advertising and recruitment tools, and that company employees and recruiters will pay into LinkedIn’s premium accounts. Put simply, it pays to be a platisher.

LinkedIn's Influencer program was introduced in 2012. The blogging tool that supports it will soon be available to all LinkedIn users.

LinkedIn’s Influencer program was introduced in 2012. The blogging tool that supports it will soon be available to all LinkedIn users.

So what’s in it for brands?

In a way, brands have always belonged on LinkedIn: After all, LinkedIn is a professional networking site that encourages people to flaunt their work history. But now, thanks in part to its publishing tools, LinkedIn is going all-in on content marketing. The site has developed, for example, targeted sponsored updates, a form of native advertising where brands post relevant content that is distributed via Pulse, to their target audience.

It has also made headway with Company Pages and the more product-specific Showcase Pages – essentially LinkedIn’s version of Facebook pages. Social Media Examiner points to brands like Xerox and American Express Open as successfully using them to attract new leads.

In December 2013, LinkedIn highlighted 10 brands that use Company Pages most effectively. Adobe, Hubspot and Mashable were all voted winners thanks to their attention-grabbing sponsored updates. And then there is LinkedIn’s Influencer program. Having an Influencer attached to your brand means having the opportunity to reach any of LinkedIn’s 300 million members. As the publishing platform expands to include non-Influencer posts, that opportunity stands to grow.

For now, content published by non-influencers will only be available on members’ profiles rather than displayed publically, with a few exceptions. But Influencer or not, the potential is there for employees to build and engage with a large following on the network, which is good news for the brands they represent.

Xerox uses its Company Page to reach its predominantly B2B audience on LinkedIn.

Xerox uses its Company Page to reach its predominantly B2B audience on LinkedIn.

The bottom line

With everything LinkedIn has to offer, brands might want to consider sampling the buffet, just as long as they remember to focus on quality.

Forbes contributor John Hall recently wrote of his experience with the publishing feature, “The engagement, conversations, and opportunities that have resulted have been remarkable.”

What do you think? Will LinkedIn be the next content marketing tool for brands? Let us know in the comments.