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How LinkedIn became the next best option for media professionals, after Twitter

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Microsoft-owned social platform for “managing your professional identity” has been growing in popularity for some time, and now it’s enjoying its special place

A year ago, when I wanted to talk seriously to some journalists about LinkedIn being a worthwhile network for journalism, most of the time I was laughed at. LinkedIn was considered a too-nice place, with little scandals, a relatively slow pace of product innovation and almost a boring place to be for a journalist.

Skip ahead twelve months and LinkedIn is a serious contender to take over Twitter’s place in the lives of many journalists globally.

In the 2023 edition of Reuters Institute’s “Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions report”, LinkedIn has emerged as the most popular alternative according to media leaders from 53 countries, way ahead of any other network as a possible alternative.

And not only Twitter; some research suggests users who spend enough time on LinkedIn to consider it also a Facebook replacement. And despite its slow product development, now it’s also considered a viable platform to fairly quickly grow a newsletter.

So, what happened? How did LinkedIn turn from being the uncool kid on the block to the shiny alternative so many claim has made social networking a more useful experience?

LinkedIn’s path to the big leagues

LinkedIn claims it has 875 million “members”, but it does not release insights into its monthly active user (MAU) data which we can say with a reasonable certainty is smaller than 875 million.

Side note: Most newsrooms nowadays use the term “member” to indicate an active involvement, either by financial support or other means. Here the term is being used much more loosely to label anyone who registered an account and might have forgotten about it years ago and never touched it again.

According to Statista’s research, in the US, almost 50% of its app users used the app at least once a month and some have calculated that by the end of 2022 LinkedIn had 310 million MAUs.

To compare, Twitter’s monetizable daily active usage (mDAU) in Q2 2022 was 237.8 million, and in December it reported to have over 368 million monthly active users worldwide.

LinkedIn got an earlier start (2003) than Twitter (2006) and, probably because of its label as a “professional network”, was always a bit behind in terms of growth and platform innovation.

In December 2016, Microsoft completed its acquisition of LinkedIn, which analyst Ben Thompson of Stratechery at the time called unexpected, and explained that with LinkedIn Microsoft could form a direct relationship with its end users.

Microsoft went on to integrate some of LinkedIn features into its tools and today, if you are using Outlook, you can see your contact’s LinkedIn profile, to give one example.

Its big redesign in 2017 made it look like Facebook, which some considered a smart move and others hated (as with all redesigns, I guess).

In 2021, LinkedIn’s revenue surpassed $10 billion and its advertising business surpassed $1 billion. In 2022, LinkedIn’s subscription business also surpassed $1 billion.

LinkedIn was probably the last app to introduce the Stories format in 2021 and it didn’t stick, so was turned off a year later. The social network was also the last one to introduce newsletters, but unlike Twitter and Facebook that shut them down, newsletters on LinkedIn thrive.

In a recent interview, the platform’s chief product officer, Tomer Cohen, said they have 150 million newsletter subscriptions running right now on the platform, growing extremely quickly.

In 2022, the Slovak market research and marketing consultancy Go4insight did a large-scale survey of LinkedIn users in the country. They found out that LinkedIn users use Facebook more, Instagram to the same extent, Twitter and TikTok much less.

But when asked which network do they rate most favorably, it was LinkedIn. Facebook was actually rated the least favorable of all, despite higher usage.

Another takeaway from the survey was that heavy users of the platform have a greater understanding of contributions of a “non-work” nature and welcome them as refreshments. The term used to describe this in the survey was “Facebookization of LinkedIn”.

Why are journalists, media leaders and news organizations increasingly using LinkedIn

In the recent months I wanted to understand why I see more of my colleagues – and not just in Slovakia but fellow journalists and media professionals across the board – gravitating towards LinkedIn. 

One “aha moment” came at the Forum Francophone in Paris, where I was asked to present a retention strategy for subscribers of Denník SME I have worked on since 2021 (I summed it up in this article for The Fix).

The day after the conference I met some other speakers and we had breakfast together. After we split up to catch our flights, no one handed out business cards, everyone just said “Bye, let’s connect on LinkedIn” (and we did).

When I used to visit international conferences before the Covid-19 pandemic, that line was more or less the same, but the platform mentioned used to be Twitter because most people working in media and journalism spent most of their days there. Something has changed.

I host a weekly technology podcast and listen to many tech and media podcasts, read Substacks of the same topics, and a lowered Twitter usage could have been felt across the board. 

Sure, that’s all subjective and I don’t have hard data to back this up. Still, I don’t remember in recent memory that so many high-profile journalists who claimed to be addicted to Twitter engaged less on the platform or altogether stopped. 

Vox has published a somewhat different take diving deeper into why journalists aren’t leaving the platform en masse and it came down to two things: the beats they are covering with Twitter being still the most useful network for that and Twitter still being an efficient news-gathering source.

I was surprised LinkedIn wasn’t mentioned in the article even once, but niche alternatives with a much smaller user base like Mastodon and Post got a shoutout.

Since I wrote an opinion piece for The Fix after Twitter suspended some journalists covering Elon Musk, I have been less active on Twitter and increased my engagement on LinkedIn.

The first reason why LinkedIn was an obvious choice was the similar size to Twitter and the similar logic of an infinity feed which mixes text, images and videos (and PDFs, which it turns into horizontal slides).

I was never too active on LinkedIn but maintained a weekly habit of adding one or two posts to the platform which to my surprise was enough to grow a sizable audience.

Another reason was that I have seen some of the journalists I have been following on Twitter sharing their LinkedIn profiles and saying they will be moving more of their social media time over there.

And lastly, I found the platform to bring me more useful information than I initially thought, albeit still feeding me enough “LinkedIn feel-good nonsense” to make me doubt its usefulness compared to Twitter.

At the moment, I can tell I haven’t found LinkedIn to be a definitive alternative to Twitter, yet for the time being, it will remain my number one social media choice.

One more informative alternative to Twitter I have seen some journalists mention was the second coming of RSS readers, with Readwise Readerbeing the frontrunner.

Still in beta, it seems to offer a lot of features including highlights and summaries of not only articles but also YouTube videos thanks to the GPT-3 integration.

To sum up, LinkedIn doesn’t seem to become a general-purpose social media platform like Facebook or Twitter and despite the chance Twitter’s botched change in ownership has given it, its leaders remain focused on “connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful”.

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.