In Dan Roth’s dream world, members of LinkedIn, where he has served as editor in chief since 2011, would habitually read the LinkedIn Daily Rundown with their morning cup of coffee. They’d then turn their attention to the site’s podcast or newsletter during their commute to work. When they get to their desks, they’d open LinkedIn.com on their browsers, where they can read from a carefully curated feed of professional and business news throughout their work day. Users who felt inspired by the content would share links on their own timeline. They’d check their notifications tab to see if others have engaged with the content they share.
Who knows? They might even talk about one of LinkedIn’s articles at their next staff meeting.
This is Roth’s aspiration for LinkedIn’s 645 million members and for workers who have yet to use the site. He envisions LinkedIn as the perfect “utility” for professionals.
“LinkedIn should help you be better at what you do or what you want to do. When you come to LinkedIn, you’re coming with a purpose. It’s not just to waste time or to check in on family,” Roth told CNN Business in a recent interview. “They’re coming here to get something done and everything we do is geared around making sure people are more effective at getting whatever it is they want done, done.”
In order to fulfill this dream, Roth has hired a team of journalists and empowered them with the tools they need to discover original stories and to distribute those stories to the right audience. Having these tools at their disposal is appealing to journalists who want to know who is reading their work. While Roth has yet to dominate the working world with his editorial strategy, he is getting close: LinkedIn now has editors in the US, Brazil, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, Australia, India, Japan, China and Singapore. About 20 editors are based in the US, including its San Francisco office and in New York City, where Roth lives.
All of this has been good for LinkedIn’s traffic and ultimately its bottom line. A metric that tracks how often users are coming to LinkedIn in 30 minute intervals is up about 27% from the year prior, a LinkedIn spokesperson told CNN Business. And the company is monetizing that traffic. Satya Nadella, CEO of LinkedIn owner Microsoft (MSFT), said on a recent earnings call that it’s been “another record year for LinkedIn, driven by all-time high engagement across the platform.”
The three Cs
Roth ended up working at LinkedIn because of an idea he had for Fortune magazine, where he was managing editor of digital initiatives. In 2011, he had plans to create an app called the Fortune 500 Plus that would connect Fortune’s data with LinkedIn’s to help sales people find leads. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner asked Roth if he would instead join his company to build its new content team. Roth told CNN Business that he was confused at first about why LinkedIn wanted to hire journalists. But soon he saw the potential.
“At Fortune, we were always trying to get the right people to read our stories. You were waving your hand all the time, ‘Hey professionals, look over here. We got the stories.’ I thought if we could design something on LinkedIn where we knew who the people were, we could get them the right headlines,” Roth said.
Roth said he had planned on staying at the job for two years. That was eight years ago and he now manages a team of 65 journalists, with plans to hire more. Jessi Hempel, formerly senior writer at Wired, joined LinkedIn as senior editor at large in October 2018. Hempel told CNN Business one of the biggest challenges she faced in previous roles was not knowing who was reading her work.
“I knew I wanted to write for tech professionals and people who cared deeply about the evolution of technology, but I’d get very little information beyond the number of clicks a story got. I’d look to Twitter to see who was talking about it. That was about it,” Hempel said. “LinkedIn solved that. I could tell much more about my audience based on likes and comments and could talk directly with those reading my stories.”
Roth employs an editorial strategy he calls the three Cs: create, curate or cultivate. “Create” involves the development of original content like Hempel’s Hello Monday podcast about “our rapidly changing work lives” or “The Hustle,” a weekly newsletter about hourly workers by LinkedIn news editor Joseph Milord. “Curate” means analyzing the two million posts on LinkedIn every day to see if there are any interesting stories. “Cultivate” is when LinkedIn’s editors reach out to users they think could comment about a specific news topic. For example, an internal “generator” tool allowed editors to email former employees of Thomas Cook after news broke that the airline had abruptly shut down, asking them if they’d be willing to write about their experience on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn news editor Andrew Seaman said the editorial team embraces a technology mindset when they think about the medium and method to deliver news.
“Adopting a tech mindset means accepting that the product is going to change all the time, and, even more, helping to push that change,” Seaman said. “We know that the way our members consume information and news will naturally change overtime. So, we expect our method of delivery to change — sometimes rapidly — while maintaining our mission.”
LinkedIn’s editorial strategy depends on conversations happening on the website itself. This is when “curate” comes into play. For the last few years, LinkedIn’s product team has focused on ways to enable more conversation on the platform, senior director of product management Pete Davies told CNN Business.
“Dan’s team can only be so big and they can’t necessarily have deep expertise in everything, but you can have those experts [on LinkedIn] and when they’re there it really makes interesting conversation,” Davies said. “You build products so it almost creates a virtuous cycle of the news leading to the deeper conversations so it goes and drives more news stories.”
A newsroom for a tech platform
Like a typical newsroom, LinkedIn’s team has a daily editorial meeting. On a recent Tuesday morning, four people in the New York office joined a video conference call with three remote staffers and the team in London. An editor in London said a story about Instagram hiding likes had inspired “great conversation” from social media strategists on LinkedIn and that they had not covered the Nobel Prizes yet due to “lack of member sharing.”
“Sometimes that will drive our decision-making,” Cate Chapman, a news editor who led the meeting, told CNN Business. “If people aren’t talking about it, we’ll skip it.”
Other times, LinkedIn’s editorial team will try to spur conversations about a topic. That’s when they use the “generator” tool to send a mass email or to message an individual LinkedIn member.
“All day long we’re thinking about how we can get people talking,” Roth said. “We used to pick up the phone and ask people, ‘Can you talk?’ Now we reach out to 10,000 people at a time and ask that.”
Some of the organic conversations on LinkedIn stem from the Daily Rundown, a round-up of news LinkedIn began sending as a notification to US users in June 2017. It’s now available in 12 countries and in seven languages. The headlines are viewed by more than 40 million members and receive 1 million clicks every day, according to LinkedIn. A new design for the Daily Rundown — codenamed “Project Breakfast” — is currently rolling out to LinkedIn users.
LinkedIn users also respond to the more than 150 trending news items LinkedIn editors curate every day. The right-hand bar on LinkedIn’s desktop version, called “Today’s news and views,” looks similar to Facebook’s now-defunct Trending Topics tab. But everything is curated by editors rather than relying on algorithms.
“Editors are writing those [headlines]. It’s not a bunch of unknown stories, it’s hand-curated,” said Sneha Keshwani, LinkedIn’s senior product manager of news. “The recency [stamp] shows this is living, breathing, constantly updating.”
LinkedIn is far from the only destination for news on a tech platform. Other apps like Apple News, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Flipboard have also hired journalists to oversee its users’ news consumption and even to create original content. Facebook, for its part, is hiring more journalists for its upcoming news tab. It’s the company’s second biggest effort to curate news after its previous news section faced conservative bias allegations. In tandem, more traditional newsrooms are investing in product. News Corp is reportedly building its own news aggregator, Knewz.com.
But LinkedIn is unique in its focus on news for professionals. Roth said that LinkedIn succeeds in the news business by curating content for one community rather than being everything to everyone.
“LinkedIn only thrives if we keep these professional guardrails on what we do,” Roth said. “We have to get the right business and professional related news and information to the right people. If we try to do everything, we don’t serve the mission.”