Foley on Microsoft

Microsoft and LinkedIn: When Next-to-No News Is 'Good' News

In a departure from its other acquisitions, Microsoft seems content to let LinkedIn do its own thing. At least for now.

If you think we haven't heard a whole lot about what Microsoft is doing with LinkedIn -- its biggest acquisition in corporate history at $26.2 billion -- you wouldn't be wrong.

This dearth of news isn't an accident. It's by design.

When Microsoft bought LinkedIn in 2016, officials said repeatedly, loudly and clearly that this time, things would be different. Microsoft had learned from past acquisition mistakes and would take a hands-off approach to managing LinkedIn.

A year-plus after regulators greenlit the acquisition, it appears Microsoft has been more than true to its word. In addition to making LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner the head of the integration committee, Microsoft basically has allowed LinkedIn to focus on growing its business for the past year.

Yes, there have been a few fruits of the integration that Microsoft has touted vociferously, including the integration of LinkedIn's Sales Navigator and Dynamics 365 CRM, and the Microsoft Word/LinkedIn Resume Builder service. There has been some work on integrating the companies' data graphs, as evidenced by some of the Outlook-LinkedIn profile card integrations the pair has demonstrated.

But Microsoft officials seem to have decided that they're going to let LinkedIn largely go its own way.

Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood told attendees of a Wells Fargo Tech Summit in December 2017 that Microsoft isn't planning to try "to jam two sales forces together." Microsoft also isn't going to orchestrate many, if any, "big bang moments" to showcase how its leveraging LinkedIn, she said.

"It's not really LinkedIn's culture, nor is it ours as much anymore. You'll just see thoughtful integrations that customers will care about show up in products every few months," she said.

Weiner echoed these same sentiments during his stint at the Goldman Sachs Technology & Internet Conference on Feb. 14, 2018 -- his first such appearance since Microsoft took over LinkedIn. Weiner said LinkedIn has been focused on growing its engagement numbers as measured by "sessions." ("When engagement is lifted at LinkedIn, it's a tide that lifts all boats," he quipped.)

LinkedIn spent a lot of its first year as part of Microsoft trying to fix its own businesses. It focused on its feed, adding video, overhauling its messaging platform, and focusing on active job seekers instead of passive candidates.

Weiner was very clear in his comments at the Goldman Sachs event: Since Microsoft bought the company, LinkedIn has been focused on growing LinkedIn. Up next: Making its data accessible to Microsoft developers through programming interfaces and SDKs "in a way that's consistent with putting our members first, consistent with our brand, consistent in terms of service."

It will be only after that, "once that data is made accessible, then hoping that Microsoft developers can then leverage that data within Microsoft products to differentiate those products and create more value for Microsoft customers," Weiner said.

This slow and steady approach is why there hasn't been a lot of there, there, to report about Microsoft's integration of LinkedIn. The two companies definitely have talked about other potential integration points, such as LinkedIn using Azure's video and machine-translation capabilities. But rather oddly, LinkedIn is continuing to build out its own datacenters and invest in its own infrastructure designs rather than move toward using Azure and Microsoft's next-gen architecture.

When Microsoft bought Skype back in 2012, it seems as though Microsoft let that company go its own way until the past couple of years, when the Redmondians seemed to decide to take a more active role in trying to get Skype into the fold and make it more part of "One Microsoft."

LinkedIn CEO Weiner is on the Microsoft senior leadership team. LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman is on Microsoft's board. And former LinkedIn Infrastructure Chief Kevin Scott is Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer. Yet, for now, LinkedIn doesn't seem like part of Microsoft, at least in terms of the product roadmap. I wonder when that will start to change.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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