Why I think LinkedIn’s move to woo students is smart

LinkedIn (s LNKD), the Mountain View, Calif.-based business-oriented social network today announced LinkedIn for Students, a new effort that will focus on actively wooing teenagers to join and use its service. LinkedIn for Students has two components:

  • From September 12, 2013, the company will allow anyone older than 13 to sign-up for the service.
  • It is allowing universities and colleges to establish, what it calls “University Pages” which will feature career-centric information, college specializations, news and status updates, notable alumni and other relevant data. So far 200 universities have signed up.

“We believe University Pages will be especially valuable for students making their first, big decision about where to attend college,” LinkedIn’s program manager, Christina Allen wrote  in a blog post on LinkedIn blog.
This is a smart bet by the company, and it shows that it is thinking about its future customers. This is a relatively easier way of bringing future members into the fold and forging a long term relationship. And it is doing so by providing the younger members value without asking for anything in return — yet.
How so, you might ask? High school students spend a lot of time researching universities, and this seems to make the process easier. Teenagers are quite familiar with following brands and keeping up with news via status updates, two behaviors that are now common amongst all social platforms — Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. So this seems to be a very low friction way of getting them to use the LinkedIn service.
And though it is a healthy start, LinkedIn will need to do a lot more to keep the teenage audience engaged and coming back. It is only a matter of time before LinkedIn launches an editorial operation that is focused on providing career advice to their “student” audiences. In the past, business magazines would publish special editions for schools and colleges. Some like US News & World Report publishes top-school rankings. Given the richness of data inside LinkedIn, I wouldn’t be surprised if LinkedIn builds something similar.
If there is one thing I have observed, it is that under the leadership of chief executive officer Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn has stopped being just a resume-centric recruitment service (though it makes a lot of money that way) and has taken a more holistic view to become a “career” oriented social platform. For instance, its fledgling media efforts are highlighted by aspirational (if somewhat cheerleading & self-serving) messages (mislabeled as blog posts) from famous and successful people — a neat way to increase engagement with their now 240 million members — are a good example of this focus on careers (and recruitment.) That focus has helped the company more than double its stock price in the past 12 months to about $227 a share; giving it a market capitalization of over $25 billion.