Microsoft and LinkedIn Go All In

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Microsoft on Monday announced an agreement to buy LinkedIn, the world's largest professional social media network, for US$26.2 billion in cash. The acquisition furthers Microsoft's effort to extend the breadth of its content portfolio and to integrate its offerings into its platform of cloud services.

The companies jointly announced the deal: Microsoft will pay $196 a share in cash for LinkedIn, which will retain its brand, culture and independence under the new structure. CEO Jeff Weiner will remain at the helm, reporting to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Both Weiner and Reid Hoffman -- LinkedIn chairman and controlling shareholder -- fully support the deal, and the both companies' boards have agreed to the acquisition. Microsoft will report LinkedIn as part of its Productivity and Business Process segment.

The companies share a mission to empower the global workforce, Nadella said in a Monday morning conference call.

"When we talk about Microsoft's mission, we talk about empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more," he remarked. "There is no better way to really realize that mission than to connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful."

LinkedIn has grown its membership about 19 percent year-over-year to 433 million members worldwide. The network has 105 million unique members on the site per month, and 45 billion quarterly page views.

However, the company has seen its stock price falter in recent months in response to its warnings of shortfalls in projected revenue.

"By combining professional social media with their Web-based business offerings, they have the potential to develop an extremely powerful collaborative environment that crosses business lines," said Mike Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

Microsoft can benefit by adding new business features to LinkedIn, but it could alienate LinkedIn members if it should push too hard to leverage their data for marketing and sales opportunities, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Many professionals use LinkedIn as their homepage -- similar to the way hardcore Facebook users begin and end their days, noted Jeff Kaplan, managing director of ThinkStrategies.

Salespeople often use LinkedIn as the default application for pursuing new business -- even more than they use CRM or other sales or marketing automation tools, he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Creating tighter linkages between LinkedIn's capabilities and Microsoft's Office 365 productivity/collaboration and its Dynamics CRM will [demonstrate] immediate benefits of the acquisition," Kaplan said. "In addition, it will encourage more developers to build applications on Azure PaaS that leverage the LinkedIn and Microsoft functionality, and store the data in the Azure IaaS."

Despite the potential benefits of combining LinkedIn's social network with Microsoft's cloud infrastructure, it's questionable whether Microsoft can pull off a successful integration. The company has fallen short with some recent acquisitions.

"I'm usually skeptical of big deals like this," said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"The last huge acquisition by Microsoft was Nokia," he told the E-Commerce Times, "and that didn't end well, with Microsoft eventually writing down most of the value of the deal."

However, Nadella may avoid some of the mistakes of previous executives, Krewell suggested, adding that there are synergies between the Office 365 cloud base and LinkedIn that can be exploited.

In addition, Linkedin has in-app messaging capabilities that could be integrated into Microsoft's Skype video, phone and messaging application, Tirias Principal Analyst Paul Teich told the E-Commerce Times. The deal also provides Microsoft with a network of business influencers to analyze with its deep learning tools.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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