At Pluggd.in, like most of the rest of the world, we received the news of LinkedIn’s acquisition of SlideShare with a huge positive reaction. “Well deserved”, “Finally paid off”, “Awesome” were phrases going around amongst us, as well as on social media and in the responses to the news on the site.
And then we got into a debate. What exactly did LinkedIn buy SlideShare for?
“Community”, said one. Another went into deep thought. The smart one went straight to Google.
At the beginning of time The story starts to get interesting a little before 2008. Right upto then, Scribd.com – a major competitor to SlideShare, was reigning supreme. In fact, as per Compete.com it still gets more uniques!
So while SlideShare has a huge community, they’re clearly not the only one and in fact were not necessarily the largest till recently. They probably matter more – scattered reviews and comments across the internet do reveal that at least some users saw a lot more traction on SlideShare as compared to Scribd, DocStoc – but the sample size was hardly conclusive.
Timeline: 2008 – 2010
2008 was when LinkedIn Applications were announced. SlideShare was not only in there, but also included in LinkedIn’s PR and how-tos as a major “example” of how apps would enrich the LinkedIn experience. Obviously, SlideShare traffic benefitted from that.
In 2010, SlideShare went freemium. Of course, it was a monetization move necessitated by the economic reality of the time, but hey – the possibility of no ads must have been a major “feature” for many – especially the businesses! Inadvertently, SlideShare donned a premium business suit that helped build its case with the serious business guys.
Deep thought contended that SlideShare had influencers – mentors, investors, and other Hands of God. Right from Guy Kawasaki to ‘UX-obsessed’ Dave McClure – and used it to their advantage over the competition. We all agreed that these could’ve had a role to play in their relationships and tie ups, products and monetization strategy. And the execution was brilliant too.
One of us thought that they focused on creating an aspirational brand (good read: Understanding User Needs – The Fundamental Motivation Theory) and fulfilled the desire to ‘be known/appreciated’ for one’s knowledge.
“ Presentations are a core component of how professionals define and brand their identity. This deal enables professionals to discover people through content, and content through people. We’re excited to figure out the best ways our offerings will work together to help professionals around the world be more productive and successful.
In the meantime, SlideShare users will continue experiencing this great service as always. SlideShare has done a tremendous job of creating a dynamic platform for document sharing that millions of professionals have come to rely on everyday — and it will remain that way.” [Deep Nashar. VP Products]
So? Every other site out there addressed the same need, didn’t they? And LinkedIn users were able to do this anyhow ever since SlideShare got integrated. Why buy and take the trouble of managing something like this?
Their feature set has grown a lot. So was it a great tool and feature-set that LinkedIn wanted to offer to its users? Their focus on slides probably paid off – almost everyone can put together a decent looking presentation (cannot say that about videos and flash content). Docs etc (never really the big thing on SlideShare) are a longer format with possibly a smaller audience – though Scribd has a large number of those shared through it.
But again, SlideShare was already providing all of that – since 2008!
The discussion wasn’t going anywhere. So we spent some more time online.
LinkedIn went IPO in 2011. And around this time, and later as a follow up, added a lot many features, embraced social (they even reduced the default privacy settings), pushed mobile, and most importantly, drove a lot of press coverage around how people could not only connect and use their networks, but build their brand and essentially show
offcase what they knew – using SlideShare! Folks wrote numerous articles about how both individuals and small businesses could and should use LinkedIn right – with SlideShare often mentioned in the process as a major social tool at their disposal.
SlideShare traffic grew significantly around the same time! (see graphs above)
As you add the app on your LinkedIn profile, you’re encouraged to upgrade to a pro option because you can not only turn off the ads, control the look and feel and generate leads, but also access features specially added for LinkedIn! If I were looking to add presentations/video for a small business, that would be compelling indeed. One might hazard a guess that with more LinkedIn users adding SlideShare, a lot many opted for this and revenues grew as well.
With the acquisition, an even closer integration is now possible. Almost half of LinkedIn’s revenues were reported to be from Marketing Solutions and Premium Subscriptions – both growing at a fast clip – and something like SlideShare could have a role to play in these. So apart from the clear engagement benefit which is a stated priority for LinkedIn, might it be the possibility of a great direct monetization opportunity that drove this acquisition?
Oh well, we’ll never really know. But what’s very likely – from a quick recap and a whole lot of reading between the lines of events and data over the last few years – is that LinkedIn may have had a lot to do with SlideShare’s increased traffic, monetization, and eventually the valuation they had to shell out the $119 million for :)
What’s your opinion?
[With inputs from Ashish Sinha and Pratyush Prasanna.]