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LinkedIn’s Dan Roth on Why Algorithms Aren’t Enough at FOLIO:’s mediaNEXT

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FOLIO: hosted its annual mediaNEXT conference this week, bringing publishing execs, editorial professionals and digital vendors from across the country to Times Square for three days of keynotes, break-out sessions and demos.

One of the most provocative keynotes this year came from Dan Roth, executive editor at LinkedIn. Roth, a print industry veteran, discussed the evolving vision for the top business social network. LinkedIn has been actively rolling out updates for its share-savvy audience and influencers in recent months, to include streamlined profiles, better responsive design and its popular new Influencer Program. In the broader scheme of things, LinkedIn is transforming its business from being one of the largest social networks to becoming one of the top business news sites.

From LinkedIn’s launch in 2003 to 2010, Roth explained, the platform existed primarily to connect people to their professional contacts. But from 2010 on, LinkedIn has grown to not just connect people to people, but also to connect people with insights. However, LinkedIn is still different from social networks based on friendships and family. “We realize our audience is pressed for time,” said Roth. “We got into the content business not to get people trapped on the site all day.” Contrarily, explained Roth, the goal for LinkedIn is to be the busy professional’s go-to hub for quickly grabbing what’s most relevant and valuable. The LinkedIn user checks in and then departs, equipped to go about the day with top industry developments.

When a Social Share is Worth A Thousand Words

According to Roth, 57% of LinkedIn visitors are looking for something to share – which says something about what motivates people’s online activity. Professionals, regardless of industry, are recognizing the importance of becoming expert curators. They are being driven to bring value to their unique social graphs. The motives are multifaceted, Roth noted. Having a great resume and a list of influential contacts in your pocket isn’t enough to secure the growth of your career these days. It’s imperative that professionals be social savvy – they have to know how to skillfully build their personal online brand as an influencer among their niche social graphs. A large part of this task requires professionals to stay visibly on top of the most relevant trends, or risk losing relevance among peers and potential employers. “People choose stories to share based on its value upon their image,” said Roth. “What will make you seem smarter? Have particular leanings?”

But there’s a nuance to this reality. Roth has observed that people gravitate towards opinion-heavy content. Objective stories just don’t have the same engagement power among users. “They are hiding behind the point of view of the journalist instead of having their own opinion,” said Roth. Sharing opinionated stories conveys a deeper message from the users who spread them, Roth pointed out. It’s an outlet for users to express their sentiments and establish their own influence, without the risk of upsetting delicate politics among peers, or rocking their professional boat.

Social-savvy professionals also feel a sense of responsibility for making sure the most relevant, need-to-know content rises above the superfluous noise. Collectively, social professionals are making their industries better by separating the digital wheat from the chaff. The publishing world has a strong part to play in helping LinkedIn users do that.

Publishers Fuel Today’s Social Business Professional

“What is it that people do every single day? They read news,” said Roth, citing a survey that demonstrated the trend among people to have news on or up at all times. People are opting to have news running constantly on their devices, or in the background, even if they’re not paying direct attention to it. People want the most real-time, important developments within reach and available – or should I say sharable – the very second they need it.

“The goal of media is to be a conversation starter,” said Roth. “We write icebreakers people can use to engage with people. A great headliner quote is a great excuse to create a conversation.” Roth notes that LinkedIn has a vision of becoming the driver of the professional world, making everyone smarter in the process. The publishing industry has a vital part to play as social networks become social news sites. Everyone, including traditional media, social networks, brands and individuals, is now a content creators. And to some extent, everyone must also be curators. There’s a complex symbiotic relationship between news creators and their curators, and yet the lines between the two are blurred.

Roth discussed LinkedIn’s transition from being merely a social network. In 2011, LinkedIn launched LinkedIn Today, its social news aggregator. The aggregation site’s algorithms were used to power LinkedIn’s Home pages. This ensured that the updates most relevant to each specific user remained highly visible. What defines relevant, according to Roth? LinkedIn’s sophisticated algorithms become increasingly perceptive, growing in their ability to intuit individual relevance as LinkedIn monitors the sharing behaviors of users, both at the industry and individual levels.

A Human Touch

But it’s not just complex algorithms running the show. LinkedIn believes a strong human component is necessary to create the perfect formula for relevance and engagement. LinkedIn employs a solid team of editors in order to, as Roth says, “break the filter bubble and bring serendipity to the news.”

This past October, LinkedIn launched its Influencer Program, further demonstrating its belief in the human-algorithm combination for success. The program is also a testament to the growing importance of social capital in a digital world. The ability to quantify the popularity, persuasive reach and relevance of an online persona is leading to brands expertly leveraging online personalities that are dubbed influential. LinkedIn is enlisting top thought leaders in business, by invitation only, across broad industries, to create and share meaningful content with their extensive niche audiences.

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LinkedIn users can opt to follow these influencers, rather than add them as personal connections, to receive the influencer’s updates in their home streams. Users will also see LinkedIn Today stories from the designated influencers they follow. The opportunity to write long-form posts for LinkedIn Today is one of the tools being given to official influencers in order to develop and spread engagement-worthy pieces.

Yep, it's official...

Imagine my surprise today to see this headline on the Canadian Magazines blog:

http://canadianmags.blogspot.com/2013/01/people-in-magazines-kim-latreille.html

Not that my career change was news to me, but seeing it in print does seem a bit odd considering how the last 20 years of my career have been spent working solely for Canadian publishers, on some of Canada’s most successful magazine titles.

Some are calling my move to software development “coming to the dark side”, but my perspective is a little different. Considering how swiftly the magazine publishing industry is changing, this move seems to me to be the best way to help shape the environment and make the production and integration of magazine content across multiple platforms and devices a little easier for North American publishers big and small.

It won’t be boring, that’s for sure. Already, I’m learning a lot from the publishers I’ve had the privilege to meet with already.

Today I am at MediaNext, the renamed Folio Show in NYC. Content integration is definitely the hot topic - it’s apparent across the learning streams and seminars, as well as in the vendor marketplace.

Stay tuned, more to come.