HP LinkedIn Company Page Ad 300x245 LinkedIn vs. Facebook for Business in 2011   The Battle Begins! windmill networking photo

LinkedIn and Facebook would seem to have very little in common going into 2011: One platform was created as a closed and trusted networking site for professionals while the roots of the other come from being an open “face book” of college students.  While LinkedIn has built up a dominant presence in the hearts and minds of the professional demographic, Facebook is in the center of consumer culture and many a business who want to capture the hearts and money of us all.  Professionals network on one platform while companies establish Pages on the other.  Ask most companies where they plan to concentrate their social media marketing efforts on in 2011, and most businesses I talk to would mention Facebook and even Twitter before mentioning the professional networking platform.

Recent events, however, may hint at the upcoming battle for business between the two platforms in 2011.

As companies increase their social media marketing budgets to encompass almost 20% of their entire marketing budget, and with online advertising comprising another 15% of marketing budgets, the two social media sites are vying for a potential 1/3 of marketing budgets over the next few years.  Both websites have ad platforms: FB Ads vs. Direct Ads.  But Facebook has companies and LinkedIn has professionals.  If FB can get the professional demographic to better embrace its platform, it will lead to an even greater dominance worldwide and higher advertising revenues.  If LI can get companies to establish a presence similar to like they have on FB Pages, they can start to bring more marketing budgets away from Facebook and over to LinkedIn.  Now, each are vying for what the other has with their latest new functionality.

The battle heated up when LinkedIn announced their new enhanced Company Pages on November 1.  The above image is actually a screenshot direct from LI which looks slightly similar to a FB Page ad, only the “Like” is replaced with a “Recommend” button.  Of course, above and beyond recommending a business, the LinkedIn Follow Company feature already allowed you to “Like” a company by following it.  Over time, those follower numbers have added up to the point where a company like HP has amassed over 160,000 followers.  That’s only a little less than the 170,000 fans HP’s FB Page has.  For a site that has less than 1/5 the user numbers that Facebook has, LinkedIn still has relevance to many businesses because of its overwhelming professional demographic.

When compared to FB Pages, the LI Company featured only a slightly customizable page.  The new enhancements allowed interaction from users for the first time, allowing them to now “Recommend” company products and services, add comments to their recommendations, and see who in their network made what company recommendations just as Facebook users can see which of their friends “Like” a page.  According to the LI blog post, the functionality should be available by now to all companies who have their own LI Company Page.

If you don’t think that LI Company Pages are vying for the marketing budget that may be going to Facebook Pages, check out this quote from the same Linkedn blog post from HP’s CMO:

“LinkedIn is a pioneer in harnessing the power of social media and brands can benefit tremendously from participating in this networking of leading professionals.”

With LinkedIn vying for the attention of companies creating Pages for their companies, Facebook came back with a different approach: Bring the professional demographic from LinkedIn over to Facebook.  One month after announcing the new LI Company Pages enhancements, Facebook announced the arrival of its new personal profiles.  Not only does the new profile provide a professional headline summary for which LinkedIn has always had, it also gives you a chance to better show off your work experience by entering the various projects you have worked on and tagging the people that you worked together with.  The mass media immediately announced that Facebook was going after the professional demographic, and they are probably right.

In fact, Facebook already has the professional demographic because almost 40% of FB users in the United States are over 35 years old.  If half of LinkedIn’s users are from the United States, the calculations would show that Facebook and LinkedIn probably have almost the same number of professional members.  The problem is that with the professional demographic, LinkedIn is a closed and trusted place to network while many of the older generations who I know that are on Facebook don’t see it as a valuable use of their time.  If Facebook can get more people to use it in a more “professional” way, they can start to steal the mindshare away from the professional demographic, which will only lead to greater engagement and even higher advertising revenues for them.

While FB Pages still reign dominant over LI Company Pages for the time being, LinkedIn just last week announced new analytics for your Company Page which are similar to Facebook Insights as well as an Admin Panel similar to what Facebook has to allow for easy company management of the page.  This was accompanied by announcement of a new widget that can now be installed on any website to allow anyone to “Recommend” your products and services on LinkedIn from anywhere.

With Company Page functionality on the increase, LinkedIn is ready to unleash their next weapon for business onto Facebook: Public LI Groups.  The precursor for this was to open up LI Groups and make it easier to share content from the outside world into the professional networking platform via the new official LinkedIn Share Button, which can now be easily embedded into websites similar to Twitter’s ReTweet and the FB Share button.  This one-ups the FB Share button in that it allows you to share website content to your profile as well as directly to LI Groups.  Furthermore, realizing the problem that many FB Page administrators have with managing their Page efficiently, LinkedIn recently added a host of new Group moderation tools to allow for granular detail of who can post what that simply does not exist on Facebook.

The problem with LI Groups, though, is that they are private worlds: Unless you were a member of that Group you couldn’t see inside it.  The FB Page openness, and its associated potential SEO benefits, attracted companies to create their Pages and send more advertising revenue to Facebook.  But that is going to change with LinkedIn’s pending announcement that both existing Groups have an option to become public ones and that new public-only Groups can be created.  If your company has a FB Page, why wouldn’t you have a Public LI Group to have discussions with professionals and targeted consumers in addition to your LI Company Page?

More importantly, though, the engagement on LI Groups are significant in that there is plenty of room for discussion, not like the small status update boxes that are used on their rival platform.  Furthermore, LI Groups have the ability to send daily and weekly digests which FB Pages lack, which create even more engagement from Group members.  Sure, the largest Group, Linked:HR, has only 345,000+ members while the largest Page, Facebook’s own page, has more than 30,000,000 fans.  However, there are more than twice the number of Groups, almost 800,000 to be exact, compared to 320,000+ Pages.

When all Group Managers have the ability to go public, if only 1/2 of the present groups choose to do so they will soon be flooding the search engines with enough content to rival that of Facebook in due time.  More and more Group discussions will come up in long tail search results, which will bring more traffic to LI and higher membership numbers to Group owners.

LinkedIn has apparently come up with an extremely calculated and strategic plan to study the shortcomings of its mammoth competitor and create a platform that should be as welcome for business as it currently is for the professional.  Every social media marketer, especially those in B2B industries, needs to watch these developments closely going into 2011 and start to take the platform originally for professionals a little more seriously.

What will Zuckerberg’s next move be for business?  And what do you think of the above analysis?  Do you see the events any differently?