Get ‘em young: That could be LinkedIn’s new motto, after the professional-networking Website opened itself up to universities and students.
LinkedIn’s University Pages offer schools a place to post updates about campus news and activities; they can also link to famous alumni, who will doubtlessly love when a couple thousand students try to connect with them all at once. But it doesn’t end there: starting September 12, LinkedIn will let high school students onto the network, so they can explore their future alma maters’ Pages.
Some 200 universities are setting up LinkedIn Pages, including NYU, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and more.
Why this aggressive expansion into a younger demographic? Today’s students are tomorrow’s cubicle bees and entrepreneurs; by locking them into the network early, LinkedIn can (at least in theory) maintain a user base for many years to come. (It’s safe to presume that at least a fraction of these young users will eventually engage LinkedIn’s paid services, which makes this initiative a long-term revenue play.) Building a substantial base among students could also help LinkedIn head off future competition, such as Facebook moving more aggressively into the careers space.
As a publicly traded company, LinkedIn has a responsibility to its shareholders to keep growing revenue and profits in perpetuity. That means expanding into new verticals, and buttressing its existing features to appeal to more people. Over the past several quarters, the network has made subtle (and not-so-subtle) upgrades to its news feed, user profiles, and other elements; according to some pundits, it’s only a matter of time before it makes a broader effort as a content aggregator.
“It needs to build engagement: it needs to be the platform that businesspeople will want to check in on every day,” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recently wrote in a column in The Kernel. “It needs to become useful, not just for recruiters and sales-people (and, now, social media mavens), but for the everyday businessman.”
LinkedIn evidently believes that, in order to seize those everyday businesspeople, it needs to make an aggressive play for students. But with the minimum age for LinkedIn now at 14 years old, how will the service deal with the inevitable privacy and security concerns—thorny issues for pretty much every existing social network, including Twitter and Facebook?
Jeffrey Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, told The Wall Street Journal that LinkedIn’s controls are already robust, but that it could put more safeguards in place. “Companies have to go the extra mile in terms of transparency and control,” he told the newspaper. “They can’t treat teens as little adults.”