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How the Ugly Duckling of Social Media is Growing Into a Financially Beautiful Swan

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LinkedIn has always been discussed in quite derogatory terms by the advertising agency world.

Compared to Facebook or Twitter or even their now virtually defunct predecessors Bebo, Myspace et al., LinkedIn has never been granted the same level of hubris nor celebrated as the 'Next Big Thing'.

But suddenly it is the darling of the sector and revels in a share price 140% ahead of its May 2011 flotation price. It recently announced profits and revenues ahead of analyst's expectations and is on course to exceed a billion dollars in revenue in this fiscal year.

I remember very clearly the day I joined LinkedIn. I received an invitation from a senior marketer who liked to think that he was digital savvy. Being a consummate client service man, I of course accepted his request, despite the fact that it meant I had to go through the arduous process of creating an online CV at a time when I had no interest in leaving my current position.

I thought nothing more about it for weeks, if not months. Then suddenly I started to receive a trickle of invitations to connect to people - mainly digitally focused - who I once had a business meeting with. Again, I thought not a lot about this and concentrated instead on the important stuff like Second Life.

Of course the problem for LinkedIn - perception wise - is that it is a B2B brand. We advertising folk don't like B2B. We are consumer people. B2C is glamour; B2B is the nasty dirty stuff that we used to have to do when we were graduate trainees or is done by agencies based in Stevenage, not Soho.

I was once attending a business study course run by the late great Professor Peter Doyle who asked the assembled crowd of ad people (what is the collective noun for Admen? A cackle? A shallow? A herd? - answers on a post card please).

"Do you work in B2B or B2C marketing?"

90% of this particular herd answered with the confidence of Jack Whitehall's character JP, in C4's excellent Fresh Meat.

"B2C of course professor." We produce excellent advertising work viewed by the Great British consumer.

"No you numpties" was the earnest professors reply. "Who is your customer? Where does your revenue come from? You all work in B2B. Never forget this."

And so, back to that great B2B website LinkedIn, terrible brand name that it is. LinkedIn has gone from that grey, dull website to the most vibrant new business and recruiting tool on the planet, complete with the prerequisite cutting edge mobile app.

The trickle of invitations to connect has turned into a torrent and it seems everyone who I have ever worked with - client, agency side or media owner is now using the site daily as a valuable business tool. My connections on LinkedIn now outnumber my Facebook friends and Twitter followers combined.

Now, of course, it is virtually impossible to find anyone on LinkedIn who isn't a specialist in digital marketing, social media and online optimisation. I am also still massively exasperated by the constant trend of 'sharing' articles from Mashable/TechCrunch/VentureBeat in the perfidious belief that it makes the sharer look like a well-read member of the Silicon Valley developer community.

However, I am guilty of this as well. As I have watched LinkedIn develop from an ugly duckling into a powerful swan like operation, I have felt the need to make cosmetic improvements to my own presence on the site.

I now link my updates to my ever so professional Twitter account, I have tidied up my skill sets and spent time brushing up our own corporate site. Any updates tend to be linked to the tech world, my Wired client got the benefit of this most recently after I attended their WIRED 2012 event and I benefitted from 5 'Likes' on the back of it.

Troubled by my conforming to type I let my pertinaciousness side get the better of me. So, as I type this article I have just shared a five year old article from The Guardian on why wireless is the media for the 21st century? I shall update you if I get drummed out of the 'digerati' for this or if anyone dares to 'Like' such a heretic piece.

But back to why LinkedIn is a success and some further evidence as to the reason why. The CEO of venture capitalist Sequoia, Jim Goetz, was recently quoted at one of the many Bay Area tech conferences that he was flabbergasted how few entrepreneurs are focusing on building products for businesses, given how much more likely they are to be successful.

"It's shocking we don't see more engineers and entrepreneurs interested in enterprise (B2B). At Sequoia, upwards of a hundred entrepreneurs a week present and if we're lucky, maybe a dozen of them are focusing on the enterprise. In the last 10 years, there have been 56 IPOs in the enterprise space that have gotten north of a billion [dollars in market capitalisation] and just 23 in consumer."

After all this chat of tech talk, VC's and the Silicon Valley, I will conclude with a Victorian English thought, applicable to such a matter. Where there is muck, there is brass.