LinkedIn Debuts New B2B Networking Service

The LinkedIn Corporation, which runs the business-to-business networking service for media professionals LinkedIn.com, is expected today to release a third Web-based premium service: a directory system for groups and organizations such as companies, conferences, and alumni associations.

LinkedIn.com allows users to create profiles and links with their contacts in the media world. Users can then send messages through LinkedIn to others connected with their contacts, essentially creating a social network for business associates.

The new service, which has been in beta testing since March 2004 with 800 members, allows groups to set up directories which LinkedIn members can join.

The basic LinkedIn Groups functions are available for free, but for a fee, members of the group will have the group's logo displayed on their profile, linking back to the group's main page.

LinkedIn Marketing Vice President and co-founder Konstantin Guericke said the major appeal of the premium service is the promotional aspect. "It's not just buying a sponsored link on the LinkedIn home page," Guericke said. "If you see that one of your contacts is attending the conference, it's a much more powerful endorsement."

Additional premium features center around accelerating the approval process for adding group members. Normally, LinkedIn users who want to join a group must first submit a request, and then the group's owner must approve that request. Premium services allow automatic approval that is based on a pre-submitted list, or based on the domain name of their e-mail address.

Several industry conferences have committed to use LinkedIn groups for their attendees, including CNET and Esther Dyson's PC Forum, Inman's Real Estate Connect, the Kelsey Group's Drilling Down on Local, and the Delphi Group's Business Process eXcellence.

This feature is the third premium service that LinkedIn has released since its launch in May 2003; in April, LinkedIn announced a business-to-business local search offering designed to connect its network of 2.4 million professionals and business owners with in-area service providers such as lawyers and accountants. With the addition of these services, plus a possible upgrade to the site's advertising options, Guericke said, the company hopes to be profitable by the first quarter of 2006.