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The case for a Twitter-LinkedIn merger

Let’s be honest about Twitter. The bad press isn’t just bad press. Loyal Twitter users have grown accustomed to buggy features, promises unfulfilled, a rise in noise, and a decline in innovation. If you don’t already use Twitter, there’s no reason to start.

Twitter is stuck. And that’s a bummer for those who find it valuable—like us writers. There is one path out of this quagmire: Twitter and LinkedIn should merge. Here’s a case in favor.

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Twitter does a few things very well. When a user invests the time to set it up, it crackles with breaking news, professional gossip, great jokes, and realtime ideas from activists and public figures. Twitter is a direct line to celebrities, which is fun. And it has spawned a cottage industry as a consumer complaint box, with unflappable PR reps doing damage control in friendly, economical sentences.

That’s all still humming along. But it looks pretty lame when we compare Twitter to Facebook, its one-time rival in the social networking space. Facebook is lunging after huge piles of money, fueling innovative side companies like Zynga, and developing creative new services enjoyed by customers and marketers alike. Facebook Deals is one example of a shrewd marketing product that Facebook promised—and delivered.

By contrast, Twitter seems apathetic toward anything that might stimulate commerce. Here’s one example: The Promoted Tweets service was announced over a year ago, yet is still closed to everyone except “a small selection of advertisers.” Lately Twitter has become known for kicking around developers who make Twitter applications; as TechCrunch put it: “Twitter is not to be relied upon, and doesn’t have their best interests at heart.”

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Enter LinkedIn. Here’s what it brings to Twitter.

Profit. LinkedIn is serious, growing and profitable. It acts like it wants to make money, and recently opened its books on its way to going public. LinkedIn has three significant revenue streams: Hiring solutions including job listings (which which brought in $66 million in revenue in the first 9 months of 2010), advertising ($51 million) and premium subscriptions ($44 million). This is real money.

Twitter’s revenues are a secret, but an educated guess is that their main source of income is data licensing to Google and Microsoft.

Talent. LinkedIn runs a shop more than twice as large as Twitter’s—990 employees at the end of last year, vs. 400 at Twitter.

Messaging. Some people use Twitter as a way to talk to their friends, but most people find it frustrating. You’re limited to short messages, and you can’t send private messages to people who don’t follow you. Only true geeks understand the difference between a DM and an @reply. LinkedIn has a better messaging system: It’s easy to find someone and dash off a message to them.

Integration. LinkedIn has done the best job of any service at integrating Twitter into its own site. It feels clumsy to connect your Twitter feed to your Facebook account, but it actually makes sense to do so with LinkedIn.

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LinkedIn’s biggest problem is that it isn’t sexy. It can feel like a stuffy, boring H.R. department, devoid of color and splash. It lacks a reason for people to visit it every day.

Which is why this friendship could be beautiful. If Twitter is the creative little sibling, LinkedIn is the responsible grown-up. They balance each other like salt and caramel. Twitter would bring LinkedIn the excitement it badly needs. LinkedIn would bring Twitter long-term vision, serious management and stable revenue. Together, they could make a play for the online gaming and advertising revenue that’s making Facebook’s owners rich (on paper). Competition is good.

Need more reasons this is a good idea? Both Twitter and LinkedIn are already known for professional networking. Both companies have developed good mobile apps, so they could play well together on phones and tablets. LinkedIn recently introduced a news product called Today that sorts stories by relevance, an obvious match for Twitter, which has hinted at similar services but never delivered one.

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How such a merger would work while preserving the spirit (and valuations) of both companies is something for management consultants to mull over. But it’s easy to imagine LinkedIn acquiring Twitter and maintaining it as a separate division. Twitter could be like a skunk works where the goal is deliver the coolest possible user experience—what the Twitter team does best.

The final outcome could be two separate sites—LinkedIn featuring Twitter. Twitter by LinkedIn. Together it would be a strong company with a portfolio of useful realtime data products.

This should happen. Soon. Before Twitter goes the way of Friendster.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Social Media, Technology

6 comments

  1. You say “LinkedIn’s biggest problem is that it isn’t sexy. It can feel like a stuffy, boring H.R. department, devoid of color and splash. It lacks a reason for people to visit it every day.” Call me behind the times but that is one of the reasons I am so fond of LinkedIn. I love Twitter but LinkedIn is the parent talking about, for the most part, serious matters and Twitter is often the child chanting Mommy, Mommy look at me.

  2. Dane Golden says:

    Great idea, but huge culture clash between those two companies I think. They seem complimentary, but in my mind their would be too big a conflict in the way they operate and view their worlds.

  3. Chas Malloy says:

    I use both services on a regular basis and have integrated T>LI. That said Dane and Vannie both have valid views on this issue and furthermore I don’t believe that it would be a good combination Both companies should stand out yet stand alone

  4. Yes I think it’s the way forward. The trouble is that Twitter is very cool but makes no money, LinkedIn is dull as dishwater but actually makes money – how would the merger terms look?

  5. Eric Hansen says:

    This might be a good idea from an operational level, but it’s unlikely given Twitter’s giant valuation. Twitter’s got to be at least 10x higher valuation then LinkedIn. Conversely, LinkedIn sees a window for IPO and you have to expect that their investors are looking for their exit … not taking on more risk by merging with Twitter.

  6. This is bullshit. Twitter users use Twitter for very specific reason, which is why “Loyal Twitter users have grown accustomed to buggy features, promises unfulfilled, a rise in noise, and a decline in innovation.” Twitter will lose big time, if it merges with LinkedIn, they are not in any way similar and I don’t think users would appreciate the merger.

    As Chas has mentioned, users may integrate the services if they feel like it. But other than that (and the question of big bucks), there really is no case.

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