Electronic Green Thumb Sprouts LinkedIn Community

January 15, 2009


Patrick Crane has one of the hottest jobs in Silicon Valley. The 36-year-old is the vice president of marketing for LinkedIn, the red-hot social networking site that helps individuals find like-minded professionals they can network with to share ideas, solve problems, identify business opportunities and advance their careers.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company was founded in 2003 and is backed by a blue-ribbon suite of venture capital firms including Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners. Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, Excite founder Joe Kraus and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel are all investors.

Since joining LinkedIn in June 2007, Crane has been on a mission to connect the world’s career-minded individuals into one global online community. Under Crane’s guidance, the LinkedIn network is increasing rapidly, from approximately 13 million when he arrived to 31 million today. He aims to increase membership to 50 million in 2009 and to have 50% of the world’s 350 million white collar workers as LinkedIn members by 2012. “We have one new professional signing up every second,” he says.

Crane joined LinkedIn from Yahoo’s Network Division where he was vice president of marketing. Crane was instrumental in growing Yahoo Answers—the community-driven knowledge site that lets users submit practical, real-world questions and get answers from other community members—into the Web’s No. 1 Q&A site.

Crane’s electronic green thumb also helped Yahoo Mail become the top Web mail provider. Before that, he helped mobile telecommunications provider Vodafone grow its instant messaging business.

At LinkedIn, Crane relies on blogging, public relations, partnerships and product innovation to build awareness, knowledge, engagement and, ultimately, participation for LinkedIn.

“We are not the eighth-largest corporation in America,” Crane says, “but we do have the eighth most-read blog (blog.linkedin.com). We invest heavily in content. We make the blog a useful resource for journalists who we want to cover our product. That’s why we get quoted in the press.”

Further, Crane inked a deal last September to provide CNBC content to LinkedIn users. The arrangement includes plans for joint product development, and inclusion of LinkedIn community-generated content and surveys to be broadcast on CNBC. For example, LinkedIn members were polled on whether their job security has been impacted by current economic conditions. More than 27,000 LinkedIn users responded, with the results broadcast extensively by CNBC. The result was a major brand boost for LinkedIn at a low cost.

Crane is also teaming creatively with advertisers. “Banana Republic isn’t simply advertising on LinkedIn. By updating your LinkedIn profile, you can get 25% off your next purchase at Banana Republic and a chance to win a $1,000 wardrobe in a sweepstakes,” he says. His point: Advertisers are integrating and helping to grow LinkedIn.

When Crane rolled LinkedIn into Spanish markets, he created a video with LinkedIn executives speaking Spanish. The official video was viewed 15,000 times. The blooper reel, filled with outtakes, was posted to the Web and got far more hits and built the brand.

Crane does more than help LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Dan Nye expand the LinkedIn community. He’s applying classic four P’s marketing to support the entire enterprise.

“There’s a joke in Silicon Valley that technology marketers only use two P’s. At LinkedIn, we’re using all four,” Crane says.

Most technology marketers have a say over promotion and input on price but rarely get involved in product development and distribution. That’s not the case at LinkedIn. Crane’s marketers are full members of the management team, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the engineers.

Crane is proud of the fact that every Fortune 500 company has LinkedIn members. “Enterprises have to solve problems. Within a company, someone five cubes away may have the answer but they don’t know each other. Microsoft has 80,000 employees with LinkedIn profiles. Big corporations are looking for ways to spread knowledge faster, wider and more efficiently,” Crane says.

While he admires social networking site Facebook, he sees LinkedIn in a separate, more focused competitive category. “I think mode matters,” Crane says, suggesting Facebook is about play and social interaction and LinkedIn is about work and getting things accomplished in our day jobs.

“Facebook has tremendous reach, but the intent is different,” he says. “You go to Facebook to interact, to be social, to share photos, to play games. They’re almost the complete opposite of LinkedIn, which is about getting something done professionally.”

If you’re trying to advance your marketing career in these challenging economic times, Crane has five points of advice that work for him:

  1. Don’t Be a Passenger. Too many marketers go along for the ride. Set your career direction and lead. Don’t wait for things to happen.
  2. Be a Marketing Evangelist. Let your passion for the business out. Be borderline crazy if necessary, but show your advocacy.
  3. Get Outside the Four Walls. Meet with customers, channel partners, experts. Get into the marketplace. Get beyond the physical boundaries of your company offices.
  4. Get Outside the Country. Growth is happening in India and China. Tomorrow’s marketers can’t focus solely on the United States.
  5. Have Reasons Not Reactions. Build a fact base and have reasons for your recommendations.

While Crane has an intensely serious job, he is thoughtful, approachable and down to earth. He is a high-energy person who likes to bike, motorcycle, sail, snowboard, scuba dive, kayak and surf.

With all the opportunities for growth, Crane lives by one mantra—ruthless prioritization. “It’s so tempting to just rush in and do. You’ve got to make sure the fundamentals are absolutely where you want them. You’ve got to be focused. You’ve got to have ruthless prioritization.”

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com or news@ama.org.



 ©2009 Marion Consulting Partners