With 1 billion user “endorsements” and counting, Jeff Weiner explains the secret behind LinkedIn’s red-hot streak. (Hint: It has nothing to do with the 3,500 iPads he just gave employees.)
FORTUNE — Why doesn’t LinkedIn LNKD suffer from the same news leaks as companies like Yahoo LNKD ? As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner put it simply at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech dinner in San Francisco last night: It’s all about transparency.
Weiner knows what he’s talking about. His previous experience includes seven years at Yahoo and five years at Warner Brothers. “I’ve come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation,” he says. People have an insatiable curiosity, and if they’re officially denied access to information, they’re going to dig for it on their own. And if they find it, they’ll become resentful and want to leak it. “That’s when executive management says, well, clearly we can’t trust our employees with this information. So, we’re going to have to buckle down and release even less information.” Employees become even more resentful, dig even deeper, and that, as Weiner explains, is when the witch hunt starts.
Instead, Weiner argues to treat employees “like adults” and be completely transparent. It provides optics into what’s working around the company and what’s not. It also breeds a sense of trust within the company, so employees are far less likely to leak sensitive information.
The strategy seems to be working.
LinkedIn leaks are few and far between. Although employees this week revealed Weiner gave 32-gigabyte iPad minis to the company’s 3,500 employees — a perk that may have cost the company nearly $1.5 million. The award comes on the heels of LinkedIn’s fourth-quarter earnings last week, which came in far above Wall Street’s expectations. Revenues soared 81% year-over-year to $304 million; net income jumped 60% to $11.5 million from the same time last year. The news marks the seventh consecutive quarter LinkedIn has handily beat estimates. Gifts like the iPads “just make all the difference in the world,” says Weiner.
Over the last seven months, LinkedIn has rolled out a slew of new features, including new profile pages, alerts, and endorsements which allows users to recommend one another in different skill areas like say, writing, editing, and blogging. Now, the company is fast approaching 1 billion user endorsements, and 1 million unique domains across the Internet now feature the LinkedIn share button. Though such features aren’t revenue drivers themselves, LinkedIn’s CEO argues they’re critical to the company’s ongoing success. The more time users spend using them, the higher the user engagement and loyalty, which in turn spills over into the way LinkedIn does make money, which includes selling premium subscriptions to 200 million-plus users.
Don’t expect that kind of innovation to stop. According to Weiner, product teams will continue to crank. Whether it’s a new product, a minor improvement to an existing feature, or behind-the-scenes work, every team is capable of “launching” twice a day. Provided what they launch is compelling, it’s a win both for the company and for its users.