How LinkedIn May (or May Not) Pay Off for Microsoft

July 21, 2017, 4:58 PM UTC

The good news: In its fourth quarter, Microsoft logged $1.1 billion in revenue from LinkedIn, the social networking company it bought last year. The less good news: LinkedIn also accounted for a $361 million operating loss for that period.

That compares with the third quarter, in which LinkedIn posted a loss of $386 million on revenue of $975 million. The new numbers are in line with expectations, according to Bernstein Research analyst Mark Moerdler.

People are watching LinkedIn results with interest because Microsoft (MSFT) bought the business social network for $26.2 billion in a deal completed in December. That is Microsoft’s biggest acquisition ever, and given that some of its previous purchases—Nokia, and aQuantive, for example—have been busts means some Microsoft bulls are a tad nervous.

Microsoft execs say the company under newish CEO Satya Nadella has learned the lesson, and the company is not trying to shoehorn new prospects into its mold. The fact that LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is on the Microsoft board is a sign of that change, they say.

Since announcing his LinkedIn plan a year ago, Nadella has talked about how LinkedIn data and expertise can boost the capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics business software. On Thursday’s earnings call, he reiterated that point, noting that a new product called Microsoft Relationship Sales ties together LinkedIn Sales Navigator with Microsoft’s own sales software. Nadella also noted that LinkedIn user sessions, or the number of times registered users interact with the site, was up 20% for the third quarter in a row.

Related: Here’s What LinkedIn Means for Microsoft’s Cloud

This type of product synergy and Microsoft’s access to LinkedIn data about users is why Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff was so irked by the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal. Salesforce is the leader in the sales software category that Microsoft is taking on with Dynamics.

But there are also questions about LinkedIn’s user base and just how active it is. As an independent company, LinkedIn stopped reporting monthly active users (LinkedIn preferred the term “unique visiting members”) after its third quarter in 2016. And at that time, it pegged that number at 106 million which was flat from the previous quarter.

Related: Here’s What Microsoft Should Do With LinkedIn

Total membership grew from 450 million to 467 million in that same period. Flash forward to April of this year, when LinkedIn claimed 500 million registered users worldwide, but again, it didn’t indicate how many are active in a given month (or week or day.) Nor did it provide stats on how many are paying customers versus non-paying users.

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The difference between active and inactive (as well as paid and unpaid) users is huge. Anyone can sign up for a free LinkedIn (or a Facebook (FB) or a Dropbox) account and then never visit it again. Should that person be lumped in with those who use those sites every day? For many tech watchers, it’s much more important to get stats on these actively engaged users.

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