What will LinkedIn link into?

LinkedIn finally goes public today. This is going to be fascinating – not just to see what this IPO for a name social media company gets, but also to see what investors themselves are buying into. Are they riding a media wave, as is suggested here, or do investors see real and continuing value in B2B networking?

My suspicion is the former, and that’s not good. Long after the hype and the bullish sentiment of launch, it’s the latter that is going to platform LinkedIn’s growth. After all, being a social media company is LinkedIn’s channel, not their strategy. And we all know what happens when investors plumb for a channel at the expense of a viable way forward.

Nothing I’m seeing in the press suggests a worked out plan to meet Wall Street’s expectations in that regard. In fact, quite the opposite. LinkedIn does not expect to be profitable in 2011 and its financial performance to date hasn’t exactly been inspiring. I raised this point last week about the Skype purchase and I’ll raise it again here. When your business model and your brand reputation is prefaced on what people can get and do for free, monetising the model remains a challenge. How are they going to link their reputation and awareness to a money engine?

LinkedIn will have a great day today. I hope they enjoy it. Personally, I love the platform and I wish them the very best. But I can see some sleepless nights ahead in the months ahead when the analysts come calling.

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