CIO Symmetry

Sep 16 2008   9:00PM GMT

LinkedIn to cash in, but at what cost to you?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

LinkedIn, a social networking site for business professionals, has been in such high demand amongst advertisers that it will be launching its own advertising network. What made LinkedIn such a sought-after site? The registered users.

According to LinkedIn’s June 2008 demographic data, the site’s registered users seem to be an advertiser’s dream. The data claims that the average household income of its members is $110,000, 49% are business decision makers and the average age is 41.

Facebook, another popular social networking site, has 90 million active users (who have returned to the site in the last 30 days) and is the second-most-trafficked PHP site in the world, according to the site. Facebook ads are targeted to users based on their preferences, status (employment, marital, etc.) and general information (age, gender, etc.). But Facebook began as a college networking site back in 2004 that was extended to high schools, and then later to the general population. That’s a lot of users, but the users can be just about anyone – not necessarily decision makers, the employed or people interested in spending money.

OK, so maybe comparing LinkedIn to Facebook is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

In LinkedIn’s claim to have “a younger, more affluent, more influential and harder-to-find audience than the leading business sites” it included statistics for Forbes.com and BusinessWeek.com. For Forbes.com users, the average household income is $93,896, 38% are decision makers and the average age is 47. BusinessWeek.com users average a household income of $95,668, 42% are decision makers and the average age is 48.

With such a desirable audience, LinkedIn’s ad network could be raking in the dough – but what does this mean for the users? Well, whenever someone visits LinkedIn, a cookie will be placed on his or her browser identifying the user as a LinkedIn member when he or she visits partner sites. Opting out is possible, but unless you’re familiar with the changes, would anyone even know to opt out?

In 2007 when Facebook announced it would open user profiles to search engines, traffic to the Facebook privacy page spiked. But since then, traffic to the page has been relatively flat. Obviously, people care about their privacy – but they may be unaware of what they can do.

For CIOs (and any business professional, for that matter), being part of a social networking site like LinkedIn is beneficial. LinkedIn boasts 24 million users representing 150 industries around the world. With such an expansive network of people to connect to, you’re able to make connections, see where people have moved in their careers and even market yourself for a new job or position. But is being sold as a “desirable audience” a fair trade? Is privacy becoming more of a privilege on the Web, as opposed to a right?

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