LinkedIn Set to Become Financial Research Broker

The professional social network is getting into the expert advice game, joining Gerson Lehrman, Yahoo and Google.

Looking to leverage its base of millions of professionals, LinkedIn this year will launch a primary research service to help financial services employees tap experts for advice on the social site's network of 18 million-plus users.

Mike Gamson, general manager of the LinkedIn Research Network, said the service will help hedge fund managers and investment banks find people who used to work at a company they're interested in, or even who is working for a customer of a company they are interested in.

"Let's say I'm thinking about making an investment in a producer of product X," Gamson told eWEEK Feb. 4. "I might want to speak to people that sell that product, people that buy that product, or that used to work at that company as part of my research process to have a better understanding of how valuable that product is."

Taking the experts' information into account, researchers can then turn around to their supervisors and offer them a stronger reason to make an investment in a new product or service to help them internally, or better serve their clients.

The idea behind providing an expert advice service is that it's often challenging for professionals to find people to talk to if they're starting cold, especially outside the United States or at smaller companies. LinkedIn, Gamson argued, can help facilitate that communication between two parties quite easily.

Expert advice services are nothing new, but Gamson said LinkedIn has learned from some of the successes in the market, such as Yahoo Answers and the Gerson Lehrman Group, which he said is valued somewhere between $800 and $900 million.

LinkedIn has also learned from the failures, such as Google Answers, which stopped taking new business in December 2006 due to the small, irregular community.

But LinkedIn may still have Google to contend with, as the search giant is making another pass at the expert advice market with knol, unveiled late last year.

Sometime in the first half of 2008, LinkedIn will begin offering its primary research services to businesses for a subscription fee. Gamson said the details have yet to be worked out. Experts successfully tapped by researchers will then get a cut of the money. Again, what that cut will be is uncertain.

"If we can begin to help our members make money and help our clients find the right people, that's when you create value on both sides and we like those situations," Gamson said.

Gamson, who will discuss the service generally at the O'Reilly Money:Tech Conference in New York Feb. 6, said the move is part of LinkedIn's plan to show users and prospective users that the professional social network is not another Facebook or MySpace, but a way to boost the productivity of work forces all over the world.