The job site LinkedIn has long been one of the leading places for professionals wanting to change roles but now the US company is aiming to increase its reach and appeal.
Online recruiter LinkedIn to forge new links in Mena region
To some people, LinkedIn remains just another job site for posting a digital CV.
But executives at the company are trying hard to change that perception, in part by expanding into new parts of the world such as the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) while touting features potential users may never have considered.
For instance, LinkedIn has tried to mirror the kind of online engagement Facebook has successfully fostered when people post - and others check - updates in a newsfeed.
In October, the same month LinkedIn opened its office in Dubai, the company also launched a global "influencers" programme where 150 well-known people such as the US president Barack Obama and the UK's Sir Richard Branson began publishing or posting articles and videos about various topics.
The company has since expanded to include more than 220 such individuals, including a handful of business executives from the UAE, such as representatives of Dubai Aluminium, Ducab and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
"This has generated a lot of interest," says Ali Matar, the head of talent solutions at LinkedIn in Mena.
"LinkedIn is far more than a site to post jobs," Mr Matar adds. "It's a professional network."
More than 5.7 billion professionally oriented searches were conducted on the company's site last year, LinkedIn says. Membership, meanwhile, has increased from about 175 million to more than 200 million since October, and it is now growing at a rate of two new members per second, Mr Matar says.
Within Mena, membership has crossed the 5 million mark and topped 1 million in the UAE.
Of course, none of this growth ultimately matters unless revenue is also pouring in. Fortunately for shareholders, LinkedIn's stock has recently been rising on the back of increased revenues from premium subscriptions, service fees paid for by job recruiters, as well as marketing and brand exposure costs picked up by companies.
In February, LinkedIn reported US$303.6 million in revenue during its fourth quarter last year, which was up 81 per cent from the same period in 2011. The company, however, declines to provide revenue data specifically for the UAE, or other countries within Mena.
To keep up with online competitors such as Google and Facebook, LinkedIn has also been rolling out additional features of late, including "automated alerts", which save a person's past searches and alert them when the results change.
In the Mena region, LinkedIn has recently been hosting a series of events to boost interest among members - and attract new ones.
Here, Mr Matar talks about the company's plans.
q How has LinkedIn's presence grown within Mena since its office opened here?
a We launched in Dubai in October. At that point of time, we announced seven [employees]. We have doubled our headcount. All the people are based in Dubai to cover 12 countries in Mena. We are very much focused on not only UAE but Saudi and Qatar as well and have teams who fly in and out.
Has your site been adapted specifically for this region?
Actually, one of our objectives to come here into the region is to become closer to our members and corporate clients in order to listen to the requirements and, on our end, give back [local customisation] in our product. At this point in time we haven't stated anything for the Mena region. However, out of Dubai, we're collecting local requirements and meeting customers - and telling global headquarters.
What have customers in the region shared so far? The desire for more content in Arabic?
The answer to that question differs from one country to another. If we look at the UAE and Qatar, they have a big chunk of expats and English is the first language being used in the professional environment. I wouldn't see a big request coming for that. Yes, in other countries, we do understand the importance of Arabic language. The fact that it is not there today does not mean it's not going to happen.
In what ways are LinkedIn's growth factors in Mena different than other parts of the world?
One thing that we noticed in this region, if you look at total stats published, is almost 60 per cent of the population is less than 30 years old. That's something important because these are the people that will be in the professional networks. Mobile penetration has exceeded 100 per cent in some countries - for each person there's almost two mobiles. This pushes an interest that we're seeing globally. Over 27 per cent of our members globally are using mobile devices.
On the flip side, what are some of the factors that are limiting your company's growth potential here?
Universities are important and we need to do our homework and ensure LinkedIn is introduced at the university level. We've been talking to universities in the UAE and been introducing LinkedIn to undergrads, or last-year grads, to [help them] understand the best practices of this platform.
But what are some of the hurdles for your company's growth?
I would think about it in a different way. Now that we have an office here, there is a strong commitment coming from our headquarters to support this region. Whatever we're feeding back, I believe, is being evaluated and assessed very seriously.
Are you concentrating more on the UAE than other parts of the region?
Since our office is in Dubai, sometimes we find it's easier to have access to the UAE. But our strategy is for the complete region and very much about executing this across the different countries we cover.
What is the top reason people use LinkedIn within the region?
I think usage of LinkedIn in the Middle East is in line with others in the world. There are some definitely looking to find jobs, but we also see the majority - over 79 per cent - [aim] to be more productive and successful. And how do they do that? By joining groups that are extremely popular to participate in discussions, in order to comment on certain topics of interest. We [have] over 2,300 groups here in Mena.
Personal relationships and wasta help some obtain jobs in the region. How does LinkedIn try to account for that on its site?
Well, to be honest, we've never had any requests from clients [to incorporate this]. When you post something in LinkedIn our algorithm works in a way that [the CV] goes to the right professional, regardless of who he knows in that organisation. It's based on the skills of that person.
How do you compete against other sites that help people search for jobs or connect with colleagues, both past and present?
LinkedIn is somehow very unique in what we provide. It's a worldwide professional network where [many] people are not searching for a job. These are the kind of people you don't find on any job sites. On job sites, you find more active candidates searching for a job. In LinkedIn, we have a combination of both.