The business-focused networking site of record, LinkedIn, rode a wave of growth through 2012, turning itself into a Wall Street darling in the process. The race to win the professional networking market isn’t really “a race” anymore, as LinkedIn dominates online networking for the world’s working professionals, now over 200 million users-strong. Oh, and it’s adding an average of two users per second.
With growth continuing, LinkedIn has consistently outperformed expectations over the last three quarters, so this time around, expectations are high. The consensus estimate for revenues in the fourth quarter has been $280 million, up 68 percent from the same period last year. Meanwhile, adjusted earnings has been forecast at 19 cents per share, compared to 12 cents for Q4 2011.
As such, the consensus has been that it would be a tall order for LinkedIn to beat the Street again. But the company managed to blow away expectations yet again, reporting non-GAAP EPS for the fourth quarter of $0.35 and revenue of $303.6 million, an increase of 81 percent compared to $167.7 million in Q4 2011.
Net income, too, increased for the quarter to $11.5 million from $6.9 million in Q4 2011. Non-GAAP net income for Q4 was $40.2 million compared to $13.3 million in 2011. Meanwhile, adjusted EBITDA for Q4 was $78.6 million — 26 percent of revenue — compared to $34.4 million in Q4 2011, which was 21 percent of revenue.
For the full year, revenue increased 86 percent to $972.3 million from $522.2 million, while non-GAAP diluted EPS increased to $0.89 from $0.35 and adjusted EBITDA jumped to $223 million from $98.7 million.
In the preceding paragraphs, you’ll notice the frequent appearance of the word “increased” in relation to LinkedIn’s fourth quarter earnings. “Fell” or “dropped” were nowhere to be found. “2012 was a transformative year for LinkedIn,” LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said in today in a statement. “We exited 2011 having successfully revamped our underlying development infrastructure. Based on that investment, we said that 2012 would be a year of accelerated product innovation, and it was. The products we delivered throughout the year drove member engagement and financial results to record levels in the fourth quarter.”
So, what were those product innovations and Q4 highlights? As mentioned above, LinkedIn passed 200 million members this quarter, ending the year with just over 202 million, which adds up to cumulative membership growth of 39 percent year-over-year. Another stat worth noting: At present, over 64 percent of LinkedIn members hail from international markets.
Additionally, LinkedIn rolled out a totally revamped profile last fall, which intended to make it easier for users to build their professional brands online — not just their online resumes — discover new connections and business opportunities and engage their networks. To that point, the company said that the average number of members who updated their profiles doubled from Q4 2011. The company also debuted LinkedIn Influencers in an attempt to develop its potential as a professional publishing platform, which the company said “helped drive an eight-fold increase” in traffic over the last year.
This makes its blockbuster fourth quarter performance all the more impressive, especially considering the fact that LinkedIn has continued to invest heavily in its business, launching a new API to make it easier for advertisers to run large-scale social marketing campaigns and for developers to build customized tools for those campaigns. It followed the massive overhaul of its core product (Profiles) with big upgrades for its mobile apps, the addition of notification features, among others.
The performance of LinkedIn’s growing suite of B2B products and services continued to accelerate in the fourth quarter, led by what has become its flagship product: Talent Solutions. The company said that revenue from Talent Solutions increased 90 percent over Q4 2011 to $161 million. In fact, the service represented 53 percent of the company’s total revenue in the fourth quarter.
Following Talent Solutions was LinkedIn’s marketing service, which saw revenue increase 68 percent to $83.2 million in Q4, representing 27 percent of LinkedIn’s total revenue. In turn, premium subscription revenue increased 79 percent to $59.4 million, comprising 20 percent of the company’s total revenue in the fourth quarter.
“Continued investment in our talent and technology infrastructure drove momentum in both product and monetization, resulting in record revenue, profitability, and cash flow,” LinkedIn CFO Steve Sordello said. “As we look forward to 2013, we remain excited about the value LinkedIn will create for members and customers in the coming year.”
Of course, in spite of its executives beating the drums, it’s not all smooth sailing for LinkedIn. Depending on whom you ask, Facebook Graph Search could potentially be a big threat to LinkedIn by stealing users from its “LinkedIn Answers,” for example. Some even went so far as to declare it “the future of social recruiting,” in that it can allow recruiters to uncover more details about potential leads and setting the stage for more referral opportunities.
Forbes provides a somewhat alternative angle, sharing results of a Bullhorn survey that found LinkedIn still dominating mindshare for job searchers and recruiters. However, once Graph Search goes mainstream, Bullhorn CEO Art Papas says, Facebook could very easily start to eat into a market that LinkedIn has “essentially had to itself.”
Just how much of an affect on LinkedIn’s core business Facebook can have remains to be seen, and, in the near term, the company expects growth to continue. The company posted a strong Q1 2013 guidance, expecting revenue to range between $305 and $310 million, with adjusted EBITDA ranging between $67 and $69 million. For the year, LinkedIn forecasts between $1.41 and $1.44 billion in revenue and adjusted EBITDA in the range for $315 to $330 million.
Thanks to its impressive performance in Q4, LinkedIn’s stock jumped 10 percent in after-hours trading. But, going forward, questions remain about whether or not LinkedIn will be able to continue to bring users to its content, an important source of ad revenue for the company — and continue to grow the mobile side of its business. The CEO said that 27 percent of the company’s unique visitors come from mobile apps, up from 15 percent a year ago.
LinkedIn wants to encourage readers to come to the site (and stay) to read news and engage with its content, but growing the publishing and content side of its business will be a much tougher uphill battle than adding value to its recruiting services. Mobile? If recent growth is any indication, expect mobile to continue pushing forward.
Further mobile stats absent in LinkedIn’s Q4 earnings release, but we hope to learn more in this afternoon’s investor call. Stay tuned.
For more, find LinkedIn’s fourth quarter earnings report here.