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LinkedIn latches onto mobile to alter its identity

Long a bland but practical site, the professional social network injects itself into almost every business task people might want to complete on their smartphone or tablet.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner unveiled a multi-app strategy for mobile at the company's press event on Wednesday.
Screenshot by Jennifer Van Grove/CNET

The prefix of the day is "re" -- at least if you live in LinkedIn's world.

The professional social network used a press event Wednesday to unveil new mobile applications and drive home the point that it has rethought, redefined, reimagined, redesigned, and re-everything its entire business around mobile. Though there were far too many "re" words for this reporter to stomach, the message that LinkedIn is now a mobile-focused company, as repeated ad nauseam by executives, was certainly heard.

Behind the buzzwords and the obvious but overstated point that people use smartphones and tablets a lot -- to send email, read news, find jobs, connect with contacts yada yada yada -- was a message of substance: LinkedIn is a much different company than it used to be.

The message, like the company's new strategy, came packaged in pieces: enhancements to the iPad application, pending updates to the Pulse news reader application, and a new email add-on for iPhone called Intro. Combined they represent a multi-application approach that will spread LinkedIn far and wide across several mobile applications.

Intro places LinkedIn profile data inside email messages on iPhone. LinkedIn

Long a bland but practical site where people go to connect with business contacts, LinkedIn has, in essence, found a way to inject itself into almost every business task that people want or need to complete on their smartphones or tablets.

Send e-mail from your iPhone? Of course you do. There's a new LinkedIn app called Intro that infuses social intelligence into the process. Read news while on the go? Duh. LinkedIn's Pulse app will feed you the business news you want. And LinkedIn's flagship mobile application will come in handy when searching or applying for jobs. Plus, keeping up professional connections should be easier with the Contacts app. Even employers and recruiters can use the Recruiter app to converse with potential hires.

The multi-app mobile approach, which seems to borrow from Facebook's strategy, gives out smaller pieces of the LinkedIn service in the places where its potentially most convenient for mobile consumers to get the most value from them. With Intro, for instance, which is only available on iPhone to start, users can immediately glean info about the people who send them email from right inside the message and within the inbox they already use.

People can, in essence, choose just the parts of LinkedIn they want and pass on the rest, and the company still benefits by holding their attention in some capacity.

LinkedIn, in setting itself up to be the backbone of all professional actions and interactions on mobile devices, is trying to preserve its value to advertisers -- and investors by association. The professional social network's 238 million members, 38 percent of whom now use LinkedIn from mobile devices, are only as valuable as they are active. After awhile, adding connections gets tedious, which is why the company is pushing to get people to think of LinkedIn as a daily destination and using its lineup of mobile apps to do so.

The effort also aligns nicely with the company's publishing ambitions as the mobile apps let LinkedIn funnel original and curated content from LinkedIn Today and the Influencers program in a variety of ways.

To the average person, LinkedIn won't appear much different than it did yesterday or the day before, though the prettier iPad application certainly offers more to see and do. But if LinkedIn can succeed in convincing people to pick up any of its apps more regularly, then, in time, the company can change its reputation from a nice-to-have address book to an ever-present professional necessity.