WSJ drops publisher frenemy LinkedIn's share button

For business publishers, LinkedIn has been something of a frenemy. But now, The Wall Street Journal has gone full-on hostile by dropping its LinkedIn sharing button from its article pages.

It could well be that the social network for professionals wasn’t driving a lot of traffic for the Journal, which it isn’t doing for publishers generally. A Journal spokesperson didn’t offer much in the way of explanation other than to say the share buttons were removed as part of a larger article redesign that involved reevaluating share functions. The Journal didn’t give LinkedIn much love pre-redesign, either, when the LinkedIn share button was relegated to the “other” button, after even Google+ and Evernote.

Publishers have a love-hate relationship with the big platforms, but while other publishers are generally publicly diplomatic about them because they depend on them for referral traffic, the Journal’s parentage has been openly contemptuous of LinkedIn. In a speech last summer, Journal parent News Corp’s CEO Robert Thomson slammed LinkedIn (along with Facebook and Google) as a “spammer” that distributes other publications’ work. “They now see themselves as a news distributor, and news organizations who cozy up too closely to them are guilty of techno trendiness,” he said.

Other major business news sites still apparently see value in the LinkedIn button. It’s the second sharing button on Business Insider, after Facebook. It’s the third or fourth button on CNN Money, Forbes and Fortune. It’s hidden in the “other” button on Bloomberg and it’s also absent on Yahoo Finance.

Apparently severing ties with LinkedIn isn’t an edict yet in News Corp, as its share button still appears on Barron’s stories.

LinkedIn has fluctuated as a referral source for publishers, once sending lots of referral traffic to them, then dialing it back last year. At the same time, it’s become more of a competitor to them as it’s prioritized exposure for its own contributor network. But the irony of the Journal move is that it happened around the same time that LinkedIn started sending more traffic to publishers. Publishers’ LinkedIn referral traffic comes partly from their readers sharing articles to LinkedIn, leading users to click back to the publishers’ site. So removing the article share button seems likely to reduce any referral traffic the Journal was getting from LinkedIn.

It’s likely not a big loss, though, as sharing to LinkedIn generally represents a small percent of content shared as Facebook continues to dominate as the preferred way people share content. The number of articles shared to LinkedIn from publisher sites is only 1.6 percent for all publishers, but 10 percent for business publishers, according to ShareThis, which puts share buttons on publishers’ sites.

A LinkedIn rep struck a conciliatory tone, saying, “The Wall Street Journal is a very important publisher to us, and we want to continue to work with them.”