In 2016, SlideShare had over 70 million unique visitors per day, and it was listed by Alexa as one of the top 100 most visited websites in the world. At its peak, it was such a powerhouse that Obama used the network to post his birth certificate. It also stood for years as a premier B2B social channel: In 2015, author and marketing expert Jay Baer referred to it as "content marketing's secret weapon."
However, just a few months ago, Baer changed his tune, penning an article titled "LinkedIn Is Ruining SlideShare."
It's not just Baer. Power users have been dropping the channel left and right.
Top content creator and SlideShare investor Dave McLure hasn't posted to the channel in over 11 months. HubSpot, the content marketing powerhouse that posted over 60 presentations in 2017 and reached over 500,000 users, has posted only once in 2018, reaching a total of just over 1,000 users.
So what has caused this exodus of power users and decline in social-media prominence? A perfect storm of shifting parent-company priorities, insufficient revenues, and a user base largely outside of the US.
Despite SlideShare's massive fan base, loyal users, and billions of impressions, it was a storm too great. A once-powerful channel is all but dead, and here's why.
Loss of SlideShare's Humanity
The rapid growth of SlideShare from a small startup to a top website began in 2009, in a tiny room in India, when Amit Rajan, Rashmi Sinha, and Jonathan Boutelle saw the need for a "YouTube for presentations." Within a few years, they had built a network of 38 million registered users by providing a desperately needed tool—and a new social channel for presentations.
But the key to their success wasn't the tool, it was the human touch it added to the presentations.
SlideShare didn't have a marketing team fueling its rapid growth. It relied on loyal fans. Its fans were the content creators, and to ensure the best content was featured, the team at SlideShare would manually curate the site each day, ensuring that the best presentations were prominently featured.
Kit Seeborg, author of Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business, was responsible for most of the content curation the users loved. When I spoke with her, she stressed how important human curation was to SlideShare: "It took me six months before I was allowed to curate the homepage on my own. [Co-founder] Amit and I would spend hours going over what should be featured." Kit even proposed automation via a curation feature, to which Amit simply responded, "We are not a magazine."
The curated content was a huge hit. It was also one of the drivers of SlideShare's email list, which, at the time of LinkedIn's acquisition of SlideShare in 2012, was growing by 250,000 new subscribers each week. After the sale to LinkedIn, the curation process remained a critical part of community-building, until 2016, when the program was ended. Since then, the homepage has changed very little, which was a major clue to marketing insiders that LinkedIn was giving up on SlideShare.
During 2016, the team of editors who had been curators for SlideShare were moved off the product to support other LinkedIn projects, such as Pulse. The SlideShare company page on LinkedIn is now blank, with only a few remaining engineers listed as employees. The SlideShare Twitter handle, @SlideShare, has posted only once since 2016—advising people to stop following @SlideShare and begin following the new handle @linkededitors, the Twitter handle for Pulse content.
The Death of Key SlideShare Features
Beginning in 2017, a group of SlideShare power users began noticing another serious issue. The SlideShare team had removed the critical reupload feature from the product.
What may seem like a trivial feature, allowing users to simply replace an existing presentation with an updated version, was a critical feature for any organization or user.
Imagine you post a presentation, and notice you have a typo (broken URL, misspelling, etc.) and want to fix it. The reupload feature was the only way to do that while maintaining the backlinks necessary for modern marketing. It was a simple yet necessary feature for content marketers and others.
The removal of that one feature sparked an uproar among fans, and many marketing leaders derided the change. Author and speaker Carla Johnson called it "a poor decision that clearly shows they don't understand their audience. I loved that feature."
After multiple attempts to reach LinkedIn about that issue, with multiple questions about when a fix would be coming, I was finally given the following statement:
"LinkedIn continuously evaluates how features and products are used and makes adjustments accordingly to focus our resources on providing the most value to our members. After careful assessment, we can confirm that we will not be moving forward with a fix at this time for the slide reupload feature.
"Please know that we are actively working on making foundational improvements to our platform and appreciate your feedback. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."
LinkedIn has cut its staff, and that statement is just one more proclamation confirming its abandonment of SlideShare.
The lights may be on, but nobody's home.
Not Enough Revenue
From the beginning, SlideShare was about allowing a community of people an easy way to upload and share great content. The only problem was, it wasn't easy to monetize.
In a recent interview, co-founder Amit Rajan told me that when LinkedIn purchased SlideShare for $118 million in 2012, his company was at only break-even revenue. Even as the company continued to grow, it struggled to find a significant revenue source for one key reason: a large international audience.
Despite its beloved status with many content creators, the vast majority of SlideShare's traffic is from outside the US. In fact, only 8.7% of SlideShare's total traffic is from the US, and Rajan confirmed that the US has always accounted for a small portion of traffic to the site.
That makes the social audience hard to monetize when targeting ads to US-based businesses, which are LinkedIn's core demographic.
LinkedIn could have easily found ways to increase SlideShare's revenue streams, yet it likely lost focus after the acquisition of Lynda for $1.5 billion in 2015, the rolling out of Pulse, and its 2016 acquisition by Microsoft for $26 billion.
The amount of money that could have been made from SlideShare was likely not enough to move the needle for the larger organization, so it simply let SlideShare go.
SlideShare Is Dead, but Presentations Aren't: Alternatives
During our recent conversation for this article, Rajan said there still is a need for a tool like SlideShare, and that sentiment rings true with many who once used the tool. Its users are sad and confused about how our beloved channel was abandoned because it didn't make enough money.
But that's the way the business cookie crumbles. So what are we to do?
Here are some possible alternatives:
- Microsoft may create a social PowerPoint for 365. That is speculation, but now that LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, and with the recent move to put Office in the Cloud, we could potentially see a new social aspect of PowerPoint in the future. Just don't hold your breath. There are new startups, such as SlideCraft and EDOCR, trying to re-create the social aspect of slides along with an updated feature set. All of those are speculative and may or may not work out.
- Use Prezi. It's an alternative to SlideShare, but it does require you create content in Prezi's own software rather than in PowerPoint; that requirement can be a pain for some.
As we are continually bombarded with new marketing channels, tactics, and tools, one thing is clear: Slides are not going away. Events seem to give brands the personal touch the digital world just can't, and slides are usually the No.1 content type at events.
In my case, I'll be moving all my slides to my personal website so I don't have to worry about third parties, and I'll have better control over my content.
It's a shame LinkedIn couldn't find a way to make SlideShare work, deciding instead to abandon all 70 million of its users. It's time we all say goodbye, too.
Rest in peace my friend. It was good while it lasted.
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