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LinkedIn Beats Its Own Guidance -- Again

Surprise, surprise -- another good quarter from the professional network.

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LinkedIn reported another strong first quarter Thursday afternoon, posting a profit of 38 cents per share on $473 million in revenue.

Yet again, that easily beat analysts’ expectations of EPS of 34 cents on $466.5 million in revenue, and it represented a 46 percent jump compared to the first quarter of 2013.

But perhaps more importantly, that beat LinkedIn’s own guidance for the quarter, in which the company actually lowered its revenue expectations for the quarter to around $460 million, down from previous estimates of $470 million.

This should be familiar by now. LinkedIn has a history of conservative guidance, often lowering analysts’ expectations for the coming quarter. To wit, the company lowered its full-year guidance for the rest of 2014, expecting revenue of $2.02 billion to $2.05 billion. That’s significantly less than analysts’ estimates of $2.11 billion.

Which is likely why the Street flinched a bit on the news. LinkedIn was down about three percent in after-hours trading at $156.50 per share.

But at the cost of sounding too optimistic, LinkedIn has time and again lowered its guidance, and time and again outperformed its own expectations.

As for the highlights, there were few surprises: Revenue from the company’s recruiting products totaled $275.9 million, a 50 percent increase compared to the year-ago quarter. It’s still LinkedIn’s biggest business, responsible for nearly 60 percent of the company’s overall revenue.

The company also pointed out that it had launched a Simplified Chinese-language site, expanding LinkedIn’s potential reach to a new audience of 140 million students and professionals in the country.

One muted point worth noting: LinkedIn is slowly but surely expanding its content publishing platform, letting both big-name business stars and regular, individual members on the network write and post blog-style entries to their feeds.

It’s a long game, and CEO Jeff Weiner said only that early efforts are positive thus far.

But if LinkedIn can beef up the amount of original content flowing through its platform, it gives the company a better chance to build out its other businesses. The marketing side of the house, for instance, could more easily sell its “sponsored updates” product — which look quite similar to regular posts made by LinkedIn users. Right now, marketing sales accounts for 36 percent of LinkedIn’s business, or about $101.8 million in revenue.

That said, LinkedIn is making a big bet that may not pay off. The site is traditionally seen as a repository for resumes rather than a social network — no matter how much the company tries to remake its image. It could be a tough sell to convince people to keep coming back to the site and posting to it on a regular basis.

Obviously, despite giving few details on the overall performance of the content initiative, Weiner and company remain upbeat. The company was also quick to point out that it surpassed 300 million users — registered, though not necessarily active — earlier this month.

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