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LinkedIn to welcome teen users ahead of share sale

The LinkedIn Corp. logo.
Tim Boyle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The LinkedIn Corp. logo.

LinkedIn is lowering its user age limits this week, in a move that is unlikely to help it overtake social network rivals such as Facebook, but could boost company profit down the line.

On Thursday, students as young as 13 will be invited to create accounts on the professional networking site—a significant change from its long-standing 18-years-of-age minimum.

The age change is meant to complement last month's launch of LinkedIn's University Pages, a feature which profiles universities and connects alumni worldwide.

(Read more: LinkedIn earnings beat but outlook falls short)

While LinkedIn said it had no plans to directly monetize the University Pages or the new teenage users, analysts said the company probably hoped its existing revenue streams would benefit.

"LinkedIn is not looking to profit from this younger demographic in the short-term, but they expect students will eventually enter the workforce and use this platform as their career resource, thus driving future page views, advertisers and paying subscribers," said Leika Kawasaki, a digital media analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Kawaski noted that LinkedIn's strategy was similar to Facebook's, which initially targeted college students and then expanded to a high-school audience. Other social networks like Google, Instagram and Tumblr have all set lower-age limits of 13, while Twitter has no age restrictions at all.

Tim Shepherd, a senior analyst at Canalys, said the change might help Linkedin build a larger user base,but was unlikely to bring it closer to overtaking rivals like Facebook when it comes to traffic. The LinkedIn site currently boasts 238 million users, paling in comparison to Facebook's behemoth 1.1 billion.

(Read more: How LinkedIn Plans to Boost Its Biggest Business)

It is unclear as yet how successful LinkedIn will be in drawing younger users.

'I've never heard a child mention the word LinkedIn and I teach 250 children," said Keith Dyke, a secondary school teacher from Northamptonshire, U.K. "I don't know whether children would be interested in it, because it seems like an older person's thing."

Dyke's 12-year-old son, Will, said he had never heard of LinkedIn, but that with aspirations in the art world, he would be interested in networking with professionals once he gained his qualifications.

Re-thinking the minimum age for LinkedIn was very wise, Shepherd said.

"People like Richard Branson left school early, and he would have been restricted from using the site," he noted. "And 18 is quite old for people to start thinking about their careers...why does professional have to start at 18? I don't think that had a very good answer."

(Read more: 3 Things You Need to Know About LinkedIn's Company Pages)

LinkedIn said it was targeting forward-looking teenagers already in the work force, and took local labor laws into consideration when re-setting the age restriction. As a result, the minimum age will be higher than 13 in a minority of countries, with Dutch residents having to wait until they are 16 to sign up. Teenagers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Germany will be able to join at 14, but China's minimum age limit will not move from 18.

LinkedIn's advantage, said Shepherd, has always been its solid business model, which would allow it to capitalize on a wider demographic in the future. Last month, the company posted second quarter earnings that beat analyst estimates, with a total revenue jump of 59 per cent year-on-year to $363.7 million.

LinkedIn is expected to launch a second offering of shares later this month of around $1 billion.

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