No site has done a better job at carving out a niche in the social media landscape than LinkedIn.

While Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest grapple over the rest of the social pie, LinkedIn has quietly enjoyed its own piece and has doubled its userbase in less than a year.

And while some may question how much activity is really taking place on the professional social network, the fact remains that LinkedIn is now adding users at a rate of two people per second.

Also, new research from Forrester this week offers another example of why building relationships with your customer base, online and off, is more important than ever.

Read these top stories and find out about a new Facebook update recently spotted by users in New Zealand that could be coming to a Timeline near you in this week’s marketing news roundup.

1. LinkedIn’s most recent milestone: 200 million members

LinkedIn announced a new milestone this week: 200 million members. That is double the amount of members the site reported less than year ago.

The US makes up the largest percentage of LinkedIn users, with more than 74 million registered. IT, financial services, and higher education are the most represented industries on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn also released this infographic to celebrate the milestone.

Bottom Line: Adding 100 million users in a single year is a good sign—to say the least—for LinkedIn.

But while such growth should be touted by the social network, it must also be put into perspective. 200 million represents the number of people who have signed up for a LinkedIn account and set up a profile—that is all. It does not take into account how many of those users are actually logging on each day and doesn’t provide much insight into the type of content being shared.

The standard that matters most when talking about the size of social media networks is active users. And, while we may celebrate 200 million LinkedIn users we must also be mindful that LinkedIn still has plenty to prove.

We think LinkedIn will prove its worth to marketers over the next year.

Here’s what Constant Contact Social Media Manager, Erica Ayotte had to say about what to expect from LinkedIn in 2013:

“A year ago, LinkedIn was definitely a laggard in the social media world,” she says, “but they made some great improvements this past year—with updated profiles, new company pages, the influencer following program, and the endorsements feature—the network has become a valuable resource.”

Erica adds that LinkedIn is going to become the destination for your entire professional life, not just the place you go when you’re looking for a job.

“Folks are treating LinkedIn much more like Facebook’s Newsfeed than ever before: posting more regularly and engaging within the feed. I’m curious to see what else LinkedIn has up their sleeve.”

Learn more about getting started on LinkedIn.

2. Nearly one third of online consumers trust a stranger over a brand

Forrester released some interesting data this week about the perception of online consumers and what type of content is most likely to get them to take action.

One of the most noteworthy statistics was the fact that nearly one third of online consumers trust the recommendations and reviews of strangers over branded advertisements. And 70% of online consumers listen to the opinions published in blogs, reviews, and discussion forums.

What type of content is most likely to get consumers to take action online? For 40% of consumers, it is the opportunity to enter into sweepstakes or register for promotions. That is followed by receiving promotional emails (37%) and joining a brand’s network on social media (33%).

Check out the full infographic here.

Bottom Line: Trust is an integral part of building relationships with customers, online and off. People buy from businesses they know, like, and trust. They also recommend businesses for the same reason.

As a small business, relationships will be your biggest advantage over your bigger competitors. You’re able to interact with customers face-to-face and can develop a level of familiarity and trust that the big guys can’t match.

Developing that trust will also play an important role in the type of action you’re able to drive from your online marketing efforts. Whether it’s getting people to participate in a promotion, asking them to join your contact list, or encouraging customers to join your social communities—the relationship a customer shares with you will determine the likelihood of them taking the next step.

Learn more about why relationships are the biggest advantage small businesses have today.

3. Why social marketers need to adopt a more mobile strategy

EMarketer released new data this week about the growing influence of mobile for marketers on social media. According to the data, the number of users accessing social media sites on smartphones and tablets is growing at an increasingly faster pace, while the number of people accessing sites on computers is falling.

Today, 46% of social media users are accessing site via a smartphone and 16% are doing so via a tablet—up from 37% and 3% respectively in 2011.

EMarketer also highlighted data from a March 2012 survey from Google, which found that 60% of US smartphone users are accessing social media sites daily—up from 54% in 2011.

Bottom Line: As a business, you need to approach social media with a mobile-first mentality. Today, more than 60% of all Facebook and Twitter users are accessing the sites via a mobile device. These users are logging on more often and are spending more time engaging on the sites than ever before.

Put yourself in the place of a customer on the go. Most of these users won’t have the time or patience to read long pieces of text, and in the case of Facebook, any posts longer than 160 characters are going to be cut off. Focus on photos, videos, and other types of rich media. And make sure whatever content you share on social will work on mobile as well.

4. Facebook Timeline is getting another redesign

In December, it was reported that Facebook had begun testing a new look for Timeline on personal profiles. This week, there were signs that this redesign could soon be rolling out to all Facebook users.

According to reports, users in New Zealand—where Facebook has been known to begin its roll outs of new features in the past—have already been switched over to the new Timeline.

The biggest change being made to Timeline is the switch from the current two-column design to a single column of user updates. Facebook also looks to be removing the images on tabs to make them text-only, and are adding a new tool called Collections Manager which gives users more functionality to reorganize them.

Currently, the new Timeline is only showing up on personal profiles not brand pages.

Bottom Line: Don’t panic. It doesn’t look like any of these changes will be significant enough to disrupt the way you’re currently connected with fans on Facebook. And while many businesses complained that the initial launch of Timeline made things more confusing, this update could actually make things simpler.

With the vast majority of Facebook engagement taking place in the newsfeed, not on your Page, the switch could prove to be insignificant to your marketing efforts. We’ll have to wait and see how Facebook users respond.

5. What Google AuthorRank means for content creators

There has been a lot of buzz over the last few weeks about Google AuthorRank, a new search algorithm being introduced by Google sometime in the next few months.

Much like EdgeRank on Facebook, AuthorRank will serve to filter what type of content shows up when an individual performs a search using Google. With AuthorRank, the reputation and authority of the author publishing a particular piece of content will matter more than ever before.

The biggest criteria being used to determine that reputation and authority include:

  • The average number of +1s and Google+ shares the author’s content receives
  • The number of Google+ circles an author is in
  • The number and authority of sites an author’s content has been published to
  • Social proof indicators on individual pieces of content (including comments per post)

Bottom Line: If you’re already managing a blog for your business or contributing content to other sites, you need to be prepared for what Google AuthorRank could mean for you.

The bottom line is that Google is putting a greater emphasis on the person creating the content, as a way to weed out those trying to game the SEO game and deliver the highest quality content. It’s setting new standards for which content shows up in search results and is using indicators like readership and social activity to determine which content will be most valuable to the person searching.

At the very least, this means you should create a Google+ account and set up Google Authorship if you’re already creating content.

For businesses owners who have been thinking about setting up a blog for their business, now would be a great time to do it. Content marketing is already generating results for businesses, large and small and will be even more important for getting your business discovered online once AuthorRank finally rolls out.

What hot topics caught your eye this week? Let us know what stories you think businesses need to be paying attention to.