Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 | 10 min read
When it comes to paid social media, consumer brands tend to focus primarily on Facebook and Twitter.
There are a number of reasons why brands pass on LinkedIn ads: their public perception as a business-to-business lead generation platform, the absence – until recently – of LinkedIn ads on social media management platforms, and a lack of familiarity with the range of LinkedIn advertising options.
But LinkedIn shouldn’t be overlooked by consumer brands. Its user base is still growing steadily, and the platform has evolved into much more than a tool for recruitment and networking. Now, with the launch of its ads API, things are about to get a lot more interesting.
The ads API means that LinkedIn ads can now be planned, bought, and tracked alongside Twitter and Facebook campaigns within the Sprinklr social media management platform.
In this post we’ll examine the advertising options on LinkedIn, challenge the myth that it’s best for B2B companies, and explore possibilities for B2C brands. First, let’s take a look at key statistics for the social platform.
Here are some important LinkedIn statistics that demonstrate how widely used the platform is:
While other major social channels’ growth rates have fallen, LinkedIn user numbers continue to steadily increase.
According to the eBizMBA rank (which aggregates traffic from various sources), LinkedIn is the third-largest social platform, and it isn’t far behind Twitter. The eBiz estimate puts Twitter at 310M unique monthly visitors, with LinkedIn at 255M.
Among the major social networks, LinkedIn stands out for having a larger proportion of high-earning users and a lower proportion of low-earning users.
LinkedIn began its transition to a full-fledged content discovery platform with the acquisition of Pulse, a newsreader app, and the launch of its LinkedIn Influencer initiative. The latter launched in 2012 as invite only, with around 500 influencers publishing articles, including Richard Branson and Bill Gates.
In February 2014, the platform began to roll out publishing privileges to all members. Today, Pulse drives more traffic to B2B blogs than Facebook and Twitter combined. Companies now use LinkedIn in huge numbers for content marketing, and some even run regular B2C ad campaigns.
Seventy-one percent of consumer marketers in North America used LinkedIn to distribute content in 2014, up from 51% in 2013 – the biggest increase among social networks. There are 50,000 long-form posts uploaded to LinkedIn every week, and users who have posted at least one article have an average of 1,049 first-degree connections.
LinkedIn is built for professional networking, personal brand building, and recruitment, which means that people expect business-related content. This makes LinkedIn a natural fit for employee-led brand writing, like articles on company culture, career tips, and industry insights. The most popular content is focused on adding value to people’s lives: how to further your career, “what not to do” lists, blogging best practices, management advice, and how-to’s for building your personal brand. Employees can become LinkedIn famous, increasing their personal stature, and companies benefit from having well-respected, influential employees that are active on social media.
Large organizations like Levi’s and Microsoft use LinkedIn to build their brand within the wider business community, and to get their message in front of decision makers and influencers.
Levi’s Chief Executive Chip Bergh’s Dirty Jeans Manifesto article, published on LinkedIn Pulse, was so successful that the company quickly developed a content marketing strategy for the social platform.
Meanwhile, Microsoft, which is both B2B and B2C, has over two million followers on LinkedIn. The business software company’s products align well with LinkedIn’s professional focus, but they also feature geeky, behind-the-scenes content that generates high levels of engagement.
Keep in mind that business professionals are consumers, too (LinkedIn calls them “prosumers”). Almost any brand can find an audience on LinkedIn by establishing a link to business people – be that luxury brands looking for affluent executives, or CPG brands targeting busy professionals.
For example, Mercedes used LinkedIn to target affluent professionals and drive traffic to its YouTube video brochure for the 2014 E-Class. The campaign used Sponsored Updates and Display Ads to target LinkedIn’s affluent audience and encourage sharing among colleagues.
Additionally, P&G’s Secret deodorant links its product to the business community by encouraging its audience to stay 100% fearless at work, with articles about gender inequality and work-life tips. Targeting busy professionals with self-help content is the perfect example of how a seemingly unbusinesslike product can find an audience on LinkedIn.
Now that we’ve covered how consumer brands are using LinkedIn, let’s take a look at the platform’s advertising options and how they compare to ads on Facebook and Twitter.
Sponsored Updates are LinkedIn’s most important ad product. They deliver targeted content to groups of users who don’t follow a brand’s page. The ads appear in users’ timelines and look similar to a normal status update (see the Mercedes example above).
Sponsored updates share basic similarities with promoted posts on Facebook and Sponsored Tweets on Twitter (the standard native ads that appear in a user’s timeline or feed). Users can engage by liking, commenting, sharing, clicking through to external content, or watching a video.
These are normal display ads (MPUs, leaderboards, skyscrapers, or text links) that can link through to an external site. Display ads are similar to Facebook’s right-column display ads. These ads do not offer any social engagement features.
Content Ads allow brands to promote content directly in a display ad unit, including blog posts, case studies, whitepapers, and videos. The ad units can show up to five pieces of content in a tabbed rectangular ad unit, displayed in the right column on the LinkedIn site. The ads are similar to the standard display ads.
Follow Company Ads encourage users to follow your company page. When users follow your page, this new connection is broadcast to a user’s network, gaining earned media. They are similar to Promoted Accounts on Twitter.
Sponsored InMail allows brands to send targeted, private messages to prospects. They are a kind of supercharged email marketing, taking advantage of LinkedIn’s targeting and personalization features.
LinkedIn’s targeting options allow brands to find precisely defined audiences that would be impossible to reach through most social platforms. Users can be targeted by job function, seniority, industry, location, or company size. And, because LinkedIn is a professional network, brands can be more confident that user data is accurate. For instance, not everyone enters their job titles on Facebook, and many see it as a chance for a bit of fun, whereas on LinkedIn people take this more seriously.
It’s also possible to target through audience segments such as Business Decision Makers and Influencers, or target followers of industry segments such as Advertising or Technology.
Just as Facebook and Twitter have made the transition from networking and communication tools to content discovery platforms, LinkedIn has transitioned from a business tool into a business content discovery platform.
Jeff Bell, the former marketing chief at Microsoft’s Xbox, said in an AdAge piece on the evolution of LinkedIn, “If initially people were thinking of it as a place for me to post my résumé, as a place to find a new position, it has evolved into a much stronger and broader platform.”
In addition to being a platform where content marketing can enhance personal brands, LinkedIn enables clever brands to target an affluent, intelligent audience.
About the Author: Jamie O’Brien is part of the Sprinklr content team and is based in Singapore. In a previous life, he was a digital art director in London. He likes to get away from the city as often as is humanly possible to snowboard, dive or hike.