LinkedIn's July announcement that it will now allow the publishing of “sponsored content”—a new ad unit enabling companies to share such business content as presentations, videos and company news—is good news for b-to-b marketers and LinkedIn, according to marketing experts. The service is still new, so it's hard to tell how popular it will be, but sponsored content posts are already popping up on feeds across the network.
“The biggest advantage to marketers is LinkedIn's superaccurate database of employment information,” said Brian Carter, author of “LinkedIn for Business: How Advertisers, Marketers and Salespeople Get Leads, Sales and Profits From LinkedIn” (Que Publishing, 2012). “Most people on LinkedIn enter their accurate job title and company. That means you're more likely to get your ad in front of the people you want to reach.”
A second benefit is the opening up of LinkedIn's network to mobile advertisers. Before sponsored content, LinkedIn's mobile app was closed to advertising, so there was no way to capitalize on the growing pool of mobile users.
“This is LinkedIn's first entry into mobile advertising,” said Eric Wittlake, senior director of media at agency Babcock & Jenkins, Portland, Ore. “I'm sure their mobile usage isn't nearly as high as Facebook's, but it's growing.”
According to LinkedIn's second-quarter results,
the company optimized its mobile platform for Apple Inc.'s iOS operating system and Google Inc.'s Android OS, resulting in a 40% increase in mobile home page engagement with the new platform.
Facebook represents the closest competitor to LinkedIn's sponsored content option, but chiefly because Facebook got there first. According to Carter, Facebook's sponsored content ads are much harder to target to specific titles and industries. So while Facebook's usage is much higher than LinkedIn, it's not nearly as targeted.
“I still recommend using both LinkedIn and Facebook sponsored posts in your b-to-b advertising mix, plus search engine ads,” he said.
Adding LinkedIn sponsored ads to a marketer's content strategy shouldn't require overhauling the program, Wittlake said. But he added that marketers should take advantage of the powerful targeting LinkedIn offers.
“The test of this product is how well it works,” he said. “You'll be able to target ads by company name, company size, job descriptions, city and on and on. It's much more than profiles once you really get into it. Facebook can't touch it.”
Carter recommends using LinkedIn content updates as part of a larger email harvesting effort.
“The most fundamental thing is to make sure your posts stand well on their own—apart from any other content—and help you achieve your main goal,” he said. “I recommend featuring a link to content you've created that you give in exchange for an email. That way you get leads from your sponsored ad.”
In terms of pricing, LinkedIn is making the sponsored ads available on a cost-per-click basis, which Wittlake said makes sense.
“I think that's how most marketers will end up using this,” he said. “People are increasingly comfortable with CPC, but that means it will compete with search budgets a little bit.”
LinkedIn's sponsored ads are also more expensive than Facebook's or than Twitter's sponsored tweets, so the extra expense must be part of the calculation in justifying its use as a major factor in the success of the program long-term.
Do you plan to use LinkedIn's Sponsored Updates advertising unit, and why?