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With more than 150 million members, LinkedIn's distinction is that it's used primarily as a business tool. “The audience is in a business mind-set when they are on it,” said Brandon Berger, chief digital officer, worldwide, at Ogilvy & Mather. “People are there to look for new job opportunities, to engage with communities of like-minded people and to connect with potential clients.”
LinkedIn, which went public last May, is best known as a platform for career-building activities. Its largest revenue category is hiring solutions, which represented half the company's $522.2 million in revenue in 2011. Marketing solutions, which includes all types of nonjob advertising, brought in 30% of that. The remaining 20% came from premium memberships.
“LinkedIn has a lot of potential and flexibility,” said Ciaran Norris, director of emerging media (global) at Mindshare. “One of the challenges is that a lot of individuals just use LinkedIn as a job hunting and recruiting tool. They might not be aware that they can find information about companies' products and services there,” he said.
Marketers are able to expand their relationships with members beyond career opportunities and job openings by actively participating in what's called the “Follower Ecosystem,” which LinkedIn began rolling out in the middle of last year.
“The value proposition is that companies can build long-lasting, direct relationships with LinkedIn members,” said Jonathan Lister, VP-U.S. marketing solutions at LinkedIn. “Once companies acquire followers—hand-raisers who have said they're interested in the company—they can message those followers, for free, in perpetuity. Companies are seeing incredible rates of engagement across our ecosystem with followers sharing these [messages] and commenting on them.”
Companies can amass followers for free through their participation on the network, but they also can avail themselves of advertising and sponsorship opportunities to gain additional followers. Newly introduced tools allow marketers to target messages to followers based on such parameters as industry and job function.
The Follower Ecosystem is in addition to LinkedIn's well-established display and text-based advertising, which enable marketers to target members according to business-related parameters such as job title, industry, company name and LinkedIn Group.
Val Czamara, PPC strategist at EMA Insight, has placed self-service, pay-per-click text advertising on LinkedIn for b-to-b clients. “I really like that you can track conversions. Being able to show clients that somebody has executed an action is really good for ROI purposes,” she said.