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Why Your Native Ads Really Belong on LinkedIn, Not Publishers' Sites

LinkedIn Gives Brands a Good Platform to Show Off Thought Leaders

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Every social network has, at one point or another, been hailed as the future of content marketing. But there's something a little different about what LinkedIn is doing in its recent push to become a high-quality content platform. Part of it is about the audience, which by definition consists of professionals who are eager to learn something or make a connection that will help further their careers. But for marketers, the shiniest thing about LinkedIn's content hub is the potential it holds for brands.

LinkedIn is doing two things that brands should keep a close eye on. First, the company is opening its publishing platform -- a space hitherto afforded only to a select group of influencers -- to everyone. Second, the company's sponsored updates provide a better way for knowledge marketers to reach an engaged audience than any existing native advertising opportunity.

Unlike other social networks, LinkedIn is perfect for middleweight content, which is short enough to be digested in a few minutes, but long enough to allow more in-depth exploration of complex ideas than many social media sites do. This kind of content is an essential part of marketing. But other than the clubby world of op-ed pages, there hasn't been a great outlet for budding thought leaders to get middleweight content in front of a broad audience. Enter LinkedIn.

I know we've all heard the term thought leadership so much we wonder if there could be anyone left following thoughts, let alone leading them. Call it whatever you want, but it's absolutely essential for brands to showcase the smart people they employ and the ways in which their ideas are ahead of the crowd. It's almost impossible to measure how much Apple benefitted from Steve Jobs' oracle-like reputation. And it's because of their reputations as brain trusts that the world reveres companies like Google and McKinsey.

The thing about LinkedIn is, its users explicitly seek out thought leadership content that might apply to their own lives; if it's from a brand or an executive, so much the better. Brands don't have to sell -- users are already buying. LinkedIn's Newsfeed allows users to select what kind of content they are interested in reading, from graphic design to career advice. In addition, users are more willing than on other social sites to share content with their professional networks -- as long as it makes them look smart in front of their colleagues, clients and bosses. Because it has to clear that bar, content that gets shared on LinkedIn is seen as more trustworthy, and people's comments are usually a lot more thoughtful and constructive than elsewhere on the web.

Developing a smart-guy reputation is one thing, but brands should also take note of the native advertising platform. LinkedIn's sponsored updates complement the owned and earned efforts described above with paid amplification of content. Like many social networks, LinkedIn allows brands to target their sponsored updates to very specific groups of users based on location, industry, company, job title, gender, age, and even alma mater.

As with any content marketing campaign, however, brands need to be smart about reaching people on LinkedIn. Professionals join the site to improve themselves, period. Brands need to share real knowledge about how to survive and thrive in the workplace or shake up an industry. Think about how your brand can find a way into these issues without seeming inauthentic. Get your senior executives to share some career advice or hard lessons. Use videos and infographics to get to the next level of engagement. But make sure it all relates back to the working life in some way. This is a rare audience -- focused, engaged, and hungry. Wasting their time is the biggest sin you can commit.

Of course, LinkedIn's aggressive push into content is a pretty smart move for LinkedIn, too. Creating a portal for ambitious careerists to share tips, tricks, insights, and experiences makes the site relevant on a daily basis -- not just when a user is looking to recruit a new employee or find a better gig themselves. It gives the site the hook of constantly updated content, which is exactly what makes people refresh Facebook, Twitter and Instagram constantly.

For marketers and brands, LinkedIn's allure lies in reaching people with ambition and passion at the exact moment they may be looking for advice or information. That's not necessarily to say that LinkedIn's advertising platform or thought leadership will work for everyone. This is not a mass marketing opportunity. The people brands are reaching likely already know a great deal about their own industry. That means brands must be at their absolute sharpest to gain the audience's trust. But those that are committed to knowledge marketing -- sharing valuable information drawn from institutional know-how -- have a place to shine.

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