While these ads -- the first the company has delivered to
smartphones -- are still nascent, LinkedIn has lofty ambitions for
the revenue they can generate. It's hoping that a content-rich news
feed, fed by its stable of "influencer" columnists, will increase
user engagement and create demand among marketers to have their
messages there -- targeted, of course, at the data inherent in
"Now because people are reading articles and sharing updates,
the [news] feed's become very liquid," said LinkedIn's senior
VP-global solutions Mike Gamson. "Into that liquidity, an
advertiser has an opportunity to suggest a story that might be
LinkedIn has made various moves over the last year to bolster
its standing as a content-marketing platform. There's its
introduction last October of the influencer program, where the
likes of Mssrs. Branson and Gates and other business leaders post
on topics like advice for the class of 2013, as well as its $90
million acquisition of the mobile news-reader app Pulse in April.
And going back to 2011, there's LinkedIn Today, which combines
algorithms and editorial curation to serve up a set of news stories
tailored for individual users when they visit the site.
While site visits are up significantly from last year, there's
still not any conclusive evidence to show that users are reading
more. Per ComScore, there were 52.1 million unique visitors to the
site in May, up from 37.6 million a year earlier, but average time
spent was 20.6 minutes in May, essentially flat from 20.9 minutes a
"The question is: how long is it going to take before this can
really impact their [ad] revenue?" said OMD's social-media director Colin Sutton.
"And I think it's going to take some time."
LinkedIn has a sell to make based on the notion of slotting ads
in users' news feeds alongside self-improvement tips by
billionaires and white papers posted by professional contacts. Even
if that proposition doesn't immediately deliver more ad revenue,
its content play is still a boon to its other business. For
example, more people signing in daily to check their feeds makes
the site more valuable to recruiters.
But as the company pitches marketers on its engagement and reach
metrics, it's still contending with its own reputation, as well as
high monthly minimums to enter a campaign, according to Peter
Fasano, senior VP at Social@Ogilvy.
"When we go and present a concept to a client, the typical
perception still is that it's a careers network," he said.
LinkedIn now appears to be following a monetization path tread
by Facebook. Similar to how Facebook introduced "sponsored story"
ads generated from organic content, LinkedIn is urging brands to
develop unique content for their company pages. The newest phase is
unveiling an ad unit to let them promote that content to a wider
audience in the news feed, according to Jon Lombardo, General
Electric's leader for its social-media center for excellence.
GE is among the brands to have tested LinkedIn's sponsored
updates, and Mr. Lombardo noted that the marketer is gradually
cranking up as its ad spend as it posts more content on LinkedIn --
everything from Thomas Edison quotes to webinars across its various
"When we produce great content, we want to use sponsored posts
to make sure people see it," he said. "It's the model everyone's
after at this point."