What LinkedIn means for b-to-b marketing — and publishers

In a post on TheGuardian.com, writer David Benady endorses LinkedIn as the “first port of call” platform for business-to-business marketers. He writes that b-to-b marketers overlooking the social network could be missing a huge opportunity. While it’s clear that LinkedIn is becoming a major game changer in publishing content for professionals, the platform has also silently built up other offerings for b-to-b marketers, including advertisements and lead generation, the same services trade publishers today offer their clients.

“There are a lot of tactical things that we do for marketers: brand awareness, lead generation, consideration,” said Jonathan Lister, vice president of marketing solutions at LinkedIn, in the eMarketer report, “Marketing on LinkedIn.” “The marketers who find the most success with LinkedIn are the ones who understand that we can help them engage with members all through the business lifecycle and touch them at all points of their decision journey.”

At an upcoming ABM event, LinkedIn executive Dan Roth will talk about how the company serves vertical markets — and where it wants to partner, rather than compete, with publishers. Here’s an overview of LinkedIn’s services, and how they may affect publishers.

Adept at targeting

At 10 years old, LinkedIn is the second-largest social network (behind Facebook), with 238 million members and an average of 11.7 billion page views per quarter. The most popular social site for b-to-b professionals, LinkedIn aims to be the service professionals turn to “whether they want to recruit employees, market their products or build connections to sell their goods,” reported eMarketer.

eMarketer Chart LinkedInWhile recruiting still makes up the bulk of LinkedIn’s revenue (56 percent), advertising follows (24 percent), then premium subscriptions (20 percent). eMarketer estimates that the company’s ad revenue will more than double in the next two years, going from $376 million in 2013 to $763 million in 2015.

This year, the company rolled out two new advertising solutions, sponsored updates and rich media ads (also known as SlideShare Content Ads, powered by SlideShare), which allow marketers to target professionals by title, location, company and more. The new solutions also capitalize on another b-to-b marketing trend, content marketing, allowing marketers to use content to reach professionals. The rich media ads allow marketers to mix content, images and video in one branded ad unit, while Sponsored Updates mimic similar services from Facebook and Twitter. The new services join LinkedIn’s previous ad offerings, which include targeted premium display advertising and self-service advertising.

Targeting is a popular sales pitch with b-to-b publishers, with many brands touting their qualified readerships and audience databases. Although LinkedIn has a large active database of professionals, it includes professionals from all types of  industries and might be thought of as not focused enough. Trade publishing’s niche background, and reader understanding, can be attractive to marketers.

Delivering leads

In addition to targeting, LinkedIn’s ads deliver leads straight to marketers. (LinkedIn tied for the number two social network for lead gen effectiveness in a recent HubSpot survey). The platform’s messaging solutions is also marketed as a lead generation tool, allowing sales teams to target individuals (InMail) or demographic groups (Sponsored InMail).

Although more expensive for the marketer than the sponsored version, InMails are response-guaranteed, and marketers only pay for the responses they receive. LinkedIn also places a cap on the amount of InMails that can be sent each month.

“LinkedIn is, in effect, forcing salespeople to pitch to only their top targets,” writes Business Insider. “Thus they’re mitigating the amount of irrelevant sales pitches that users receive, and keeping the user experience uncluttered and positive.”

Creating a content experience

LinkedIn has steadily upped its content offerings, and now features stories from 1.5 million publishers. With the addition of curated and original content, page views for the platform have increased 69 percent compared to 2012, although time on the site has virtually remained the same, according to eMarketer.

Content on LinkedIn is featured in many ways, including in groups, its LinkedIn Today channel of curated content and its Influencer Blogs, which feature original content from expert “personalities.”

“The ability for a marketer to tell a story is resonating extremely well with our members,” said Lister, in a USAToday article.

But the focus, says CEO Jeff Weiner is not producing content, which would compete with editorial teams in business media, but creating “the most relevant content experience,” meaning the best publishing platform.

In Weiner’s words: “The objective for us is to be the definitive professional publishing platform, to make it as easy as possible for publishers and anyone to share professionally relevant content, and for our membership to be able to tap that business intelligence.”

Many business publishers are starting to experiment with customized content, delivering personalized information through newsletters and email alerts. LinkedIn’s Today channel is at the forefront of this trend, allowing users to subscribe to industries to get articles they are most interested in or is most popular in the market. Simply put, with the channel, users decide what they consume, not editors.

But, publishers who produce relevant content shouldn’t feel threatened by the “content experience.” According to Weiner, LinkedIn is only looking to do what most publishers are doing today: push out relevant content to the readers it’s relevant for. And, LinkedIn can be another chance for publishers to reach professionals.

Paths untraveled: Data and events

LinkedIn has yet to delve (at least publicly) into business information and events, but it can be a clear path. With a database of millions of professionals (which TheGuardian.com notes is most likely more accurate than other networks since users are less likely to lie in their profiles), the company can easily start to release research on professionals and business industries.

“LinkedIn, at the end of the day, is just a massive audience database,” noted Brett Keirstead in a Knowledge Marketing webinar. “It’s a single consolidated source … It has demographic, behavioral, contextual — all those audience profiles. It knows the groups I subscribe to. It knows the articles I click on. It knows all these things about me.”

Additionally, LinkedIn knows where you live and your interests. The network could easily host events, small and large, and target them to like-minded professionals in similar geographic areas.

The opportunity for LinkedIn in the business-to-business media space is huge, but is the network aiming to compete with business media brands? Even if it is, business publishers can remain relevant by doing what it has always done: leveraging its market expertise, customer understanding and client relationships. And that combined with integrated databases allows publishers to guide customers from one product to another, anticipating the exact point customers will need those services.

LinkedIn’s Roth will talk more about the company and its relationship with business publishers at ABM’s Executive Forum, held next month in Chicago.  For more information on the event, click here.

By Elizabeth A. Reid


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