LinkedIn Makes Its Big
Branded Content Move

Outside of the corporate world, the importance of LinkedIn can be a bit of a mystery. For many, the niche network may just seem like an automated email service constantly reminding you that your aunt’s new husband wants to connect with you.

For the business set, however, LinkedIn is the Internet’s party palace. From job seekers to recruiters to climbers of corporate ladders, the network has become an integral networking epicenter.

This niche approach to social networking has made the development of LinkedIn-specific content marketing an entirely new animal. At 259 million users, the LinkedIn audience seems like it should be no small potatoes for brands, but its value is still speculative. According to Shareaholic’s Social Media Traffic Report for 2013, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest still dominate LinkedIn in terms of referral traffic to publisher sites.

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But, that same report reveals that while LinkedIn’s referral stats may be low — Google+ low — it also indicates that the tide is rising. In September of this year, LinkedIn referrals to publishers were up 34.51% from September 2012. And that jump didn’t happen by accident.

Making Moves

First, there was the announcement of sponsored updates midway through this year, giving marketers the opportunity, according to the LinkedIn Blog, to get their content “directly to relevant professionals in a place their customers and prospects are already consuming professionally relevant content.”

Already, LinkedIn is sharing brand success stories, such as Adobe, which used Sponsored Updates to further establish their brand as leader in digital marketing. According to LinkedIn, after exposure to Adobe’s updates, marketers were 50% more likely to agree that “Adobe is shaping the future of digital marketing” and 79% more likely to agree that, “Adobe can help me optimize my media spend.”

Those are impressive brand lift stats, and a sign that LinkedIn’s unique business niche gives brands an edge in reaching the right type of business audience.

“With the ability to target specific audiences with relevant and contextual content,” cited Adobe’s Senior Director of PR, AR, and Social Media, Maria Poveromo in the LinkedIn case study, “Sponsored Updates allowed us to reach the right audience on the right channel, ultimately helping to move the needle on a primary objective.”

Whereas Facebook might allow brands to target 40-year-old females with college degrees, LinkedIn drills down much further. In a pitch to financial institutions, for example, LinkedIn pitched their hold on a Mass Affluent demographic of wealthy, “highly sought-after consumers” who widely engage with financial service providers on social media and identify LinkedIn as their most trusted social source for financial information.

Sponsored Updates allowed us to reach the right audience on the right channel, ultimately helping to move the needle on a primary objective.”

LinkedIn is also adding content capabilities for brands, including their new Showcase Pages, which allow brands to make LinkedIn-based homes for individual products or divisions. While very new, companies are already making use them, including Microsoft’s Office, Microsoft Dynamics and Microsoft Lync pages, which can be found nesting inside the company’s main page. The pages differ from the main Microsoft LinkedIn page with full-sized banners and no career or products tabs. Essentially, they’re landing pages for hyper-targeted content, they’re already amassing audiences of their own, with more than 8,000 users following Microsoft’s Office page in the first month.

The Big Goal: Become the First Social Platform For Professional Publishing

A faberNovel study of LinkedIn calls the network “remarkable” in its ability to continuously deliver “value to its members through fast and mastered product development,” and that’s the tradition they’re continuing when it comes to helping brands distribute content. The study also notes that LinkedIn wants to become the first social platform for professional publishing — basically, they hope to become your first stop for all work-related articles, videos, presentations, and other content.

But Pulse’s deeper social interactions are taking LinkedIn’s efforts to tailor content to a user’s specific needs to a whole new level.”

How will they do it? Partnerships. LinkedIn won big when they acquired SlideShare and integrated it into the platform, and over the past several months, LinkedIn has made a number of new partners, including content startup Rallyverse, marketing communications brand JWT and IDG Communications, publisher of Computerworld, InfoWorld and PCWorld. LinkedIn even acquired the news app Pulse, which marketing news site Click Z called no small deal.

“When LinkedIn acquired Pulse earlier this year, it was obvious they believed they could improve the way they deliver content to their users,” wrote Matthew Kumin for Click Z. “But Pulse’s deeper social interactions are taking LinkedIn’s efforts to tailor content to a user’s specific needs to a whole new level.”

When reading curated news articles on Pulse, users will actually be signed into their LinkedIn profile. This means all of readers’ engagement will become LinkedIn engagement, and the data acquired will allow LinkedIn to target its members with relevant content.

The partnerships will help deliver targeted content as well. The result of the IDG Communications partnership, for example, will be the creation of a Hosted Technology Group and a Custom Technology Group on LinkedIn that will offer B2B marketers time-limited sponsorship of content shared with the groups.

Right now, we’re seeing an arms race amongst social media networks to attract the dollars of brands looking to distribute their content. Facebook is making big moves. So is Twitter, and — to a lesser extent — Tumblr and Pinterest. Right now, Linkedin is fighting from the bottom of the referral traffic charts, but they’re clearly in position to close the gap.

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