Joining the rest of the social media world, business networking site LinkedIn is rolling out Sponsored Updates, a way to get your LinkedIn posts and announcements directly into the LinkedIn news feeds of people who aren’t already following you.
LinkedIn already has an advertising platform, but Sponsored Updates are a little different. Rather than shunting your messaging off to the sidebar, these promotional posts will appear directly in your news feed on your LinkedIn homepage, making them much more difficult to ignore. (LinkedIn ads are typically buried at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar and don’t even appear unless you start scrolling down the page.)
In its announcement, LinkedIn assures users that they won’t be inundated, saying the “measured and methodical” ads will “strike the right balance for our members and companies.” The program has been running in beta since January with just a few partners, including Adobe, HubSpot, Mercedes-Benz, and the Wall Street Journal, according to Marketing Land. It rolls out to the rest of the world—anyone with a LinkedIn Company Page—at the end of this month.
The impetus behind the move should be obvious. Users are far more engaged with their various social networking news feeds than they are with junk cluttering up the sidebar, and better engagement means higher clickthrough rates. It also means LinkedIn can charge a lot more for these ad placements than it does for its matchbook-sized standard ads.No pricing information was immediately available, but LinkedIn says the service will be available on both a CPC and CPM basis, and analytics will be available for Sponsored Posts in real time. Interested advertisers currently have to sign up to be contacted by the company if they’re interested in getting started with Sponsored Updates (or simply wait a week).
Content marketing, as opposed to display advertising, has been a growing area of focus for both advertisers and social networks. Case studies have shown that promoted content does tend to increase the overall authority of a company on a given topic, as well as increase overall sales. Of course, as a secondary effect, promoted posts also increase the number of followers a company has on that social network, since these posts are delivered in part to demographically appropriate users who are not already followers.
LinkedIn’s own case data involving Sponsored Posts backs this up. Adobe’s experiment in promoting research updates about digital marketing translated into measurable improvements to customer opinions about the firm. From LinkedIn: “Marketing decision makers who saw Adobe’s updates 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 them optimize media spend when compared to those not exposed to their Sponsored Updates.”
Actual results from other social networks bear out that promoted or sponsored content does seem to have a positive business impact. Mashable recently reported that a restaurant in Half Moon Bay, Calif. used Facebook’s Promoted Posts system (virtually identical to LinkedIn’s Sponsored Posts) to increase guest visits and revenue by 19 percent.
The real trick, it seems, is figuring out exactly what to promote.
Christopher Null is a veteran technology and business journalist. He contributes regularly to TechHive, PCWorld, and Wired, and operates the websites Drinkhacker and Film Racket. Disclosure: He also writes for Hewlett-Packad's marketing website TechBeacon.