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LinkedIn Sponsored Updates: A Beginner’s Guide


The release of LinkedIn's Sponsored Updates a little over two months ago has many B2B marketers excited over its marketing potential. A form of native advertising, Sponsored Updates allow companies to take content that would traditionally be displayed in predictable, ignorable banner ads and promote it directly in the news feeds of LinkedIn members.

We interviewed several B2B marketers who are using Sponsored Updates successfully, and compiled a list of tips to help your company start a successful campaign.

Audience Optimization: Use Filters to Reach the Right Prospects

Once a company creates a Company Page on LinkedIn, the Sponsored Updates feature can be used to sponsor either a new or existing post from this page. The company simply creates a campaign to promote the post, and from there, the filtering options become available.

The targeting options available for Sponsored Updates

Unlike marketing tools such as Google AdWords, LinkedIn allows companies to target an audience on a much more narrow level. In addition to age, gender and location, filters include job title, job skills, company size, company industry and even school. Aside from creating relevant, effective content (which we’ll discuss later in this article), using these filters to narrowly target your audience is the real key to help you achieve your advertising goals—whether that’s generating more leads, increasing brand awareness or positioning your company as a thought leader.

Erin Cushing is the social media manager at inSegment, Inc., a Boston-based digital marketing and advertising agency. She recently used LinkedIn to sponsor a post promoting a trade show that features a biotech client of inSegment. Using the filtering options, Cushing targeted the post to only those LinkedIn professionals with a certain level of job seniority in the plastics and polymers industry. According to Cushing, she generated “over 15 sales-qualified leads with the campaign."

In another example, Greg Hyer, marketing manager for KnowledgeTree, used Sponsored Updates to search for sales and engineering candidates to join his company. The targeting options helped him separate each post according to desired skill set and promote it to the right audience.

“We wanted to focus geographically on North Carolina. We also wanted to make sure we were displaying jobs, like sales jobs, in front of people in sales roles, and engineering jobs in front of engineering people, and not wasting impressions or clicks,” he says. By using the Sponsored Update filters to narrow down the audience of the job postings to only those LinkedIn members likely to be qualified for the roles, Hyer was able to attract the right candidates and fill the positions with top talent.

CPC vs CPM: Choose the Right Ad Model for Your Objective

The next step to creating a successful Sponsored Update campaign is to carefully consider the advertising model. LinkedIn allows companies to choose to pay by either cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM). Social actions, such as sharing or "liking" a post, are free, but marketers can select a bid for each click or impression on a Sponsored Update.

It’s important to note that choosing the CPM model doesn’t allow the promoter to specify where on the page an ad will be placed. So, your ad could end up further down the page, below the fold. Companies must therefore carefully consider the objective of their advertising campaign. Generally, CPM advertising works well for building brand awareness, while CPC works well for direct-response marketing. This also tends to be the case when using Sponsored Updates. Nevertheless, there are strong reasons for and against each model.

Advertising model options for Sponsored Update campaigns

In Hyer's opinion, cost-per-impression has lost its appeal. "With people becoming a little more numb and aware of ads, I don't feel paying for impressions is a good value any longer," he says. "I think the standard click-through rate now is less than 1 percent. Why should any company waste money paying for an impression?"

Indeed, the latest DoubleClick for Advertisers report, published in 2010, clocked the average click-through-rate in the U.S. at 0.10 percent.

Even so, with a small budget of $20 per day, Lindsey Muth with Oregon-based King Retail Solutions gained 3,700 impressions and 36 clicks in the Seattle area for a Sponsored Update post promoting a business luncheon over the course of a single weekend—a significant increase over their average nine clicks.

“The event sold out so quickly, we had to change the date to accommodate the high demand,” she said. "Even though our overall engagement for this sponsored update was less than average, the number of people who saw it was so increased that the net result was far superior, and far more targeted to the ideal audience, than a non-sponsored update," she said.

Content Is the Catalyst for Success

While the right audience and advertising model creates a crucial foundation for your campaigns, selecting the right content for your campaign is equally as important to its success. For starters, you’ll want to ensure it aligns with your intended audience. If it doesn’t, and if your Sponsored Update generates a click-through-rate lower than 0.25 percent after 3,000 impressions, LinkedIn expires your post. Worse, slinging broad-stroke content to your previously- and narrowly-defined audience negates one of the most valuable aspects of Sponsored Updates (i.e. audience filters).

Take Adobe, for example. The company posted a link to their 2013 Digital Marketing Optimization Survey along with a key insight from the research. The Sponsored Update also included a bar graph showing customer response rates to targeting and personalization.

An example of a LinkedIn Sponsored Update from Adobe

By sharing highly specific marketing research with a targeted group of marketers, Adobe strengthened their position as a leader in the field—after viewing the post shown above, marketing decision makers were 50 percent more likely to agree that Adobe is shaping the future of digital marketing.

Keep in mind, LinkedIn offers two ways to share content: you can either share it directly (a three page excerpt from a white paper, for example), or you can simply share a link to the content. Which option you choose may largely depend on your campaign objective.

If your objective is to strengthen your brand and position you as a thought leader, you may want to share content directly, rather than requiring companies to take extra steps to access content on your website. If your objective is to collect sign-ups—say for an event you’re holding—you likely want to refer people to a landing page optimized for conversions.

Use Additional Platforms to Increase Visibility

Another piece of advice is to amplify visibility across multiple groups by using cross-platform integration. In addition to linking to your homepage, LinkedIn Sponsored Update campaigns can be bolstered by linking to your company's Facebook page or Twitter feed. Creating a dedicated Twitter hashtag for your campaign can also increase your reach by prompting others to help spread the message and organically generate Tweets.

Integrating Sponsored Updates with Facebook and Twitter also gives your company the opportunity to tailor messages that are appropriate for members according to platform: a professional, more results-oriented tone for LinkedIn, a personal appeal on Facebook and a concise, catchy message better suited for Twitter. Sharing diverse messages and many calls-to-action for a single campaign extends its reach and increases the chance of getting more leads.

A Sponsored Update from DragonSearch featuring integration with Twitter

DragonSearch, a digital media company, used cross-media integration in their Sponsored Update (above) by featuring a Twitter hashtag and a promotional code to save money on the registration fee for a social media workshop—two calls to action to draw readers toward a click.

The success of the campaign, according to Andy Groller, director of pay-per-click advertising at DragonSearch, was due to the wide variety of content distributed to grab the attention of different members. This content included videos of the DragonSearch CEO and general manager explaining the workshop goals and top reasons why marketing professionals should attend, as well as blog posts offering additional discounts and calls-to-action for registration.

These are just a few of the beginner tips we uncovered for how B2B marketers can use LinkedIn Sponsored Updates. What are some of the ways your company is using Sponsored Updates successfully? Join the discussion by leaving a comment in the section below.

Thumbnail image created by N8 Balcom.

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Taylor Short

About the Author

Taylor Short has worked as a reporter and writer for six years, focusing on local coverage of city governments, businesses, schools and police. Taylor tutored students in English and writing at Austin Community College and freelanced for Reuters News Agency before joining Software Advice in Fall 2013.

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