Connecting with Content


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LinkedIn is emerging as powerful publishing platform for content marketers. Marketing Mag features Gary Fearnall, Director of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Canada, as they examine the future of the platform.

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Connecting with Content

  1. 1. p. 8 Best Buy selling shampoo but just for clicks Wattpad: think YouTube, for Readers and Writers 32 p. Too much of a good thing at Cannes 2013 This just in July 29, 2013 PM 40070230   postage paid in toronto Marketing Magazine, One Mount Pleasant Road, toronto, canada M4Y 2Y5 16 p. Super connecteD since 1908 How LinkedIn became a content juggernaut $5.95
  2. 2. Connecting With Content The social network famous for job changes and resumé updates sees a bright new future as a publishing platform for content marketers BY RUSS MARTIN This is not the social network you thought you knew. Mike Ford Marketing’s LinkedIn magazine prop brings a smile to the face of Gary Fearnall, director of marketing. 22 July 29, 2013 Millions of people are going to the LinkedIn site continuously and it’s not to update their work history. To some, the site may still seem like a CV depository, a place to go during a job hunt for networking that is more business than social. But LinkedIn is aggressively working to change that perception and transform itself into a publisher that will rival both Facebook’s news feed and the traditional trade press. A place for career-minded people to consume and share content about their industry or profession. And, most importantly, a place for advertisers to spend their budgets connecting with those highly engaged professional members. One hundred and nine million people globally visited LinkedIn each month last year. By the end of 2012, the social network had registered 37 billion pageviews. Traffic continued to balloon in the first quarter of 2013, jumping to 170 million unique visits per month. Instead of a warehouse of stacked resumés, LinkedIn is now a personalized trade publication, delivered daily to members with stories tailored to their industry and position. And as successful as it’s been in growing its clout in recent months, the company has even grander ambitions. In the words of CEO Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s aim is to be “the definitive professional publishing platform.” It’s this pivot, LinkedIn says, that drove a huge jump in traffic last year. Members are returning to the site more often to read whitepapers July 29, 2013 23
  3. 3. and articles and view videos and slideshows created by industry experts, comment on industry news in discussion groups and read stories from media outlets and posts by influencers like Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Barack Obama. The company is betting big this content will carry each line of its business on the upward trajectory they’re currently on. LinkedIn’s revenue is split into three pieces of business (see box below): Talent Solutions (a hub for recruiters and HR professionals), Premium Subscriptions and the ad silo, Marketing Solutions. All three increased by more than 50% in the first quarter of this year. In fact, since its 2011 IPO, LinkedIn’s revenue has grown every single quarter. But to continue to please the stock market—which has accorded it a rich, almost frothy valuation by many measures—it will have to maintain that growth and find new, deeper forms of revenue. ments and a long-form blogging tool, LinkedIn now functions as a professionally minded Facebook/Wordpress hybrid, creating a more social experience. In October, it debuted an influencer program, a feature that lets consumers “follow” business leaders who share content on the site (see sidebar, pg. 24). This spring, the company paid $90 million to acquire Pulse, a mobile app that organizes blogs, magazines and social media into a visual stream, the second major acquisition aimed at beefing up its content capabilities (in May 2012 it acquired SlideShare for $119 million). Sponsored Updates are coming soon, too, further inviting comparisons between the new LinkedIn ad model and other social titans like Twitter and Facebook. The company is currently beta testing the ad unit with more than 20 big brands, including Shell and American Express, and plans to release it to all advertisers later “In the old days, you’d always have a this year. Like Facebook, LinkedIn is selling the chance to share video or whitepaper on your website content with users in a social way, styling its ad units to match user updates so they don’t look out of place. and would drive traffic towards it. By putting brands directly on members’ homepage feeds, Now it’s totally different. You drive LinkedIn is offering prime paid space within the content environto that content piece that sits within ment it’s built, a move it’s hoping will send its marketing revenue LinkedIn” —Armin Huska, Mindshare through the roof. Content is now key to the company’s bottom line, says Ryan For marketers paying top dollar for branded content, LinkedIn’s Rolansky, head of content products at LinkedIn. Rolansky, who new content-minded strategic overhaul couldn’t come at a betspent two years setting LinkedIn’s ad strategy as head of ad products ter time. Instead of trying to drive traffic to content on their own before taking his current role, says content is improving all three sites or paying traditional media publishers for the extensive real lines of its business. estate needed to publish branded content, brands can now publish For starters, it’s attracting dollars earmarked for the distribu- directly to LinkedIn and use its targeted ad units to make sure tion of content marketing in the business-to-business space and their whitepapers and blog posts end up in the hands of the corthe technology and financial sectors, accounting for a significant rect professionals. portion of the $74.8 million LinkedIn made in ad dollars in the first “In the old days, you’d always have a video or whitepaper on your quarter of 2013. website and would drive traffic towards it,” explains Armin Huska, Content is also helping drive time spent and return visits by digital managing director at Mindshare. “Now it’s totally different. members, increasing LinkedIn’s opportunities to market higher You drive to that content piece that sits within LinkedIn. It gives far level subscriptions and beefing up the value proposition of active, more scale and far more reach, in a targeted way.” career-oriented members the network makes to recruiters. Compared to running content in a traditional publication, like As LinkedIn’s director of marketing solutions in Canada, Gary The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, Huska says LinkedIn Fearnall helps brands connect to LinkedIn’s coveted high-income, can provide reach without any wastage, a pain point for clients in highly educated users. industries like oil and gas or business-to-business technology that His pitch to advertisers is that members look to target a very specific niche. Huska says are drawn to the site by a desire to be better at his clients, including HSBC and Cisco, now WHERE THE MONEY IS Q1 revenue breakdown by silo their jobs. Content from brands can help fulturn to traditional publishers only when they full that appetite. “It’s an opportunity to have need a partner to help them create the content. $65.6 million Premium Subscriptions a much deeper relationship with members,” For brands with well-developed content he says. “The deeper opportunity is thinking strategies, or those in the technology or finanabout why people are on LinkedIn and what cial sectors, LinkedIn represents the largest— they can expect to get out of that relationship and often only—distribution method. As a they have with the platform—that mindset of general rule, Huska says brands spend 20% saying, ‘I want to be better at what I do.’” of their budgets on content creation and 80% Since LinkedIn unveiled its new contenton distribution, meaning LinkedIn is poised to oriented homepage last July—its first major capture a huge slice of content dollars. redesign since 2003—the company has regularly “It’s far more targeted and more efficient for rolled out new, more social features paired with us. We see greater response and it’s easier lead new ad units designed to complement its ambigeneration, giving very expensive content far $74.8 million tions as a publisher. more exposure,” he says. Marketing $184.3 million With “at” mentions, Klout-style endorseHubspot, a Cambridge, MassachusettsSolutions Talent Solutions based company that sells inbound marketing software, has been advertising on LinkedIn since shortly after it was founded in 2006. Kipp Bodnar, Hubspot’s director of marketing, says traffic from LinkedIn converts to leads and customers at a higher rate than other social networks, and that no other media company can match its mix of targeting and reach in the content space. Bodnar sees LinkedIn’s acquisition of Slideshare last year as its first big step into the content world. By offering slideshows as ad units, Bodnar says B2B brands with complicated product offerings like Hubspot are able to show off their product in a way that’s both detailed and visual. “It will help solidify LinkedIn’s growing interest in becoming a leader in content,” Bodnar says of the acquisition. “They’ve got Slideshare and the influencers [program]. They’re clearly becoming more and more invested in content.” At the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in France this year, LinkedIn rented a house and invited agencies and marketers to meet over drinks with its senior executives, part of its ongoing campaign to pitch itself to advertisers as the go-to network for content marketing. Weiner also spoke about creativity and content at an official panel and took one-onone meetings with the network’s most valued clients. The company will host similar events during Ad Week in New York this fall, and conducted a Canadian roadshow this spring, meeting marketers, recruiters and HR professionals LinkedIn Growing Up Formed in 2003, LinkedIn has enjoyed its most rapid growth in the past four years Unique Visitors Q1 2010 45.6 million Q1 2011 75.1 million Q1 2012 102.5 million Q1 2013 131.8 million PageViews Q1 2010 3.6 billion Q1 2011 7.1 billion Q1 2012 9.4 billion Q1 2013 11.1 billion Net Revenue Q1 2010 $44.7 million $93.9 million Q1 2011 Q1 2012 $188.5 million Q1 2013 $324.7 million Revenue from Marketing Solutions (i.e. revenue from advertisers) Q1 2010 $14.2 million Q1 2011 $27.7 million Q1 2012 $48 million Q1 2013 $74.8 million 20% 23% 57% 24 July 29, 2013 July 29, 2013 25
  4. 4. LinkedIn’s growing influence One of the main drivers behind LinkedIn’s reinvention as a publisher is its influencer program, launched last year in an attempt to populate the site with original posts and videos consumers couldn’t find anywhere else. The first influencers were taken from CEO Jeff Weiner’s personal network and included tech insiders like Craig Newmark of Craigslist and Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes alongside big names like Richard Branson and Martha Stewart. It also included several ad industry execs, like Bob Jeffrey, chairman and CEO of JWT worldwide, Digitaria CEO Dan Khabie and Beth Comstock, the General Electric CMO who oversaw the founding of Hulu. Most recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined the program’s political ranks, along with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (Stephen Harper, we’re waiting). The program now has a waiting list of industry experts eager to make an impression on LinkedIn users. Though the program is a boon for LinkedIn, it’s also a chance for the influencers to get in front of their industries and increase their social presence. The web series Jeffrey participated in for LinkedIn brought in 1.3 million views, drawing positive attention to JWT. “Professionals from around the world go to LinkedIn to network and gain insights, particularly from their influencer program. Sharing our own celebration of thought leadership through Worldmakers was a perfect pairing,” says Erin Johnson, chief communications officer of JWT Worldwide. 26 July 29, 2013 at events in Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. At these events, Fearnall pitched the company’s vision for content and array of new ad products to crowds, which were lured in by cocktails and the promise of learning how to better engage with LinkedIn users. To prove itself as a publisher and solution for content marketers, though, LinkedIn will have to deliver results, not just a flashy pitch. Customers like Hubspot and Mindshare rave about LinkedIn’s high conversion rates and granular targeting, but also admit that for the type of content they’re promoting, there are, at least for now, few other mass distribution options. Even before its content transformation, LinkedIn played in a field of its own. Marketers turn to LinkedIn for different reasons than Twitter or Facebook, two companies that may be perceived as its chief competition. As Fearnall explains, LinkedIn focuses on the business-tobusiness, technology and finance sectors, while those media players offer mass audiences for retailers and packaged goods companies. Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s pitch to advertisers focuses on its ability to target niche, careerminded consumers by their income and industry. Even the marketing speak is different. Brands on other social networks try to be fun and playful, while brands on LinkedIn aim to be pragmatic and useful. Direct challengers are even fewer and further in between. Germany’s Xing, a European LinkedIn clone launched in 2003, is home to just seven million professionals. The size of the French professional network Viadeo, launched in 2004, similarly pales in comparison to LinkedIn’s member base of 225 million. In the U.S., the Wall Street Journal is planning a professional network, but mock-ups shown to investors in New York this spring and later posted online appeared to show no discernable difference that would give it a hand up on LinkedIn. The biggest challenge for LinkedIn doesn’t come from a direct competitor, but a potential change in ad land tides. The company’s content push follows the same trajectory as content marketing itself, which exploded in growth in the past year. But the ad business is a fickle one and trends come and go quicker than one can say “Bitcoin” (or, for that matter, “MySpace”). Rolansky says he’s not worried the company may build a content empire only to see the content business slump. LinkedIn as a publisher is as much about its members as it is its advertisers, he says. “We’ve seen how much our members interact with content and we strongly believe that having access to the right information at the right time ultimately helps inform and inspire,” he says. “We feel we are only just getting warmed up and have much more planned ahead to bring the next generation of content consumption experiences.”