When you’ve hit on a formula that works, as LinkedIn did so well with their ‘B2B people’ social network, there does inevitably come a time when you reach that strategic cross-roads and say – ok, where next?
Of course, once you start seriously monetising your products and services, especially when you have a pack of growth hungry investors on board, the options you consider will inevitably be driven by ROI, even if that does imply a change of course.
No doubt LinkedIn will continue to build on their original huge success linking up HR professionals and taking that through to Marketing, Finance and other specialist groups, creating a lot of revenue opportunities along the way; but what they really need is something that embeds them with the very people they are linking together.
The strategists at LinkedIn seem to have recognised that there is a huge wave building in on-line marketing that they are ideally placed to surf; namely that of native advertising. In many respects it’s a marriage made in heaven; marketing is, and always will be, about capturing the customer’s interest with something that is relevant to their needs, building trust and managing that relationship to produce long term returns.
Online, a large part of that is producing a stream of content the engages both existing and new visitors, not just trying to drag customers through the shop door with key words, but ensuring that they don’t leave empty handed even if they don’t buy – this time. That is evolving well for the overtly commercial side of the internet, but what about the other side, the news, the information sharing, the academic; those niche markets that magazines have served so well in the ‘real’ world?
Native advertising is a logical and necessary development, just as advertorial was for papers and magazines in the 80s and 90s when the sheer quantity of ‘in your face’ ads was shortening the dwell time, and thus, the recall of ad messages. Even though many saw advertorial as a somewhat tacky and covert way of trying to shift product, readers at the time didn’t seem too bothered, as long as what they were reading had some value.
LinkedIn’s native ads, or sponsored updates as they are calling them, ensure that a company’s news appears in the user’s feeds, targeted by interest groups, industry groups and professional groups. Covert – yes, but ultimately if those news feeds are not of interest in themselves, they simply won’t work.
So, LinkedIn’s latest persona seems to be both that of publisher and content broker, two roles for which it is ideally suited. Native advertising, advertorial, content alignment; call it what you will, demands a constant inflow of new material. New, that is, to the reader; thus opening the door for content from other sources to be routed through other channels. This is the wonderful win-win of a customer driven channel, and some of the source relationships created will be permanently beneficial.
LinkedIn quote the formal relationship they have forged with The Atlantic magazine. The Atlantic content gets fed through to the members who fit the readership profile, both providing relevant and interesting material, and introducing them to The Atlantic. One Sponsored Update customer, NewsCred, estimate that 50% of readers are prepared to swap their e-mail address in exchange for a white paper; much higher than the usual rate and a testimony to the trust that the link with LinkedIn engenders.
If this means LinkedIn are sweating their assets, good luck to them, it’s having great content that matters.