5 Big tips to make LinkedIn ads work for you

linkedin ads

By Eric Wittlake, {grow} Contributing Columnist

LinkedIn is today’s B2B media powerhouse. If you are a B2B marketer, in nearly any sector, chances are you are paying attention to LinkedIn, as well you should. LinkedIn brings three things that make it stand out from other B2B media companies.

  • Scale. According to comScore’s July 2015 rankings, LinkedIn is the 15th largest media property in the US. That makes it larger than consumer staples like Weather.com, Conde Nast and BuzzFeed. Chances are, a portion of your business audience uses LinkedIn regularly.
  • Data. We directly contribute and maintain our own data on LinkedIn, making it one of the most accurate sources of data for B2B marketers.
  • Content Distribution. With Sponsored Updates, LinkedIn’s native ad format, LinkedIn has an offering that is tailored to distributing your content.

So how do you take advantage of it? Here are five things that, in my experience, will make a big difference in the performance of your LinkedIn Sponsored Update campaign.

1. Nail your targeting

With all the data LinkedIn has available, this part should be easy. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Nailing this requires some approaches that can be counterintuitive.

  • Keep your targeting lists short. Instead of building an exhaustive targeting list, such as every group your audience might use (and watering down your targeting significantly in the process), use LinkedIn’s audience expansion feature instead.
  • Use Skills targeting. Skills targeting provides far more granularity than traditional role or functional targeting. With traditional role-based targeting, you would target marketers in order to reach someone like me. But with skills targeting, you can target people involved in specific areas within marketing, such as B2B Marketing, Demand Generation or Account Based Marketing. Skill and group targeting are consistently the top performing approaches, but skill targeting almost always is able to provide more volume with similar cost efficiency.
  • Use negatives. In LinkedIn, not every data point is populated in every profile. Actually, lots of data is missing. Instead of adding new targeting requirements, consider excluding segments you don’t want to reach, such as smaller companies and entry-level staff.

Straight role-based targeting (such as targeting senior IT) almost always costs more, because you likely have more competition, and doesn’t perform as well as more specific targeting criteria like skills or group membership.

2. Expect mobile

It is 2015. Mobile overtook desktop in time spent more than a year ago. According to LinkedIn, 70% of clicks in the main stream are from mobile devices.

Today, social advertising IS mobile advertising, yet it seems many marketers haven’t accepted this reality yet. Just two weeks ago, I stumbled across a company promoting new research and insights on about mobile marketing and today’s mobile consumer. Turns out it was a PDF, possibly the worst format you could choose for a mobile audience. I eventually gave up trying to read it on my phone. And no, I didn’t take the time to save it so I could read it later at my desk. Stop expecting people to work that way.

3. Give people a personal reason to care

B2B marketers love to position the business value of their content and their solution. How to reduce costs, improve profitability, drive growth, etc. But unless you are marketing directly to owners, these aren’t primary motivators. Seth Godin outlined a hierarchy of the needs or motivators of B2B buyers which bears repeating. Here they are, in order:

  • Avoiding risk
  • Avoiding hassle
  • Gaining praise
  • Gaining power
  • Having fun
  • Making a profit

Your ad and offer need to focus on the top of this list, not the bottom.

One of the best converting offers I’ve worked with was a piece of content promoted with the line “we’ve read all the books so you don’t have to.” We didn’t promise profits, growth, or business efficiency, even though that is the space we were working in. Instead, we promised to take the hassle out of getting the information people needed. And it worked extremely well.

4. Hack your social proof

Social proof, particularly in the form of positive comments, matters on LinkedIn. Not only do positive comments help to validate your offer, they also give your ad more real estate in the LinkedIn stream.

But don’t wait around for positive comments. Reach out and get people to comment. Or comment yourself if you must! Not only will it provide social proof, it also kickstarts a virtuous cycle on LinkedIn. Because of the engagement, your ad is favored by LinkedIn. Because of the comments, it captures more attention and more engagement. And then LinkedIn favors your ad even more.

I’ve seen this cycle in practice multiple times: an ad with initial positive comments significantly outperforms the rest of the campaign, yet the exact same ad in another campaign without the comments is a yawn. The difference is social proof.

5. Track and optimize

One of the shortcomings of LinkedIn is that it doesn’t yet support conversion tracking. Making it worse, until recently, posting your content with a tracking link from your advertising or social management platform would actually mask your URL, making it unclear where the link was taking you.

Fortunately, LinkedIn now supports the use of your social or advertising tracking links. So use them! The results will almost always take you down a different optimization path than what you would do purely focusing on the metrics available through LinkedIn.

LinkedIn ads – What works for you?

What has been your biggest frustration with LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, or what tip or trick has worked well for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Eric WittlakeEric Wittlake spends his days working with B2B marketers and (occasionally) shares his marketing views on his personal blog, B2B Digital Marketing. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake) when he isn’t working with B2B marketers.

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  • I was optimizing a LinkedIn ad campaign when this popped up in my e-mail. How about that. I’ve got so much to talk about with LinkedIn ads, the two primary things of course are:

    1. Targeting. I find it so, so useful to be able to target people by their job profile. Certain ad accounts I run require reaching out to only people that make decisions on digital in their company, so I can target Digital Marketing Managers, Digital Directors etc. Another client requires me to reach out to people that are event planners – and that’s easy. For the shift from Facebook marketing, you just have to train yourself to think about what people do for a living versus what their interests are. Fairly simple – but I really enjoy this.

    2. Expense. LinkedIn ads are exorbitantly expensive. Almost always my cost per click for LinkedIn Ads is in the range of $3 – $7 for developed digital markets like the United States and Australia. For developing and emerging nations, it’s in and around $1 – $3, which is still incredibly expensive compared to the very low prices I get with Facebook.

    It’s a game of logic really, if the kind of interaction, engagement and end result you’re looking for is easily achievable via Facebook ads, always run those. If you’re not going to find the right quality on there and you think LinkedIn will be a lot more granular, do it.

    One way to look at it is this, there are only 20,000 Digital Directors in a specific location that you’re targeting.

    To reach every single one of them you have to spend 20 x CPM bid, and if your CPM bid is $20, that means you’re spending $400 reaching potentially every single person that’s a potential customer. Is it really that bad? Would you even know this with Facebook? You’d probably spend $200 on Facebook and reach 100,000 people – but it’s very possible that they aren’t as relevant as you think they are, because of Facebook’s very wide interest targeting. Yes I know Custom Audiences and all that to make it more finite, but if you’re fresh off the press…

  • Thanks Avtar. Yes, title targeting is great, although volume can be a challenge and titles don’t always reflect who has authority, especially in mid-sized companies. We often end up layering, with a title-targeted program getting essentially first dollars, and then alternative, higher volume things like seniority + skill – excluded roles helping to expand.

    I’ve run Facebook and LinkedIn side-by-side a number of times. For B2B, the difference on the backend results has often been relatively small, or even in LinkedIn’s favor, despite the significantly higher effective cost per click. The higher the bar for engagement (i.e. registration or longer-form content), the more the results tend to favor LI over FB.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  • Interesting about the positive comments/ social proof. I would love to hear you compare the effectiveness of LinkedIn to Facebook ads.

  • I had also been wondering about this, especially given the extremely high CPC LI has compared to FB.

    On another note I loved the hierarchy of B2B buyer needs, so on point. Avoiding hassle is huge (and we all do it 😀 )

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