Native ability: LinkedIn's ad strategy for mobile

July 10, 2014 11:59
Nellie Chan, LinkedIn's head of marketing solutions in Southeast Asia and North Asia, (right) says LinkedIn's paid solutions are aimed a specific target groups.  Photo: LinkedIn

It wasn't always pretty but it was quite simple. When desktops reigned, advertisers could get their message across with simple tools like banner ads and pop-ups. The challenge now is to reach out and touch via a device in the palm of the hand. But how much can any company say in such a small space?

US-based business networking site LinkedIn thinks the answer to brand-building in a mobile world is to go native -- aim specific content at specific users who might actually want to read it. Nellie Chan, LinkedIn's head of marketing solutions in Southeast Asia and North Asia, said content is king in the mobile age, especially when it builds on the company's ability to target specific audiences.

One of the ways it offers to do this is through its paid Sponsored Updates service. Companies set up their own LinkedIn company page and then pay the site to put company updates on the newsfeed pages of specific groups of people who are not followers of that company page.

"Companies can update followers through feeds in the same way that they do on other social media. What makes us different is our paid solutions: the updates will appear in the homepage newsfeed of LinkedIn members who fit the targeting criteria set by the company, extending the reach beyond current followers of a company page,” Chan said.

"We allow updates from companies and organizations to be read by target groups, through which they can introduce a business or product line."

Thinking different

Chan said the approach rests on a simple premise: When information is useful, it's positive, if not, it’s spam.

"That is why we only send updates to accurate target groups because we know their education background and work experience. There's no waste,” she said.

"[Also] when you talk to people with different backgrounds, you need to use different tones, manner and content. That's a long way from traditional advertising that uses a single storyboard on television to send a promotional message to everybody."

LinkedIn also offers the Sponsored InMail tool that sends paid messages to a user's inbox. It avoids the spam tag by limiting companies to sending just one message every 60 days. The goal is turn advertising into a two-way communication so that advertisers get the message as much as LinkedIn's 300 million users.

Sponsored InMail has been available on mobile since March 5.

Computer giant Lenovo Group Ltd. (00992.HK) is one company using LinkedIn services to build on its existing organic group of followers. Rod Strother, director of digital and social center of excellence at Lenovo, said the paid route is an important way for it to have direct contact with consumers.

"LinkedIn is a key platform for us in being able to reach quality consumer or business professionals," Strother said. "This is really part of a longer-term effort to establish ourselves as industry leaders in engagement marketing."

He said the results have been very encouraging so far, with greater levels of engagement and a more positive perception of the brand.

Those who do

Apart from native advertising, LinkedIn has also been working on new ideas for bigger screens such as display ads that can be found on profile pages, homepages, inboxes, search results pages and groups. These ads do not appear on the mobile version because they don't make for a good user experience at that scale.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (00293.HK) pays LinkedIn to help reach the people it wants in part through display ads and sponsored polls. In one campaign it aimed for travelers flying business class between the United States and Asia, selecting potential customers from the LinkedIn database based on their seniority, role, company size, and affiliation with LinkedIn groups, particularly Asia-focused business groups such as the China Networking Group and Hong Kong Connection.

It then tried to attract their attention through ads and surveys whenever they logged on to LinkedIn using bigger devices such as desktops. The polls asked business travelers questions like what they wanted to redeem their airline points for other than flights. The results told the company about customer preferences, as well as loyal clients and potential prospects. 

"We already know the big companies going to China, but a lot of the small and medium-sized companies and individuals fall below our radar," Dennis Owen, Cathay Pacific vice president marketing Americas, said.

There are more than 3 million company pages globally on LinkedIn, and the US-based network has doubled its user numbers in Hong Kong to 900,000 in the past two years.

On the mainland, where LinkedIn is still in its infancy, about 5 million users have signed up. “We know there are some competitors on the mainland, but what we can offer is the global base for Chinese users to reach out to global professionals. The Chinese competitors can only offer local connections," Chan said.

She said that as the central government encourages companies to head offshore, there will be a higher demand for individuals to connect with people on other parts of the planet.

-- Contact the reporter at [email protected]


Ayishah Ma is a financial reporter on Greater China issues.