By Mark Sherbin published October 4, 2013

4 Tips for Native Advertising With LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

marketing-content-linkedin-sponsored-updatesMaking LinkedIn a key part of your content distribution strategy? You now have an additional opportunity to put content in front of more eyes.

LinkedIn launched its Sponsored Updates program this summer. It’s the professional network’s early foray into truly native advertising.

The new program extends the reach of content marketers by offering targeted distribution. It’s a great way to get eyes on content without interrupting a member’s browsing experience.

Until recently, most LinkedIn advertisements were akin to display, leveraging well-marked areas of the page that visitors have been conditioned to recognize as ad space. Sponsored Updates differ from other ads on LinkedIn in that they’re native to the browsing experience. They’re still recognizable, but they don’t interrupt the stream of useful content.

Native advertising represents a natural progression as LinkedIn entrenches itself deeper into the world of professional publishing. After all, paid media is a part of most good content marketing plans. The pinpoint accuracy of LinkedIn’s targeting capabilities makes advertising a must — especially if you take a content-driven approach.

Let’s take a look at what content marketers should know about the new program and how they can best use it:

What content marketers should know about Sponsored Updates

The LinkedIn Sponsored Updates program is still young. Some brands (like Adobe and Lenovo) are naturals at early adoption. Others need some time to justify the budget allocation.

Wherever you fall, you’ll need to understand how the program works. Here’s an overview of LinkedIn Sponsored Updates at a glance.

What your audience sees: Naturally, a good native advertising program doesn’t mislead your audience with poorly marked ads. Mishaps like the Atlantic’s Scientology debacle can demolish the viewer’s trust. Not surprisingly, LinkedIn doesn’t put reader trust at risk.

Identifying sponsored updates is simple. They’re clearly designated with the tag “Sponsored” next to the brand name. They blend into the newsfeed, yet are still easy for users to recognize.

Sponsored updates appear in the natural flow of a member’s newsfeed among other shared pieces of content and profile updates. They include a call to action to “follow” the brand behind the update or interact with the post in the usual ways (“like,” comment, or share). LinkedIn members also have the ability to hide Sponsored Updates they don’t find relevant to their browsing experiences by clicking the “hide” button in the upper right corner of the post.

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How to define your target audience: Targeting your audience through LinkedIn Sponsored Updates is simple. Here’s how it works:

  • Choose whether you want sponsored updates to display to everyone, non-followers, or current followers of your company page.
  • Target based on location, filtering by continent, country, state, or metro area.
  • Decide how to narrow your sponsored content based on industry and company size. You can also target based on actual company name — if you want to ensure people who work for IBM see your content, for example.
  • You can also narrow your search by the viewer’s role at her company by title, function, and seniority.
  • Use targeting options like “school,” “skills,” and more. (You can target based on any field a LinkedIn member uses to identify himself in his profile.) 

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How budgeting works: Like display ads, Sponsored Updates work based on cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM). For content-centric ads, CPC is the way to go. Your content can’t make a mark without that click, after all.

LinkedIn charges you the CPC rate any time someone clicks on your content, your company name, or your company logo — each of which can have a very different kind of impact for your content marketing. Any type of social interaction — such as “likes,” comments, or shares— won’t cost you anything.

LinkedIn gives you the ability to choose a daily or total budget based on how your campaign performs. Once you reach your budget’s limit, LinkedIn automatically shuts down the campaign until the next performance period. You can also decide whether you want the campaign to run indefinitely or until a specific date.

You have total control over how much money you want to spend on your campaign, though each campaign does have a minimum bid. This varies depending on how much competition exists for the audience mindshare you’re targeting.

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Once you have sponsored updates up and running, it’s critical to make changes to campaigns based on how they’re performing. Listen to the data and you’ll be able to optimize for your unique audience.

Here at the Content Marketing Institute, we were invited to a trial program so we could share some insights with our readers.

What we learned in our Sponsored Updates trial run

Over the course of CMI’s Sponsored Updates campaign, we saw engagement rates as high as 2.45 percent for one post. The program’s success taught us some crucial lessons.

Based on the experience, here are four simple tips to help get you up and running with LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates program:

1. Include compelling and relevant images: Your content should already include great images. Recycle them as a part of your LinkedIn Sponsored Updates strategy.

Like any status update, a compelling image that matches the article topic gets more eyes. Including those images in the stream of information flowing through a given member’s feed helps differentiate your post from others.

2. Incorporate various content types, including rich media: Rich media formats like large photos, video, and SlideShare presentations offer content marketers a larger canvas within LinkedIn’s feed. As with all of your content, diversification is essential.

3. Educational and insightful content performs the best: Glance at your timeline and you may notice that some Sponsored Updates are more promotional than informational. These ads don’t qualify as native because they interrupt the user experience instead of complementing it. Which ad type performs better may depend on the unique expectations and behavior of your audience and your brand.

CMI’s top performing posts were heavy on content and education-oriented (not surprisingly), rather than sales focused. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to focus on engaging the audience as a thought leader on how employers and employees can optimize their professional lives. During our test period, CMI found that the best performing posts were focused on careers, and on ways that content marketing could improve or enhance their professional development.

4. Pace content, and keep share-of-view in mind: Finding the right pace for your content is critical to a successful Sponsored Updates campaign. We had the best luck running three to five posts to a target audience at a time. We changed those posts every three to five days.

Don’t forget to promote content over the weekend, too. We saw high engagement rates on Saturdays and Sundays.

Weigh in

Have you tried LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates? What was your experience? Or, if you are thinking about trying Sponsored Updates, what questions do you have? Let us know in the comments.

For more tips and tools to help your audience find and engage with your content on social networks, read “Capturing Community,” by Michael Silverman. 

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

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  • Ryan Nicholson

    The ability to focus on skills and group targeting is also useful. I’m also seeing very high click rates and conversion rates. We’re using Hubspot to track the links and conversions on the back end.

    • Mark Sherbin

      Great, Ryan! You’ll have to keep us updated on how the investment pays off. Definitely curious to see how other people do with the program, especially in the early stages.

  • Kevin Hurley

    This update is huge for content marketing. With a great strategy this will be key for B2B marketing. Good thing the ads are so expensive or I’m sure we would see an over-saturated news feed fairly quickly!

    • Mark Sherbin

      Haha, good point Kevin. My guess is LinkedIn will do a good job spacing sponsored ads, though, considering they’re usually pretty sensitive about how they roll content out to members. Time will tell.

    • alexpethick

      Have you tried advertising on Google AdWords? Try $10+ a click for competitive keywords around B2B Software. I think people are definitely realizing that LinkedIn makes sense for B2B in a lot more ways than Google does.

      You’re definitely right though – huge for content marketing.

  • The Berkshire Blog

    Thank you Mark, will show my client this so they can get a much better understanding of sponsored updates… do you have new insight since you wrote this?

  • Mike Leembruggen

    I focused on a really targeted group using linkedin ads. Got good click through rates , but linkedin charged me over $4 per click. Way too expensive. Doesn’t ad up compared to fb ads.