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The LinkedIn Guide to Personalized Content Creation

What kind of brand would you associate with an active online community of 120,000 professional women?

Probably very few of you answered “a major financial services firm” — but that’s exactly how Citi delivers relevant content to one of its many audience segments. And it all takes place over LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is already a powerful content marketing platform. “LinkedIn Today” renewed the social network’s push into thought leadership through content. The company acquired SlideShare in 2012 and Pulse only a few months ago. And according to company reps, more neat stuff is on the way for content marketers.

Little by little, the social network for professionals is becoming a content creation hub. This has major implications for content marketers, especially those of you in the B2B content space.

LinkedIn is a platform with stunning access to data, which makes it a potent solution for delivering personalized content to your audience segments. I spoke with Mike Weir, LinkedIn’s Global Head of Category Development for the technology industry, about best practices for audience segmentation and how LinkedIn makes it simple for content marketers to deliver personalized experiences.

How to create a personalization plan

Personalized content begs for strong audience segmentation. Of course, there’s more to it than that.

“Marketers don’t always approach personalization comprehensively these days,” Mike explains. “There are lots of challenges. What channels are your target audiences using? What should your tone be on each channel? What type of content should you deliver? How do you reach the exact person, not just a nameless user, IP address or cookie? Delivering the right content to the right person is a complex process.”

How do you start your personalization plan on the right foot? Mike laid out the following four steps.

1. Find out who they are: Extensive research helps reveal what makes your audience members tick. Your buyer personas make that data actionable.

If you aren’t already creating buyer personas, now is the time to get started. You’ll need to create custom content for each persona to deliver a personalized experience.

Mike suggests these five segmentation factors for content marketers:

  • Geography: Location is everything — especially when it comes to addressing unique audience members.
  • Seniority: The C-level has different objectives and challenges than their teams, in the same way that every consumer is different. The content you deliver to them should mirror what they care about.
  • Function: What roles does your customer play in his company? What about his family? His community?
  • Industry: Targeting different industries? Segmenting by industry is a pretty obvious task.
  • Company size: From small business to enterprise organizations, company size matters when you create content.

Once you have a high-level view of your segments, start listening to what they’re saying to get more specifics on each one.

2. Listen to what they have to say: Listening to discussions on social media is today’s most powerful research tool for content creation. On LinkedIn, active “groups” are gold mines of information about each of your segments.

“Social listening tools* simplify how you monitor topics over potential distribution channels,” Mike explains. “This is your number one tool for finding your potential customer’s challenges and addressing them with content.”

(*Tools for monitoring social media include Sprout Social or HootSuite, for example.)

3. Create segment-specific content: Use your buyer personas to create a content plan for each segment. This part of the process takes a look at what each audience segment is talking about — and what they aren’t talking about but might find interesting.

Building out a content plan that touches each point in the decision-making process is critical. Making a decision could look very different for different types of customers, so a personalized strategy gives your content more weight.

4. Form a distribution plan: With your segments in hand, reevaluate your distribution channels. Are you approaching them with your audience segments in mind?

Here’s a hypothetical: A B2B company targets professional services firms. Legal and engineering audience segments are interested in very different types of content. The problem: They’re using general channels to blast out content specific to both. As a result, the company is encroaching on what could be a highly personalized experience.

As a distribution channel, LinkedIn makes this kind of segmentation simpler than some of us realize.

How to use LinkedIn to deliver personalized content

You’re probably using LinkedIn as a virtual resume. But are you harnessing the network’s reach for content marketing?

LinkedIn’s first-party data source is unrivaled in the professional world. Users opt in, thus offering up the data necessary for a strong personalized experience. And it’s only getting more effective.

“Right now, we work with brands in three areas to help them build relationships via their content,” Mike says. “We’re debuting new tools for content marketers in the future, too.”

Below are three ways LinkedIn works with brands to promote content marketing:

1. Leveraging brand pages and native ads: First, LinkedIn features what Mike calls the “standard content marketing approach.” Marketers focus on building a following for their company page. Sharing content from that brand page beams it to your followers’ news feeds. The best part: You can segment different pieces of content based on persona.

“Getting company page followers is an opt-in process,” Mike says. “By building your company page, content marketers can deliver personalized content to receptive audience segments.”

Marketers can also speed up follower acquisition, if they don’t mind parting with a few bucks. LinkedIn has its own native ad program coming soon — sponsored content, with handpicked content that will appear in targeted members’ news feeds.

Using this approach, HP grew its company page followers by more than 300,000 members in less than two months. The campaign targeted specific IT decision makers; its resulting followers are 2.5 times more likely to recommend HP solutions and, as a result of hyper-targeting CXOs, have become one of the most engaged audiences for targeted status updates.

CMI says: LinkedIn is a ripe playground for B2B content. Consider this your invitation to spend some serious time optimizing your brand page.

2. Taking part in the conversation: Not everyone considers the conversations they have in LinkedIn groups to be “content marketing.” But that’s exactly what it is — providing helpful content directly to an audience member without imposing a sales message.

“Participating in the conversation is a really rich part of the LinkedIn experience,” Mike explains. “Owning an active, authoritative group for your target audience can pay off in even bigger ways. Your clients and prospective clients appreciate the value you provide to them, especially when you don’t do a hard sell.”

CMI says: The content you create in LinkedIn Groups is essential to your content creation plan — both in its own right and as an inspiration for longer-form content. Groups are already segmented, helping you engage people with a highly relevant message.

3. Creating personalized social experiences: LinkedIn APIs have uncovered a world of uses for creating personalized social experiences. Just ask PwC Netherlands: The global consulting firm worked with LinkedIn to create a successful professional relationship game based on a user’s LinkedIn network.

“With the APIs, businesses use LinkedIn as the source for engaging people through their own channels,” Mike says. “Personalized social experiences allow technology companies to provide unique insights and engagement opportunities for key decision makers.”

(For less technical readers: APIs create data streams from LinkedIn to your own programs or websites. Essentially, you have the ability to create your own app using data from LinkedIn.)

In another case, a major software company set its sights on big data. Using LinkedIn’s APIs, it created a “name tag analyzer.” The program generates a “true business title” for visitors after they sign in through LinkedIn. Each profile is rich in data, and all of a visitor’s professional experience gets fed into the program. Algorithmic analysis of that experience returns a new business title — one that’s truer than those applied by employers, in many cases.

CMI says: LinkedIn imposes few limitations on content marketers. Extending personalization beyond the walls of the professional network is a realistic goal that you can make happen with LinkedIn APIs.

Want the quick version?

Check out the Slideshare of this post with the highlights.

Ask LinkedIn

Have questions about how you can get better traction out of your content marketing through LinkedIn? Ask Mike Weir for his advice in the comments, below.

Join CMI and host LinkedIn as they present the Content Marketing World Tech Summit, September 12, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.