The Forgotten Social Network: LinkedIn

Lost in the clamor around Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and other social media darlings is the fact that there’s a social network not called Facebook or Twitter that’s huge and profitable: LinkedIn.

The professional social network is often overlooked. Let’s face it: LinkedIn isn’t sexy. It’s pretty much a modern-day Rolodex of professional contacts that’s more often used for job hunting than socializing. Pretty boring. But it’s also something else: a place to target high-level executives who have buying power.

“LinkedIn is often a better choice for business communications, especially in the B2B world, because that audience is there with the intent of communicating about or around business,” said Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer. “Think about it, you don’t snap a picture of your kids and think, ‘I should post this on LinkedIn.’ It’s built for different reasons.”

LinkedIn’s marketing solutions revenue was $49.5 million in 2011, increasing 77 percent compared to the prior year. The company’s total revenue advanced 105 percent year on year to $167.7 million. For the full year 2011, revenue was $522 million, up 115 percent. LinkedIn has 150 million members globally.

“Members come to LinkedIn to connect with and expand their professional network and to gain insights and expertise that make them more productive and successful,” said Alison Engel, global marketing director, marketing solutions at LinkedIn. “Accessing content and receiving relevant updates from companies they follow is a key part of our members’ experience.”

LinkedIn has targeted ad options — advertisers can run campaigns for people with certain job titles in specific industries — but also wants companies to set up shop there. The pitch: Reach top-level executive who have buying power. Brands establishing thought leadership by answering questions or managing a LinkedIn group or simply conducting personal letter-writing campaigns using InMail with prospects. LinkedIn has better analytics for B2B marketers than Facebook and Twitter. Brands can create hyper-focused follower lists — based on several targeting criteria, including industry, seniority, job function, company size, non-company employees, and geography — to which they can deliver relevant content to increase engagement. In addition, LinkedIn offers marketers an insights dashboard that helps assess their follower acquisition efforts: track over time engagement metrics, including likes, shares, comments and percentage engagement, and review their followers’ demographic information.

Take IBM, for example. The company — which often targets upper-level IT management professionals — has almost 630,000 followers on LinkedIn. That’s six times its base on Facebook. The company has created several groups on LinkedIn, a means of maximizing reach beyond the network of people following the brand on LinkedIn. Within these groups — one of which is IBM Careers — users can start dialogues with one another, share news, post jobs and create subgroups. The IBM Careers group lists jobs, a video, provides insightful statistics about IBM employees and helps people learn more about working at IBM. IBM uses relevant links with anchor text on its profile, most likely for SEO purposes. Also, the company has a really detailed description that includes a summary, specialties and such. This is obviously a way to educate business professionals and, again, is a good way to impact SEO. IBM’s products and services tab includes IBM Training, Global Business Services and IBM Software. The various services have been commented on by other LinkedIn users, giving their feedback on particular offers from IBM.

“IBM has a strategy of enabling, empowering and equipping IBMers to engage
on social, digital platforms as a means of building their professional reputations, deepening relationships with clients and exploring innovative ideas,” said Ethan McCarty, global, digital, and social strategy, IBM.  Seeing as this is the case, it’s no coincidence that IBM has the largest number of followers on LinkedIn of any company in the world.”

LinkedIn members appear motivated to follow companies on LinkedIn in contrast to other social platforms. In fact, half (47 percent) of current followers agree that LinkedIn is a more appropriate social environment for hearing company news and updates. In a study of over 5,000 marketers where HubSpot pitted LinkedIn against Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn proved to be the most effective social media channel for lead generation — 277 percent more effective, in fact.

“I’m a social media guy — predicated to talk about Facebook and Twitter all the time — and I still count LinkedIn as the most valuable social network I’m a part of because it drives business to my company more effectively,” Falls said.