Advertising on LinkedIn: Sponsored Inmail

sponsored-inmail-linkedinAdvertising on LinkedIn is one of the three streams of revenue that LinkedIn currently breaks out when it comes to its income streams and is currently, you might say, the one that is under-performing in comparison to the Talent Solutions and Premium accounts which make up the other revenue generators.

On the flipside, for us “the advertisers”, if used correctly there are some great opportunities to reach the target audiences we are interested in speaking to in a way that will present us positively and initiate that ongoing conversation and engagement we are looking for.

The initial advertising options that LinkedIn offered (and indeed still does offer) were in the form of small ads that still proliferate throughout the site with smaller businesses and corporates alike taking the opportunity to push adverts and offers directly onto the viewed pages of their target audience through the excellent targeting options that the advertising systems allow.

This was followed by Sponsored Updates and then the latest individual offering Sponsored Inmails – these were launched first of all last year and then relaunched last month with additional elements such as the promise of 100% delivery and also templates which are more in tune those viewing the message through a mobile device. This is key, of course, as the numbers viewing LinkedIn while on the move now approach 50% and so any method which is going to try to catch them “in the moment” needs to be perfectly adapted to how they will be viewing it.

However, if I was going to be picky – and I think that even if I am not, others will be – “sponsored” is a little bit a misnomer all in all. What essentially you pay for is LinkedIn to send Inmail messages to a targeted set of people who view it in their inbox in the same way that they would with a normal Inmail … or indeed a normal message on LinkedIn. Though, I would suggest, in a form that is probably less personal.

What’s the process?

Unlike both the LinkedIn ads and the Sponsored Updates, Sponsored Inmail is not a self service option – in other words, you’re going to need your LinkedIn Representative’s help to get organised and, above all, sent for you. This in turn means there are likely to be minimum spends involved as well.

Not got a LinkedIn Rep? Well, in that case, just as in the anecdote where “if you need to ask what the price is then it probably isn’t for you” … this probably isn’t for you! 🙂 LinkedIn has studiously avoided mentioning costs in its literature asking simply that you get in to touch with the team if you wish to engage in activity – not surprising as this will be sent by the LinkedIn team rather than by yourself.

In terms of the process, then the recommended format for the process is as follows:

Sponsored Inmail steps

What’s my take on this?

Well, there’s great potential targeting here and so, in many respects, this is a fabulous offering for marketers who are looking at a highly targetted messaging option with potentially high open rates … both elements which have been getting increasingly difficult to achieve over recent years with the increase in email traffic and spam over the past decade.

However, there’s also an elephant in the room – and a rather gruff and fierce looking one at that. LinkedIn users tend to both like and appreciate the more personal nature of the correspondence that they receive on LinkedIn, hence the reason that messaging is restricted to 1st level connections and Group members both of whom have common issues in common.

The issue with Sponsored Inmail, like Inmail in general, is that it is unrequested by it’s very nature and is probably going to be more generic when sent out in the quantities to make it worthwhile.

Marketing of this type remains a numbers game and while putting larger quantities out increases the probable number of responses but also increases the number of people likely to consider it an invasion of their private inbox and hence Spam … but this time almost Personal spam because they are on their chosen business network, which may prove to be more annoying still.

So, it’s really just email marketing?

That would be a little too harsh I feel. Given that LinkedIn has access to lots of information about us (that we’ve provided them with of course), the targeting is good. In fact it’s really good – you can break it down by job title, company, industry, location (down to postal area in the UK) and a number of other factors. You can also exclude certain elements such as specific companies allowing you to reduce overlaps and competitor clicks.

In marketing terms, it straddles the ‘reach’ and ‘nurture’ segments of the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions funnel with which it has been promoting its marketing solutions … and does so nicely, however, like a lot of LinkedIn’s recent additions, it is quite clearly aimed at the corporate buyer which makes does miss out on the huge market that exists below that top 2% – 3% of companies on LinkedIn.

There are also some extra little tweaks which are nice: for example, LinkedIn only delivers the Inmail when the person you are looking to contact is actually active on LinkedIn, greatly increasing the chances of it getting read, so they are thinking about getting the best from it. As for uses, then they follow the same trends as a normal email marketing campaign but more targeted, such as:

  • Increase conversions with targeted product and service promotions
  • Send personalized invites to webinars or in-person events
  • Promote content downloads of infographics, white papers etc.
  • Develop greater awareness of products & services to specific target groups

Summing Up

I think that the Sponsored Inmail option is a logical extension to the advertising offerings that LinkedIn makes available on its platform, they can be highly targeted and used properly certainly should deliver much higher open and click through rates than email does nowadays.

That’s all well and good with my marketer’s hat on … replacing it with my LinkedIn member’s hat, and I have issues. I don’t want to be bombarded with marketing messages on LinkedIn and the last sanctuary of that is my inbox – LinkedIn even recognises this and has made it more difficult for Group members to pitch to me by reducing the numbers of messages that can be sent through that medium. So do I really want to received promotional message in the form of Sponsored Inmails that are sanctioned by LinkedIn and that I can’t turn off?

Of that, I’m less certain.

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