LinkedIn is building its newly announced B2B ad network on the quality of its nearly 350 million user profiles.
But a key question is whether the interests of B2B advertisers mesh with the interests of professionals on LinkedIn.
On Thursday, the professional network announced the launch of its Network Display global ad network, in partnership with demand side platform AppNexus. This “gives brands the opportunity to engage professional audiences with display advertising both on LinkedIn and off-platform across thousands of publisher sites on the web,” according to head of marketing products Russell Glass on the site’s Marketing Solutions blog.
Also announced: the Lead Accelerator, intended to connect “companies to the right professionals with the right content as they make their way through the purchase decision process.”
Like Google and Facebook, LinkedIn is looking to target ads, content, and personalization based on users’ profiles, via social logins using those credentials on other websites and through cookies.
For a marketer, LinkedIn’s membership data is the world’s biggest candy store. With the best candy ever.
“LinkedIn members are highly motivated to maintain their professional profiles and keep their job details current,” Forrester analyst Kim Celestre pointed out via email. “This means that B2B marketers who purchase LinkedIn’s ad solutions will be able to tap into users’ high quality profile data for very accurate targeting across a variety of channels.”
It’s anonymous, but if you’ve been selling office supplies for the last three jobs, expect to see ads for stationery wholesalers on lots of websites you visit.
A smaller target?
Chris Schreiber, VP of marketing and communications at native ad exchange Sharethrough, pointed out that LinkedIn “has been a leader in creating a marketplace of sponsored content and native ads on their site,” both of which are targeted at users’ interests. The new network extends that interest-based targeting beyond the site.
But Peter Isaacson, chief marketing officer of B2B marketer Demandbase, thinks the target is way smaller than it may first appear.
He estimates that only six percent of LinkedIn’s 347 million registered users will be suitable for targeting by U.S.-based marketers — after you remove those who are infrequent visitors, are outside the U.S., or who primarily use mobile devices to access the site. (LinkedIn’s ad network will utilize cookies, which are not effective in the mobile space.)
Because of this, he pointed out, LinkedIn will be supplementing its profiles with third party cookie data of the sort its Bizo acquisition uses, which infers that since a user went to this site and that site, they must be interested in, say, servers. In other words, less-than-golden targeting data.
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Isaacson, who noted that his company “plays in the same space” as LinkedIn — although Demandbase uses companies’ IP addresses for targeting — contended that “there’s a trust factor” involved in LinkedIn’s use of individual profiles.
“I registered [on LinkedIn] because it offered good networking,” he told me, “and I put all my data in.”
“Now the site is using that data to monetize” the site.
“I didn’t sign up for that,” he told us. “My personal view is that they are changing the rules of the game.”
‘A natural fit’
Forrester analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo, who covers how privacy issues affect marketing, told me that “user data for off-site advertising represents a big change in the implicit agreement between LinkedIn and its users.”
Additionally, she noted, LinkedIn — unlike Facebook — has “millions of individual paying users.”
“To start selling those users’ profile data seems like double-dipping at best,” she said. They should be given the option to opt in to the program, Khatibloo said, “and shouldn’t be defaulted into it.”
But Parks Associates director research Barbara Kraus said LinkedIn users won’t be surprised by this use of their information.
“People see LinkedIn as a business resource,” she told me via email, “making B2B ads a natural fit.”
“Since people are promoting themselves [and each other],” she said, “promotions of business-related products or services seem less obtrusive.”
“If they want people to notice them [because of their LinkedIn profiles or published content],” Kraus added, “they likely will not be surprised when advertisers notice them as well.”
For its ad network and lead nurturing to be successful, Forrester’s Celestre said that LinkedIn has to perform a balancing act.
“LinkedIn’s strength of having high quality profile data on business decision makers can also be a detriment if they don’t protect the privacy of their users,” she said.
Remember, she said, “LinkedIn’s core business is recruiting, [and] privacy is huge on this front because there are a large percentage of members who are actively networking and applying for jobs within LinkedIn.”
“The success of LinkedIn’s ad solutions,” Celestre noted, “will be based on [its ability] to maintain its users’ trust by keeping sensitive job information private while [providing access] to the appropriate profile data” for marketers to target their ads at the right time.