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Getting ROI from your communication channels: LinkedIn

Published Oct 01, 2023 – By Jane Douglas

Mixed media hero image of hand holding magnet with white hearts coming off magnet for Wardour blog on getting ROI from communications channels like LinkedIn

Content marketing teams have so many digital communication channels to think about, it can be hard to keep up with best practice within each.

But as LinkedIn is the social media platform of choice for B2B marketers, it’s particularly important to use this communication channel to its full advantage.

Used well, it can create tangible results for the business, whether you’re focused on clicks, brand awareness or lead generation.

Is LinkedIn the right channel?

This is the first question to ask yourself when thinking about Return on Investment. If you are a B2B marketer or stakeholder communications professional, the answer is almost certainly yes.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest online professional network. The channel enables you to build brand awareness, attract high-quality website traffic and create engagement with professionals and key stakeholders.

It’s a place where your audience visits when they are thinking about work. A place where the tone is almost entirely professional, unlike other communication channels.

It is also reassuringly consistent against a backdrop of seismic shifts in the social media landscape. Twitter, formerly a stalwart of social media strategies, continues its metamorphosis into X, an everything app. Threads, which burst on to the scene with an impressive 2.3 million active users in early July 2023, has seen usage slump. All this change over the course of a few months has thrown communication plans up in the air.

During this upheaval LinkedIn has provided stability, predictability and quiet innovation that help marketers generate returns.

The platform has huge potential as a communication channel for reaching key stakeholders, from shareholders and analysts to employees. But the vast number of features can be overwhelming for those who must juggle many communication channels.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest online professional network. The channel enables you to build brand awareness, drive high-quality website traffic and create engagement with professionals and key stakeholders

Content, ads or instant messaging? Choosing the right format

One of the advantages of LinkedIn as a communication channel is the number of ways brands can market themselves.

But if you are not immersed in the platform, that choice can be confusing. This is what that choice looks like if we break it down by format:

  • Content-based – native posts (your standard free company post) and sponsored content (more on which below)
  • Text and dynamic ads – written communication that appears in ad slots, including the option to personalise to the viewer
  • Display ads – your traditional banner advert
  • Instant messaging – DM your prospect

LinkedIn sets out the benefits of each in its Ads Guide.

Sponsored Content is one of the most popular options among content marketers. It places your content into the feeds of professionals way beyond your network. But the Sponsored Content looks and feels much like organic posts.

Posts are by no means limited to written communication. Sponsored Content formats include images, videos, carousels and event invites, giving space for creatives to boost engagement through smart campaigns.

If you’ve produced a high-value report or guide that your audience will want to read, then the Document Ads option within Sponsored Content can also help gather email addresses. LinkedIn’s Lead Gen forms auto-populate some fields, making them user-friendly and helping marketers collect those qualified leads.

These features can support incredibly effective communication when used well.

Which formats perform best?

This is a question we often get from clients. At Wardour, we’ve found that human content wins every time. Original photos of real events and posts that share our perspective with personality.

Rich content such as carousels and video also bring engagement, impressions and clicks.

But ultimately, the customer experience should be the guiding light. What kind of issues are the target audience facing? What format will best answer their questions? How are you engaging with them on other communications channels?

Different formats will suit different parts of the marketing funnel too. A boosted organic post might work well for brand awareness at the top of the funnel. But by the middle of the funnel an in-depth report could help you capture those all-important leads.

LinkedIn is by no means only for written communication, so let your creative team do what they do best.

Audience targeting – the basics

Once you’ve produced that sparkling content in the right format, LinkedIn’s audience-targeting tools will help you get your post in front of the right people, whether regulators or customers.

LinkedIn’s basic targeting enables you to filter by:

  • location – country and city-specific
  • industry
  • job seniority
  • job function
  • job title

You can also exclude people based on the same categories, although certain combinations are prohibited.

As you create your audience profile and campaign duration, LinkedIn will automatically forecast your total spend and results. However, you can set a lifetime budget for the campaign to keep spending under control.

Member interests and traits targeting

If you want to reach an audience group interested in a particular theme that cuts across multiple job functions, such as ESG, then targeting members based on their interests and traits is a good strategy.

This tool leverages data on members’ direct or inferred interests, traits or professional groups, depending on their ad settings. In other words, what kind of topics people have engaged with on the communication channel. That could be clicking and reading content as well as joining groups.

Using interests and traits targeting, you can filter by people’s:

  • groups
  • member interests:
    • general interests – this filters by overarching categories, such as Technology or Finance and Economy
    • product interests
    • service interests
  • traits, such as frequent travellers or job seekers.

Eventually you will have lists targeting different segments. Ideally, these will match up with the audience personas in your core content strategy. Your personas will likely differ slightly across communication channels.

Boosting native posts can give an extra edge

Using the Sponsored Content option in LinkedIn Campaign Manager gives you access to all the advanced audience targeting options. However, if you are sharing a straightforward piece of content – a single image, caption and link – this might not be the best option.

While the Sponsored Content ads appear much like native posts, there are subtle cues that tell your audience the post is an advert. A shorter character limit on the caption and call to action buttons rather than hyperlinked text all make Sponsored Content ads feel more transactional than is normal on this communication channel.

If your content is thought leadership, the sales context could reduce its impact. The shorter caption could also be a hinderance to ROI as people engage better with content when given some information up front, before they click through.

The good news is, there is a way around this. Boosting articles by clicking the ‘Boost’ button on posts from within your company’s page will enable you to share native posts in all their longer form glory, but still with the wider targeted audience of your choice.

The Thought Leader ads function also enables marketers to boost organic posts from people within their organisation. This extends the reach of those posts beyond that person’s network to potential customers, but still with the informal communication style of an organic update.

Pro tips for audience targeting

There is such a thing as too exclusive

One of the main draws about LinkedIn is its ability to push messages to the right people at the right organisations. But LinkedIn cautions against getting too exclusive. Instead, it recommends creating a target audience of at least 55,000 for Sponsored Content and text ads, and 15,000 for message ads.

Take a reality check

Once you’ve refined your audience profile based on attributes such as job function, check a sample of those filters against real people. If you’re targeting COOs in the airline industry, have a look at some real profiles and make sure they’re actually the people you want to see your post. The ability to sense-check your audience is a real advantage of this communication channel.

Tailor content for each audience segment

The B2B buying journey tends to be long and complex, involving multiple stakeholders with whom your brand must build a relationship. LinkedIn is a valuable ally in reaching those different stakeholders with tailored content that is more likely to resonate.

For example, CEOs might engage better with thought leadership pieces, whereas those responsible for procuring services might be more concerned with practical issues.

Ultimately, creating versions of content aimed at different audience segments is more effective communication and will drive better ROI.

Don’t be afraid to get personal

LinkedIn has some granular targeting options so that content and sales teams can work together seamlessly. These include:

  • company targeting (Account Targeting) – push your content to named companies
  • contact targeting – upload your list of prospects using your contact management platform, up to 300,000 names
  • retargeting – use LinkedIn Insights Tags to follow up with warm prospects and generate leads. For example, people who visit the website or engage with a thought leadership article can be retargeted with middle of the funnel content, such as a downloadable guide. Integrate Lead Gen Forms to capture email addresses when people download the guide and you have strong leads for remarketing. Sage used this type of campaign structure to seize an opportunity when new payroll legislation was announced in France.

Track those conversions 

To work out how much value your LinkedIn campaigns are generating for the business, you’ll need to track conversions. A conversion might be a click through, a report download or event registration.

LinkedIn’s conversion tracking system allows you to assess which campaigns are performing best. Future campaigns can be adjusted accordingly.

LinkedIn has its own algorithm that decides which content is seen by whom. Keeping in step with algorithm changes will ensure the content you invest in enjoys strong organic reach

The 2023 algorithm update

Just like other digital communication channels, LinkedIn has its own algorithm that decides which content is seen by whom. Keeping in step with algorithm changes will ensure the content you invest in enjoys strong organic reach.

The most recent major update was in June 2023. With this update, the communication channel wanted to stamp out viral, click-bait posts aimed at a general audience in favour of expert content from first-degree connections. Posts about personal lives are also out of favour as the lines between home and work solidify again following the pandemic.

The all-important factors are now your followers and whether your post shares knowledge and advice. Ultimately, LinkedIn wants content that helps its members be more productive and successful. And those members have told the communication platform that content is most valuable when it comes from people they know.

The priority placed on knowledge and advice is good news for content marketers and stakeholder communications experts. It means the algorithm will push relevant, well-crafted content to people outside your network.

To classify as knowledge and advice content must:

  • be aimed at the right people, not lots of people – that means making content relevant to each segment of your audience because one piece is rarely interesting to everyone in the ‘room’
  • be written by expert authors – people writing about subject areas that are prominent on their profile pages
  • have meaningful comments – this is one way the bots can discern what people find interesting, with considered comments scoring higher than a throw away “Great stuff”
  • have a perspective or opinion – share some personality and try to avoid being generic. One way of doing this is to ask employees to share content and add their own take

Social listening via digital communication channels

To make the most of this communication channel, some content marketing teams use it for social listening.

Listening in to conversations on social media enables content teams to keep their fingers on the pulse of different sectors. While there are digital tools that can automate this process, LinkedIn is the perfect spot to do some manual social listening and find those little nuggets of insight that the bots might not notice.

By joining industry or topic-specific groups, content teams can discover what issues are keeping people awake at night in each sector.

Informal vs formal communication style

While there are other more informal communication channels, such as Facebook, LinkedIn is still a place for human discussion. The rise of emojis on LinkedIn has helped individuals and businesses to find the balance between easy-to-digest, human posts with personality and a chatty, personal tone. 

LinkedIn does draw a line in the sand on informal communication. With its 2023 algorithm update it has cracked down on people sharing family news. It wants to remain a channel for professionals, which makes it perfect for B2B marketing and stakeholder communication

LinkedIn as an internal communication channel

Alongside its tools for external marketing communication, LinkedIn has a lesser-known employee communication function.

The My Company tab offers an employee-only space where teams can connect, celebrate one another and, all important for marketing teams, share organic company posts.

As an internal communication channel, this is worth exploring.

How to get ROI from this communication channel

LinkedIn can be a highly effective communication channel when used to its full potential.

The many different options available to marketers, from organic posts to internal and stakeholder communication and instant messaging, can be a lot to digest compared with other communication channels.

And there are more options still, with the ability to publish articles straight onto LinkedIn and create newsletters to build communities. But that is for another blog.

But for content teams, a laser focus on the right insight, aimed at the right audience in the right format is the best way to drive ROI in your communications plan

Social listening can help with the first part of that challenge. Taking full advantage of LinkedIn’s impressive targeting capabilities will help with the second, as will tailoring your content to each audience segment. Choosing the right format should come naturally as you decide what you want to say to your audience.

If you are clear about what success looks like from the outset, and have a solid creative team backing you, then you should see results you’ll want to share with the board.

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