5 ways you can make the most of LinkedIn ads

B2B marketers can attract attention and boost audience engagement with these approaches.

LinkedIn is today’s business-to-business media powerhouse.

For B2B marketers in nearly any sector, LinkedIn offers three things that make it stand out from other B2B media companies:

  • Scale. According to comScore’s July 2015 rankings, LinkedIn is the 15th-largest media property in the U.S., outranking such consumer staples as Weather.com, Conde Nast and BuzzFeed. It’s likely that many in your business audience use LinkedIn regularly.
  • Data. We directly contribute and maintain our own data on LinkedIn, making it one of the most accurate sources of data for B2B marketers.
  • Content Distribution. With Sponsored Updates, LinkedIn’s native ad format, LinkedIn has an offering tailored to distributing your content.

So, how do you take advantage of it? Here are five things that can make a big difference in the performance of your LinkedIn Sponsored Update campaign.

1. Nail your targeting.

With all the data LinkedIn has available, this part should be easy. Unfortunately, nailing this requires some counterintuitive approaches:

  • Keep your targeting lists short. Instead of building an exhaustive targeting list, such as every group your audience might use (and watering down your targeting significantly), use LinkedIn’s audience expansion feature instead.
  • Use skills targeting. Skills targeting provides far more detail than traditional role-based targeting, in which you’d target marketers to reach someone like me. With skills targeting, you can target people involved in specific areas within marketing, such as B2B marketing, demand generation or account-based marketing. Skills and group targeting are consistently the top performing approaches, but skills targeting usually provides more volume with similar efficiency.
  • Use negatives. In LinkedIn, not every data point is present in every profile. Actually, lots of data are missing. Instead of adding targeting requirements, consider excluding segments you don’t want to reach, such as smaller companies and entry-level staff.

Straight role-based targeting (such as targeting senior IT pros) almost always costs more, because you probably have more competition, and it doesn’t perform as well as more specific targeting criteria such as skills or group membership.

2. Engage a mobile audience.

Mobile Web access overtook desktop browsing in overall time spent more than a year ago. According to LinkedIn, 70 percent of clicks in the main stream are from mobile devices.

Today, social media advertising is mobile advertising, yet it seems many marketers haven’t accepted this. I recently stumbled upon a company promoting new research and insights about mobile marketing and today’s mobile consumer—in a PDF, probably the worst format you could choose for a mobile audience.

I eventually gave up trying to read it on my phone—and no, I didn’t save it so I could read it later at my desk. Stop expecting people to work that way.

Download this free marketer’s guide to digital giveaways, promotions and rewards.

3. Give people a personal reason to care.

B2B marketers love to position the business value of their content and their solution-how to reduce costs, improve profitability, drive growth, etc.—but unless you are marketing directly to owners, these aren’t primary motivators.

Seth Godin outlined a hierarchy of the needs or motivators of B2B buyers. Here they are, in order:

  • Avoiding risk
  • Avoiding hassle
  • Gaining praise
  • Gaining power
  • Having fun
  • Making a profit

Your ad and offer should focus on the top of this list, not the bottom.

One of the best converting offers I’ve worked with was a piece of content promoted with the line, “We’ve read all the books so you don’t have to.” We didn’t promise profits, growth or business efficiency, even though that is the area we were working in.

Instead, we promised to take the hassle out of getting the information that people needed. It worked extremely well.

4. Promote engagement and validation.

Affirmation, particularly positive comments, matters on LinkedIn. Not only do positive comments validate your offer, they also give your ad more real estate in the LinkedIn stream.

Don’t wait for positive comments; encourage people to comment—or comment yourself if you must. Because of that engagement, LinkedIn will favor your ad. Through the comments, it will capture additional attention and engagement, and then LinkedIn will favor your ad even more.

5. Track and optimize.

One shortcoming is that LinkedIn doesn’t yet support conversion tracking.

Fortunately, LinkedIn now supports the use of your social media or advertising tracking links. The results will almost always take you down a different optimization path from what you would do purely focusing on the available LinkedIn metrics.

What works for you?

What has been your biggest frustration with LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, or what tip or trick has worked well for you? Please let us know in the comments section.

Eric Wittlake works with B2B marketers and shares his marketing views on his personal blog, B2B Digital Marketing. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake). A version of this article originally appeared on Mark Schaefer’s blog, {grow}.

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