The LinkedIn Targeting Masterclass
B2B targeting essentials from LinkedIn’s Content Marketing Evangelist
July 6, 2017
As Content Marketing Evangelist for LinkedIn, helping marketers put their content in front of the right audience is a key part of my job. At the B2B content campaign level, targeting with efficiency means improving both relevance and scale. LinkedIn has immensely powerful targeting capabilities – but not everyone makes best use of them. Like a kid taking their parents’ sports car for a ride, it’s easy to get carried away with all the power – and forget that you need to learn how to use it. To stay on the road to greater engagement and ROI, you need to steer targeting carefully – not go full throttle from the start.
When I sit down with clients to help them improve effectiveness, I often find myself making five common recommendations for how they approach the task of defining and engaging the ideal audience on LinkedIn. With all of the targeting options at their disposal, it’s amazing how many marketers overlook these simple principles and techniques. That’s a missed opportunity – because they are the key to unlocking the full potential of the world’s largest professional audience:
Focus on including not excluding
The first recommendation I make is a guiding principle that informs all of the others: remember that the ultimate objective of your LinkedIn targeting is to reach as many relevant people as you can, which does not mean excluding as many people as you can think of. The most common mistake when targeting on LinkedIn is to go super niche, layering on all of the parameters that are available. With over a dozen categories of LinkedIn targeting, this doesn’t just undermine your reach and results, it also cuts out a lot of the people that you really need to engage and influence. It pays to restrict yourself to the most relevant few targeting parameters – two, or perhaps three, is ideal.
Use a LinkedIn profile search to guide your targeting
If you’re going to choose your targeting parameters carefully, how do you make sure you’re focusing on the right ones? I recommend that marketers start their targeting with a simple LinkedIn profile search – and look out for common themes that connect the people they are trying to reach. Let’s say you're a new technology platform looking to reach a very specific audience of front-end developers. A great starting point is to run a simple LinkedIn search on front-end developers – and see what results you get back. You’ll be able to explore how the people you are interested in tend to describe themselves: what job titles do they have? What skills do they list on their profile? What types of companies do they tend to work for? What groups are they members of? You’ll find you can quickly put together a shortlist of likely targeting parameters for reaching the people you need.
Keep a close eye on your estimated audience size
As you experiment with adding targeting parameters to a Sponsored Content campaign, keep checking the estimated audience size. There may be 467 million members on LinkedIn, but this potential audience size can reduce quite quickly once you start adding specific parameters to your targeting. Every time you add, update or remove a targeting facet, LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager tool will let you know how many members now qualify as part of your audience. It’s important not to let your target audience drop below the 200,000-300,000 mark. Below that level you will start to compromise the reach you can realistically achieve – and the ROI your campaign can deliver. Remember, it’s better to run several different campaigns, each approaching your potential audience from different targeting angles than it is to load all of your targeting considerations onto one campaign and target too narrow an audience.
Use audience expansion to find more likely prospects
Look-alike modeling analyses the characteristics of people that you know are in your target audience – and uses common patterns to find other people who are likely to be relevant. It’s a sophisticated technique that usually involves a lot of in-depth data analysis. However, with LinkedIn targeting, it’s easy to apply look-alike modeling to your campaign – and dramatically increase its reach. When you tick the audience expansion box in Campaign Manager, you activate LinkedIn algorithms that crunch through member profile data to find people who are very similar to those you are already targeting. It’s a great way of adding relevant reach to your campaign by letting LinkedIn data do the work.
Don’t be afraid to be ambitious
One of the great things about my role is the opportunity to see the very different approaches that marketers take to leveraging LinkedIn. I’m involved with a lot of innovative content campaigns – and also with some very innovative approaches to LinkedIn targeting. I’ve learned to be surprised at what our platform can do when it comes to targeting audiences you would probably struggle to reach at scale anywhere else.
As an example, I helped an agency find storefront sellers on the Etsy arts and crafts network. That’s a pretty specific audience that don’t necessarily define themselves by the eCommerce platform they use. It sounded like a real targeting challenge – but by applying the principles I’ve mentioned in this post, we did find a relevant audience at scale.
No matter what your objective, you will often find that the data is there on LinkedIn to do incredible things with your targeting. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious – and don’t sell yourself short on the scale of audience you can reach. If you’d like more inspiration for finding your ideal audience on LinkedIn, spend some time with our Sophisticated Marketer’s Session on LinkedIn Targeting – you’ll find case studies, cheat sheets and an in-depth guide to some of the targeting combinations that drive great results for campaigns on our platform.