The Quick Start guide to LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

Why they work, how to get started, and how to optimise your efforts

April 4, 2016

Recently I was asked to write a blog post for the Native Advertising Institute, explaining the value of Sponsored Updates as a native opportunity – and the best way to use them within a content marketing strategy. This is the post that I put together – a quick start guide to why Sponsored Updates are so effective and how to make sure you’re making the most of them. It struck me that it was well worth sharing on our LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog as well. If you’re just getting started with Sponsored Updates, or want to make sure that you’re using them in the right way, then the chances are you’ll find some ideas in here that can help. Enjoy:

What are Sponsored Updates?

The simplest description of LinkedIn Sponsored Updates is this: they are a means of promoting your content directly in the LinkedIn feed of your target audience, even if those members aren’t already connected to your business on LinkedIn. It’s a simple concept, but as brands and businesses around the world are discovering, it’s an extremely powerful one. And when you look at the different elements in that description, it becomes clear why:

Deliver content directly in the LinkedIn feed

The LinkedIn feed is a particularly powerful space for native advertising because of the mindset of the audience it reaches – and the value they seek from the feed itself. Professional audiences don’t just spend time on LinkedIn; they invest it, seeking out insights and ideas that can give themselves and their businesses an advantage. The LinkedIn feed is where they turn to find them: it’s one of the first places that professionals look for fresh and valuable content, and they are motivated to build their professional brand by engaging with and sharing it.

Deliver content directly to your target audience

Through LinkedIn member profile data, you are able to define the audience you want your Sponsored Updates to reach by characteristics such as industry sector, job function and seniority, as well as by parameters such as age and location. LinkedIn also offers behaviour-based segments that help you reach people based on the topics they are interested in. Because professionals are highly motivated to keep their LinkedIn profile up to date, the data used for Sponsored Updates targeting is extremely current. It provides a powerful basis for tailoring the headlines and copy of your Sponsored Updates to capture the attention of different groups – and as they start to engage with your content you’ll generate more insight as to what motivates them.

Whether they are connected to your business or not

LinkedIn members’ feeds are filled with content shared by businesses and people they already follow on the platform. When you publish updates to a company page, they’re shared with the people already following your business. However, when you sponsor an update, your reach extends beyond existing followers. Your content will now appear in the feed of anyone in your target audience, whether they’re already connected to your company or not.

LinkedIn limits the number of Sponsored Updates that appear in members’ feeds, in order to protect user experience and engagement levels. When you sponsor an update, you’ll bid for exposure to your target audience in a second-price auction, specifying how much you are prepared to pay for exposures (which you might choose if your objective is brand awareness) or clicks (if your focus is lead generation). The highest bid wins – but, if yours is the highest, you only have to pay 1 per cent more than the amount bid by the runner-up. 

Build a native advertising strategy around Sponsored Updates

Part of the strength of Sponsored Updates comes from their simplicity and accessibility. You can book them yourself through LinkedIn’s self-serve portal, and retain control of exactly how much you spend and what you pay for. But Sponsored Updates are also a very flexible native advertising channel. Once you get started, you can apply them in sophisticated ways and achieve a wide range of different marketing objectives:

Build brand awareness and engagement

Thought leadership content that persuades prospects to buy into your approach is a powerful means of building awareness and engagement in the early stages of a buyer’s journey. Focus your Sponsored Updates on addressing current hot topics for the industry, and do so in a way that’s engaging and easy to share. The goal of such content isn’t to get across your full credentials; it’s to initiate a conversation with the prospect and demonstrate that you have a contribution to make. It helps if you eliminate as many barriers as possible to accessing your content – so consider removing data capture forms when building awareness is your objective.

Generate leads

Generating relevant leads for your business involves converting a prospect’s initial engagement into a definite interest in your company – and an indication that they are ready for you to get in touch. You can tailor your Sponsored Updates towards achieving this by distributing content that has a value and relevance people are prepared to share their contact details in exchange for. That value and relevance is really important, because once your prospect has shared their details, you can’t afford for them to be disappointed by what they get in return. You can use the copy in your Sponsored Update to stress the value that prospects will get from what you’re sharing (original research or an in-depth White Paper, for example).

Customising and testing your content

Sponsored Updates’ targeting capabilities enable you to customise the way that you promote your content to different audiences. You can try out different headlines, copy and images to speak to different groups’ specific interests and pain points, capturing their attention and boosting engagement rates.

You can also target different versions of Sponsored Updates to the same audience – and use LinkedIn’s analytics to identify the versions that best deliver against your objectives (those that engage more of your priority audiences or generate better quality leads, for example). The Sponsored Updates platform will itself direct more budget towards your best performing updates, automatically optimising your campaign so that more of your audience see these versions.

Creative techniques for capturing attention

Because it’s so easy to optimise around your best-performing Sponsored Updates, you can try a range of different creative techniques for capturing attention in the LinkedIn feed. Video content (which can play directly in the LinkedIn feed), striking visuals and infographics consistently increase engagement rates for Sponsored Updates – and we’ve seen brands generate great results through adopting memes, humour, provocative headlines or updates that are personalised to a particular business. If one tactic doesn't connect, it’s easy to reallocate budget to an alternative version.

Insights to guide your strategy

Sponsored Updates aren’t just a great vehicle for delivering your content, they are also a rich source of insight that brings you closer to your most important audiences, and can quickly deepen your understanding of what they’re interested in. The comments, shares and likes that your updates generate aren’t just an effective means of amplifying your content – they also add depth to your understanding of different groups within your target audience, and the content they engage with. 

Sponsored Updates, then, are a great means of delivering your content to a target audience of professionals. But they are also far more than that. They provide a hugely valuable perspective on that target audience, giving you rich insight on their most important issues, which you can plug directly into your content strategy. Once you get started deploying Sponsored Updates, you’ll quickly find yourself building a native advertising strategy around them.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Native Advertising Institute blog. You can find more content from the Native Advertising Institute here.