LinkedIn Joins Ad Network Race

They say a goldfish will grow as large as the body of water it occupies allows. Social media data is no different. Though powerful when put to work within the boundaries of individual platforms, a much greater potential awaits those who look beyond their pond and out into the sea.

Enter social media ad networks. While the arms race to leverage “social outside of social” is nothing new, last week saw a major disruption in the space.  Twitter acquired MoPub in the fall of 2013, Facebook announced its Audience Network in the spring of 2014 -- and now LinkedIn is joining the ad network game, beefing up its arsenal with the introduction of LinkedIn Network Display. Arriving on the heels of LinkedIn's August acquisition of Bizo, Network Display will allow brands to reach users both on and off the LinkedIn platform, with rumored partner sites including CNN and

(Full disclosure: my company is a LinkedIn Marketing Partner, but we cannot sell the ads I’m discussing here).  

To some, this move may just seem like LinkedIn playing catch-up, dipping toes into the already-crowded pool of social platforms layering their data on top of display ads. After all, Facebook and Twitter have both proven that social targeting offers unparalleled audience accuracy. Using social data, advertisers can now create ads based on personas, rather than just demographics.

Still, LinkedIn’s off-platform move is unlike those of the other social giants in that it seems to offer the most precise B2B targeting of the group, allowing marketers to take an audience of 347 million professionals and narrow it down to as few as 1,000 people. And these are powerful people we’re talking about: the CEOs, VPs, and other head honchos of the world on a platter, all directly accessible through targeting specs like job title, job function, industry and company.

More importantly, LinkedIn Network Display is only a single part of a much grander rethinking of the established marketing funnel” Acting as a top-of-the-funnel lead generation tool, LinkedIn Network Display is complemented by the rest of LinkedIn’s recently expanded Marketing Solutions portfolio: LinkedIn Lead Accelerator, Sponsored Updates, LinkedIn Onsite Display, LinkedIn Network Display, and Sponsored InMail.

Once in the funnel, the Lead Accelerator will allow advertisers to “divide their audiences into different segments, and then to deliver ads and content in the right sequence, targeted to each group,” writes Anthony Ha in TechCrunch.

Taking into account everything from landing page visits to website traffic and combining it with LinkedIn’s intelligence, the Lead Accelerator helps marketers track leads through what we all know can be a very long nurturing cycle. We aren’t talking about impulse buying; we’re talking about big-ticket, high-consideration purchasing.

Thus far, social media has not afforded B2B marketers the accuracy and scale that it has for the B2C set. But LinkedIn’s latest updates are a big step toward changing that. A greater level of accuracy promises high-quality leads from the get-go. Couple that with the ability to engage prospects with the right content throughout each stage of the buying process, and the true value of this new product suite becomes clear.

For those B2B marketers that had given up on social media, welcome back. For those who’ve been waiting, your patience is being rewarded. B2B marketing was previously confined to lead generation within the walls of social platforms. But now it’s time to open the floodgates and let every marketer swim for open water.

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