Commentary

Microsoft Bing Ads Finds Opportunities In LinkedIn Social Data, AI

Microsoft and LinkedIn quickly glossed over benefits for Bing and Bing Ads when they announced the $26.2 billion deal on Monday, but industry insiders see the agreement as having far-reaching benefits for the two services. 

To be clear -- Microsoft and LinkedIn did not announce advertising services, but it seems inevitable. Here's why and how. 

Although LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella skipped specifics on how Bing Ads and search will fit into LinkedIn's network, industry insiders see a change on the horizon. "It will be fascinating to see where LinkedIn fits within the Bing Ads network," said David Grow, digital media manager at agency Chacka Marketing.

Grow said LinkedIn doesn't really seem to fit into any of the four Bing Ads options that Microsoft offers, so it wouldn't surprise him to see LinkedIn inventory managed separately in a fifth. "I am sure Microsoft will come up with some creative ways to connect Bing Ads and LinkedIn -- possibly through ad extensions -- to increase the importance of both platforms.

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Aaron Goldman, CMO at social media technology company 4C, doesn't think Microsoft will integrate Bing Ads in the short term because the two companies have a different focus. LinkedIn supports a professional audience and ad placements based on job title and geographic location, rather than keywords in Bing Ads.

That's not to say that Weiner and Nadella aren't thinking about changes and how to integrate the two company's services to produce better ad-targeting platforms based on artificial intelligence and data. "Microsoft has also had more of the affluent audience, so there's a nice match with LinkedIn's audience," Goldman said. "If they can do some first-party targeting using social graph data on top of keywords data, it could make for some really nice targeting opportunities."  

LinkedIn began to show vast improvements in site visits and shares during the first quarter in 2016. Page views per unique visit for each LinkedIn member hit an all-time high in first-quarter 2016, with 23% year-over-year growth. Daily shares for content rose nearly 40%, and traffic to third-party publishers grew more than 150%. The company also mentioned seeing "significant growth in other core engagement metrics such as profile edits, connections made, and messages sent."

In the first quarter, sponsored content on LinkedIn grew nearly 80%, representing 56% of total Marketing Solutions revenue. During the first quarter, the company began piloting the sale of sponsored content through off-network inventory.

Weiner said during the company's first-quarter 2016 earnings call that by the end of 2016, a Sponsored Content customer will have an option to expand targeting using their own data such as customer account lists, and use conversion tracking to better measure their return on investment, leverage improved tools, and manage campaigns.

Other highlights mentioned during a Monday call with investors include that the deal strengthens Microsoft position in China through LinkedIn; 60% of traffic comes from mobile -- up from 49% in the year-ago period -- and that the LinkedIn platform supports some 7 million active job listings, up 101% since the prior year. 

 

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