LinkedIn ramps up its programmatic advertising

For the last two years LinkedIn has focused on building its sponsored content business. Now it wants a bigger slice of the programmatic pie.

Just weeks after the news of its acquisition by Microsoft for $26.2 billion, the professional networking platform which claims 97 million monthly unique visitors globally, has opened up programmatic display buying to advertisers, following a lengthy trial with 100 buyers.

From today, any advertiser can buy display ads on LinkedIn, either via open programmatic auctions or LinkedIn’s Private Auctions. LinkedIn’s U.K. country manager and senior director for EMEA Josh Graff said the rollout isn’t unrelated to the acquisition, but geared toward providing advertisers with more flexibility in their programmatic buying.

“For the last few years all our investments have been on the sponsored content side, which has delivered great value to members,” he added. “We now want to focus our programmatic entry, and we’ve launched with 4,000 marketers set up to buy programmatically via the platform.”

With just a few display ad slots per page, LinkedIn is touting its viewability credentials. Video isn’t being made available to buy programmatically, yet. If advertisers want video they can purchase via the sponsored content which runs in the news feed on LinkedIn.

Agencies like Essence have been trying the new programmatic buying potential with a handful of campaigns and have been “satisfied” with the results, according to Essence’s head of programatic Matthew Russell. He gave Linkedin a viewability score of 75 percent, which he said is just over the average for a lot of publishers.

LinkedIn’s data differentiation is also appealing for marketers. “I can’t think of another source where you have this level of granularity on data that is provided by people themselves. You can infer a lot usually based on people’s browsing activity and behavioral data, but this shows which sectors they work in, what jobs they’ve had, how many employees a company has, which is all very useful,” added Russell.

The highly targeted data targeting possibilities, plus the high viewability LinkedIn is offering for programmatic buys, means the platform can charge a good premium, though agencies like Essence are happy to pay for that, added Russell.

But for Essence to invest significantly, Linkedin needs to offer mobile programmatic opportunities, he added.

Advertising still accounts for a fairly small proportion of LinkedIn’s revenue: 18 percent, of which display is just 10 percent. Meanwhile sponsored content grew nearly 80 percent in the first quarter this year, and now accounts for 56 percent of its marketing solutions revenue, which was $154 million (£115 million), according to its latest 2015 earnings report. For now, the only video ads that can run will be in the news feed.

LinkedIn acquires two new members per second, according to internal figures, and has come a long way from its roots as a job-hunting and professional networking tool.

“We get 15 times more views on the site on the content consumption pages, rather than jobs themselves, and that’s a pretty significant shift,” added Graff. That’s not to say jobs aren’t still integral to the platform, where it has five million jobs posted, two million accrued in the last year. But for now, the focus is on building the ad proposition to resemble more of a publisher’s commercial proposition.

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