How LinkedIn uses events to sell more ads

LinkedIn’s EducationConnect conference at New York City’s Metropolitan Pavilion last week looked like a lot of industry events, with keynote speakers interspersed with marketers’ messages, and a cocktail reception finale.

In this case, though, the only marketer commercials were from LinkedIn itself, its blue and white logo splashed across the conference space. LinkedIn has been throwing such events for education, finance and tech professionals since 2012, with 16 planned for this year, and the goal is not to sell tickets or sponsorships but to support LinkedIn’s fast-growing advertising business.

LinkedIn’s business is still primarily driven by its recruiting arm, which charges recruiters for access to job candidates and supplies 62 percent of revenue. But it’s been growing its marketing services group arm that accounts for 20 percent of its revenue. The remaining 18 percent comes from selling premium subscriptions to members.

As LinkedIn sees it, the events are key to nurturing its growing advertising business; to that end, the daylong education event consisted mainly of LinkedIn executives professing the platform’s worldview, talking about its advertising products and how marketers can get the most out of them.

“The model is to invest in our customer in the most efficient way possible,” said Alison Engel, vp of global marketing for Marketing Solutions. “There’s a power and opportunity to bringing people together in the same sector. It gets them thinking about how to work with LinkedIn differently.”

For Andrew Hickey, director of digital marketing at eCornell, who was one of the day’s speakers, the event is a chance for higher-ed marketers like himself to talk about the nitty-gritty of how they use LinkedIn’s products, what’s working and what’s not. “It’s a good opportunity to talk to other people who are having the same challenges and same struggles,” he said.

Traditional publishers have been investing heavily in events as a third revenue stream after advertising and circulation, but they’re tricky to pull off. They have to pull editorial staffers away from their day jobs; they have to balance sponsor demands with editorial integrity; and they have to compete for attention in an increasingly crowded space.

The LinkedIn model is different in that it’s not reliant on sponsors or ticket sales but rather derives value by fostering community among a small gathering of attendees. Yet events are resource-intensive; LinkedIn wouldn’t quantify its investment, but called it “significant,” with a dedicated events staff. LinkedIn expects its events to do more than just provide a social networking opportunity but tie back directly to marketing revenue.

To that end, LinkedIn tracks the events’ ROI by measuring whether attendees at its events spend more with LinkedIn over time or if their relationship with LinkedIn otherwise changes. It also surveys attendees on their likelihood of recommending the event to others, which it uses to assign each event a “net promoter score.” All this, Engel said, is to discern things like, “does the nature of our dialogue shift? Do they become advocates for us?” Attendance is another indicator; turnout to EducationConnect events doubled from 2014 to 2015 to 125 people, a LinkedIn spokeswoman said.

As for whether the events pay off for LinkedIn, she said they did, although she wouldn’t share numbers. But marketing services grew 32 percent to $140 million in the second quarter versus the year-earlier quarter (behind Talent Solutions growth of 38 percent but ahead of premium subscriptions’ growth of 22 percent). And the company is looking to extend the events model to other industry verticals, suggesting it thinks it has a good thing.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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