Photo: Jim Edwards / BI
Jonathan Lister is LinkedIn’s vp/North American sales for marketing solutions, which means that he’s in charge of growing the social network’s brand advertising revenues.It’s a growing business—the company reported a 77 per cent increase in ad sales to $50 million in Q4 2011.
We sat down with Lister recently in LinkedIn’s regional office in New York, on the 25th floor of the Empire State Building (great views!). He told us how LinkedIn serves its clients, what kind of data it can offer, how it competes with Facebook … and how LinkedIn could end up making your resume and your business card extinct.
Jim: Give my readers a broad overview of what you do and who you do it with.
Jonathan: So I run North America marketing solutions. Marketing Solutions is our line of business that sells to partners. So we connect members with branding opportunities. We do this at scale, we do it globally. I happen to run the business in North America. That business is predicated on lots of information that members have chosen to give us about who they are, their identity, and who they know, their graph. Professionally who they’re connected to – first degree, second degree, third degree.
Jim: And this is different from the hiring solutions side?
Jonathan: We have a line of business, Hiring Solutions, that sells to people who hire in the HR community. We have a line of business called Marketing Solutions that I run that sells to marketers. We also have a subscription line of business.
Jim: And you have a new business with heads of sales organisations?
Jonathan: We have a product that we sell into sales organisations, to heads of sales, that helps salespeople take advantage of some of the great things about LinkedIn. So specifically, one of the things it does is help people find people in organisations that they’re not connected to. It helps people find people they would like to connect to at another organisation via people at their organisation who they’re connected to. So what it does is it using the graph to find people at my company who are connected to someone that I would like to be connected to. In effect what’s it’s doing is helping businesses to eliminate the cold call. It’s creating warm calls.
Jim: So this is why sales people are obsessed with LinkedIn!
Jim: Some of these things sound similar to what Facebook is doing, particularly with messaging into people's news streams. Is that how LinkedIn is going? Is it going to look and feel more like Facebook?
Jonathan: No. The distinction is context. 80 per cent of our members want to keep their professional lives separate from their personal lives. Our products are designed for professionals, in a professional context.
So the 'follow' ecosystem, for example, is companies who like to message people in a professional capacity. So a tech company will send a white paper to a group of IT managers. Very professional in nature, high engagement rates. Something that I probably wouldn't find that interesting, but people who are in the IT business find extremely interesting. So the virality and engagement rates on those things are phenomenal. But it is in a professional context that the tools are built and engagement is made. So very different from socially what you find in a social network.
Jim: Can you talk a bit more about the data? What things are you collecting and how does it help an advertiser?
Jonathan: At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is make all information more relevant to our members. A way that makes ads more relevant is, one example, is that we can do a lot of post-campaign work that helps advertisers identify, very specifically, who's interacting with a campaign. By profession, by industry, by company who is interacting with an ad campaign. That's information and insight that advertisers can't get anywhere else.
So if I'm trying to target facilities managers, I may find that directors have a higher propensity to engage than managers. That's a piece of information I can't get anywhere else. And I may make decisions on the relevance of my ad campaign based on that. I can do that across the web, I can do that at scale. That is an extremely powerful proposition that doesn't exist anywhere else.
Next page: Lister talks about how LinkedIn users visit the site less often than other social networks.
Jim: On the engagement side, the difference between LinkedIn and other social networks is that there are fewer repeat or regular visits from your users. Can you talk a bit about that?
Jonathan: In our ecosystem, what we're focused on is results, right? It's driving results and driving high-impact marketing solutions. So the advertisers that advertise with us are getting those high impact marketing solutions whether it's in branding campaigns, whether it's a lead-gen campaign. Ultimately they're coming back to use and they're repeat customers because they're getting great results.
So last year we generated 200 million leads on LinkedIn. Those are massive and amazing results for the advertisers who participate in that.
Jim: Do you actually want people to visit LinkedIn every day? It strikes me that the importance of LinkedIn is that people visit LinkedIn when they really need something. It's transactional in nature. It's 'I need a new job' or 'I need to hire someone for a job' or something like that. You go to LinkedIn for something important, but I'm not there every day. I don't need to tinker with my resume every day.
Jonathan: So at any one time, 10% of people on LinkedIn are looking for a job. 90% of people are doing something else related to business: business networking, finding a piece of information, reading the news. So jobs related activity are a relatively small portion of what people do on LinkedIn.
So we are seeing engagement rates go up, engagement rates are important. We're building lots of products that take advantage of those engagement rates. Our follower ecosystem is specifically targeted to members who are on the service and those engagement rates continue to be really really high. In fact those engagement rates are growing and continue to be some of our highest.
Jim: How do you define an engagement?
Jonathan: One way we define it is virality, shares. If I'm a company and I send a status update to a member, we look at how much that status update is shared across the web. So how much it's clicked on, how much it's commented on, how much it's shared, that virality. Those engagement rates are some of our highest. In fact, I think they are currently our highest of any product we have.
Jim: Is there any way to put specific numbers on that?
Jonathan: It's too early to put any specific numbers on that seven-month-old product that we're still experimenting with and that we're still launching new products around and we're still getting lots of new customers ... these are our highest-performing engagement rates and some of our highest-performing metrics.
Next page: Lister talks about how LinkedIn will destroy the resume and the business card.
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