‘Conversations have changed in the last three years’

Jake Thomas Featured

The region’s grasp of targeting, adoption of promoted content and mobile penetration have convinced the ‘professionals network’ to look at expanding its direct presence in the region, says Jake Thomas, head of LinkedIn marketing solutions MENA.

How has LinkedIn evolved as a platform in this market vis a vis the rest of the world?

We tend to look at the platform from a ‘members first’ perspective. We are the world’s largest professionals network. Our goal is to help professionals connect, and be more productive and successful. That could include finding new opportunities, but our focus over the last couple of years has been around helping people be awesome in the job they are in. We think about how we help the member in three ways – it’s around identity, network and knowledge.

It’s about giving someone the ability to create and have a professional identity in the digital world; allowing them to create and connect with a professional network that can help them be more successful. Over the last three to four years, we have focused a lot on the knowledge end. We have focused on how we can help people share, and how we can curate content on the platform. We are not a publisher as such, but we help people share content on the platform and we help the content move around on the platform.

This reflects in additions like Pulse, a news app that we purchased. We serve content based on the member’s profile into their newsfeed. We launched the Influencer programme, which sees key people writing long form content on LinkedIn. It’s about learning as it happens from thought leaders. In the last 12 months, we’ve enabled members to write long form as well.

From a platform perspective, a lot that has been done in the last three years has been about building a content ecosystem. People are consuming content. And mobiles have played a huge role as well. Our CEO talks about the mobile moment, when over 50 per cent of your traffic is from mobile. The UAE has passed that mark. This region, especially Saudi and the UAE, have a very high mobile adoption rate. These aspects provide an interesting story for brands, because the ability to build relationships with content is easier to do.

We are very data-rich as a platform. One of the unique things about a professional platform is that people want to share a lot of information about their identities because they want an accurate representation of it. Besides industry, function, seniority and specialisation, there are behavioural indicators that we can look out for as well.

We work with brands very closely to identify who they want to communicate with, and provide them a couple of ways in which to communicate – whether it’s the traditional way or in terms of sharing content from the company page.

From a marketing solutions perspective, our aim is to be the most effective place on the web to engage professionals, whether that’s for a B2B offering or targeting individual professionals as consumers.

What is the member base in the region, and how does it compare with the rest of the world?

Our membership in the Middle East and North Africa is at 12 mn. As of November 2012, when we opened an office here, we had 5 mn.  In a year, we doubled the base. In the US we are at 102 mn members. We have over 25 mn members in India. Globally, we have 330 mn members. That’s half the knowledge workers in the world.

We are of the belief that there are approximately 700 mn knowledge workers in the world. That’s our first addressable audience.

How does the growth here compare with other markets? 

The growth here is faster than in some other markets. This is a developing market, so compared to a highly penetrated market like the US, it is going to be faster.

How has advertising on LinkedIn grown in the region as you have moved from 5 to 12 mn members?

We can’t share specific numbers. But there has been an increased appetite from advertisers in the region over the last 24 months. We are seeing increased investment on our traditional media, and also across sponsored updates, which is our flagship content product.

Talent solutions is still our largest business. The marketing solutions business represents 19 per cent of LinkedIn’s overall revenue, globally. The subscriptions business represents a similar amount. Growth for marketing solutions has been around 45 per cent (globally, Q3 over Q2 2014).

We see above-average engagement in this region for sponsored content. Brands being receptive to our marketing solutions, and content marketing most recently, has led us to believe that 2015 is the right time for us to add to our team in the market. We’re looking at some account directors, account managers and some campaign management support. We have worked with a local partner, which will continue. But we will be expanding our direct footprint. We should be adding five to six people over the next two to three months on the marketing solutions team.

Within marketing solutions, you mentioned that sponsored updates is the fastest growing piece… 

We launched sponsored up-dates about a year ago. It is one of our fastest growing products in terms of revenue globally. And we’ve certainly felt that locally as well. There’s a huge amount of noise and conversation around content. We’ve seen conversations with clients change from a content perspective, as we have had the ability to put an additional  box in front of a professional to enhance his or her productive day. We have had longstanding conversations with clients on how they should be speaking with professionals, as against addressing someone without a professional mindset.

We’ve done a piece of research, which has been renewed over a couple of years, which is called the ‘Mindset Divide’. Everything we have found suggests that professionals have a very aspirational mindset; they are leaning forward. Fun and frivolous stuff can provide a lighter moment in a professional’s day. But when you think about why people are using LinkedIn, they are using it to be more productive and successful. So whether it’s a bank wanting to talk to SMEs, or a technology company wanting to talk to CTOs, they can talk about how they can help these members become more productive and successful. There are other ways to tap into the aspirant piece. It could be an auto brand tapping into the goal-oriented mindset. It’s a really interesting space for brands.

For marketing solutions, would it be fair to say that it is still B2B, largely?

If you look at our client mix, our core is B2B. However, we are seeing significant growth in the aspirational or high-consideration B2C segment. I don’t think you’re likely to see washing powder on LinkedIn, but there have been some interesting executions from the likes of large FMCG companies, for products like women’s deodorant for the office.

If you want to reach aspirant, educated people, we have a platform. We have seen significant growth in luxury on the platform. Some of the luxury brands were early adopters on social. But we have seen conversations come around to them saying that they want to talk to their actual customers. They want to target a 45 to 55-year-old woman who can afford to transact at a certain level today, rather than someone who may be able to in 20 years.

How evolved is data-driven real time targeting on the platform?

We are very confident in our ability to reach the right people. We don’t allow people to individually identify members for targeting, but there are a number of ways in which we can use targeting. You could target on the basis of profile. And then there is some work we can do, looking at behaviours.

For example, we could have a segment that has high potential to travel internationally, based on their profiles. But we could also layer on some behavioural data, like people who have logged on to LinkedIn from multiple international IP addresses. Intelligent targeting, used well, is a hugely powerful tool.

It’s an age of multi-source data, which some agencies are working on. Is there any avenue that exists, for you to co-work on or share data with other social networks?

Not that I am aware of, at the moment. Agencies may be bringing together data from sources on their platforms. We are outside of those platforms. When we’re talking to agencies and clients, we are talking very much about LinkedIn data sets. Those are pretty powerful as standalone data sets.

Real-time: Oreo is an oft-quoted example. Is it more of a challenge for a professionals network such as LinkedIn?

We are not exactly in the same space as some instantaneous social media platforms.

In terms of format of content, we’re a little bit different. Our pieces tend to be a little bit longer. The content is helpful in being productive. It’s also a timing thing. LinkedIn is used heavily on the mobile on the way to work and particularly on the way back from work, in the early evenings.  The desktop seems to dominate during the day. There seems to be the conception that the consumption of content would go down during the weekend. We tend to see that longer form content tends to get consumed more during weekends.

Content is published by professionals – how is that curated, if at all?

There is a bit of curation. It’s driven by the news app Pulse. In theory, it pushes news out which is relevant to you as a member. The news that is sent to me, is sent on the basis of people in my industry, seniority and function sharing that information.

Is the region any different, in terms of adoption of targeting?  

This market has grasped targeting quite well. We did some of our earliest work with airlines in this region. They are global advertisers and they have a very firm grasp of how to use our targeting capabilities.

For many categories like banks, which want to approach people when they arrive in the region, we have started to target based on members who have changed their geography on LinkedIn. That’s not a custom segment; it came out of conversation with a local marketer. Those type of conversations are helping us create new segments.

(This article appears in the issue of Campaign Middle East dated 25 January 2015.)