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Is LinkedIn Evolving into a Pay-to-Play Platform?

Patrick Dodge

Founder

Sep 19, 2018 8:35:44 AM

If you’ve spent a lot of time on LinkedIn in the last year, you’ve noticed a few things.

  1. People are crazy busy updating their profiles with sometimes helpful, often boastful, always plentiful content.

 

  1. The Social Selling Index (SSI) is a lot more than just a vanity metric.

 

  1. Everyone is trying to be an influencer, resulting in a ton of content saturation.

 

  1. Reach is slowly but surely declining.

 

As an active participant in all this, I’ve been fascinated by the rapid changes taking place. 

It seemed like only yesterday LinkedIn was like a deserted parking lot where resumes skirled around in the wind, looking for a home…somewhere. 

Now people are engaged, present, and serious about finding success. And almost overnight, I started noticing signs of decreased reach due to content saturation. 

Sound like another platform you know?

I wasn’t the only one noticing this, of course. I’d had separate conversations with two marketing experts in my network who know a hell of a lot more about LinkedIn than I ever will. Those guys are Alan (AR) Robinson and Chris Williams

Alan is Co-founder and Director of Business Development for anti•social MEDIA™, a full service social media management firm based in the Dallas area. 

Chris is a digital marketing expert with a focus on Social Selling through LinkedIn.

We decided to book some time to have a three-way discussion on Zoom about where things are headed on LinkedIn. Here are some highlights from our talk:

Signs of Monetization on the Horizon 

  • Massive growth in membership and engagement.
  • SSI becomes available to all.
  • Microsoft makes huge investment in the platform.
  • Best move is to slowly throttle reach so users will invest in sponsored content.

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I got interested in this topic when I started noticing parallels between Facebook’s shift into a paid content distribution channel for brands and the direction LinkedIn now seems to be heading.

Even though that evolution took years on Facebook, the path to monetization was clear:

  • Grow a massive base of power-users that spend hours on the platform every day
  • Encourage daily posting of native content.
  • Wait for the tide of content to rise to a level where organic reach becomes a challenge.
  • Adjust the algorithms and make it attractive for people to pay to reach their followers and connections.

 

The three of us agree – LinkedIn is moving closer to a model where sponsored content will take on greater importance – although Microsoft is keeping their cards close to the vest.

“I think they’re still trying to figure it out,” Robinson says. “They’ve got a tiger by the tail and they’re still trying to figure out what to do with it.”

Williams agrees. “You have to remember that Microsoft invested heavily in LinkedIn, so they’re going to want to see some ROI. The greatest way of doing that is to monetize as many of the members as possible.”

He points out that making the Social Selling Index (SSI) free and accessible to everyone instead of a feature that came only with Sales Navigator, was a brilliant move. As a LinkedIn coach who has run exhaustive tests on the SSI, Williams has seen amazing results in terms of lead generation when people follow the platform’s guidelines for boosting their score. 

“It’s a great way to get people on board with what [LinkedIn] is doing,” he says. “Splitting off the SSI score from Sales Navigator and offering it to the wider community was a stroke of genius.” 

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A Slippery Slope for LinkedIn

  • Risk of alienating the user base.
  • Best practice is to follow the path LI wants you to.

 fingers-pointing

LinkedIn may be following Facebook’s growth trajectory to some extent, although monetizing the platform will be trickier for them. Facebook could sell ads to brands without alienating their core user base.

On LinkedIn the brands and the users are one and the same. If they’re not careful, they could push their core users away by forcing them to pay.  

Robinson is a realist when it comes to this. “You’ve got realize that both Facebook and LinkedIn are self interested, for profit, shareholder driven entities that want eyes on the platform and they want people to pay for ads on that platform to reach those eyes,” he says.

“When you look at it from that perspective, you will see that the best way to achieve success on LinkedIn is to follow the steps they are telling you to take. Focus on your SSI and maximize your presence on the platform, and then pay for reach when it makes sense to.”

Related: B2B Lead Generation Strategies on LinkedIn in 2018

He also points out that, unlike Facebook, LinkedIn has a variety of revenue streams. 

“I know a gentleman who sells Outlook and Sales Navigator integration to corporations. You have a whole revenue driven team inside of LinkedIn doing that,” he says. “They’re taking out radio ads for their job platform, so they’re doing things outside the platform that we don’t see every day.”

Creative content will always get reach, according to Robinson, but marketers should still prepare to augment it with dollars. “Chewbacca Mom has been viewed 33.5 million times, right?  But that’s not an everyday phenomenon. You’re going to have to pay for reach.” 

How Can Marketers Maintain Organic Reach?

  • Revitalization of Groups.
  • Improve your SSI score.
  • Use platform how it’s intended to be used.
  • Goal isn’t to find new clients, but to spread your message.
  • Engagement pods and LI messaging.

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The big question is what steps can marketers take to boost and maintain their reach as content saturation increases. They have a few options: 

1. Reach the Community On Other Channels

I’ve already seen some influencers taking a cross-platform approach, asking their connections to subscribe to their database for the sole purpose of letting them know when new content is posted.

It will be interesting to see how this works out. One of the basic tenets of success on LinkedIn today is posting native content, particularly status updates. Posting links to your blog, and other attempts to get people to leave the reservation is almost guaranteed to limit your content’s visibility and engagement right now. This has been tested ad nauseam by experts across the platform.

However, if your content is valuable enough to the community, you may convince at least some of them to opt-in for email or chat messaging.

Related: Why Companies Are Struggling to Build a Brand on LinkedIn

2. LinkedIn Groups Reborn?

Another interesting option is the slow but steady revitalization of LinkedIn Groups

Most of us who have participated in Groups would agree they’ve been pretty much dead for a while. People would show up to drop links to their blogs which hardly anyone bothered to read, and almost no one would leave comments. 

Part of the reason why LinkedIn has struggled with Groups, unlike Facebook which has been very successful, is  it feels separate and apart from the newsfeed. Facebook has successfully made Groups experience feel the same as interacting with friends on the main platform. Going to a LinkedIn Group feels more like huddling into a quiet conference room far away from the action. 

However, Robinson says he’s noticed a renewed interest in Groups lately. “There does seem to be an urgency and an emphasis on Groups that has not been there previously.”

Changes may be on the way as well. Williams recently had a conversation with someone on the LI development team, who said they are doing significant work on the look and functionality.

“I think [Groups] are going to play a huge part in the future of LinkedIn. When you strip it back, the value is you can reach out to a lot of people without needing to be connected to them. It gets you over the hurdles of separation between people.”

3. Improve Your SSI Score

This goes back to our earlier point of following the path LinkedIn has provided for us all.

Williams runs a LinkedIn Success program that focuses on improving the SSI for his students. When you follow the guidelines, great things happen.

“Each group that I’ve had focuses on those four pillars of success. When they get to the end, they start getting more inquiries, more views, and more clients,” he says. “Improving your SSI works.” 

Robinson has tested this and seen similar results for his clients. “When you go to your SSI score on LinkedIn, you can click on and learn more information about how to increase your effectiveness of those four pillars. Follow the steps, you will get more reach. I would say just do what they tell you to do.”

4. Hire a Social Media Consultant to Help You

Success on LinkedIn is a never ending process of planning, posting, and optimizing. It’s not rocket science, but you do need a variety of skills, from strategic planning, to micro-blogging and video production, to testing and analysis.

If you are putting in the hours and struggling to get results, you might want to follow experts like Williams and Robinson.

“We tell people how to do what we do, and we share our costs without any hesitation or fear,” Robinson says. “Some people will put in the work and succeed on their own, while others need a little help. That’s where we come in.”

Williams says people worry too much about finding clients on LinkedIn, when they really should be focusing on the message.

“When you start trying to get people on board with your message, and those people will recommend you. They will be the guys that act as your marketing team. The aim really isn’t to make connections that will turn into clients. It's to build a network of people that will sing your praises and refer you to all of their connections.” 

Another important aspect of building a community is organizing them around a topic or category, not your personal brand.

Many talented marketers are creating a following based on the subjects they are leading the conversation on. Content-based networking is an example of new category that James Carbury and Logan Lyles are building, and it’s catching on. When your message is about the topic, it becomes everyone’s story. Not just your own.

5. LinkedIn Messaging

LinkedIn Messages is another powerful way to stay in touch with your followers.

Engagement pods where people band together to engage with each other’s content has grown increasingly popular, planting the seeds of other communication and collaboration possibilities.

“I advocate this to my trainees. When you’ve got somebody who is interested in a particular hashtag, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to these people that have expressed interest and saying, ‘I can add you to my LinkedIn messaging, so every time I post content you’ll be able to see,’” Williams says. “I used to be really against engagement pods, but then I tried them with my training program. The engagement blew my socks off. People were receiving job offers, one guy got a job from it - all through being part of this pod. If you ask me, messaging groups are phenomenal.” 

It’s hard to predict when or how Microsoft will monetize individual users, but don’t be shocked when it happens. If history has shown us anything, it’s that LinkedIn will roll out the change with very little communication. They seem to soft launch everything and let the community figure it out. In the meantime, the best approach is to maximize organic reach and impact while you can, and master paid strategies when the time comes.

If you want to more practical tips, check out Chris Williams’s #LISuccess program and AR Robinson’s social media training programs at anti-social MEDIA.

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