Originally posted by Chris Bailey on LinkedIn.
The untold story of social media is a behind-the-scenes struggle that continues to take place today: how to make money from it. It takes a lot of money to run an always-on social media platform, and that money has to come from somewhere.
The general business model for most social media platforms tends to be some sort of advertising. When you have tens or hundreds of millions of users, each of whom have provided lots of delicious data to you as part of their sign-up and ongoing usage trends, there’s a good proposition to sell to willing ad buyers.
It’s not easy, though, as evidence from the last couple of weeks demonstrates. As of the 28th July, Snapchat’s share price had sunk nearly 20% below its IPO price. And Twitter’s shares also took a dive after it failed to add new users and hit expectations and there are rumours (again) of potential takeover talks.
Neither of these two firms are actually doing badly – they have hundreds of millions of users and good revenues. Share price can commonly be aligned to a level of meeting expectations and potential to innovate and grow, and is a very fickle thing. However, it is interesting to compare these predominantly consumer advertising-focused social networks to the approach taken by that other big social network, and the one that business marketers love to use: LinkedIn.
LinkedIn, acquired by Microsoft not long ago, also makes most of its revenue through advertising. But LinkedIn is also importantly different from the other platforms, and the tools and propositions it is developing make it useful to marketers beyond simply the ad proposition.
LinkedIn has a number of differences from your standard social platform (entirely ignoring the recruitment angle). Firstly, rather than being a free sign-up that attempts to grab as many users as it can to expand its ad targeting footprint, it has both a free and a paid-for premium offering that provides tools and insights not available to the free subscriber. Secondly, LinkedIn is increasingly realising its importance as a content platform, and is integrating content publishing and content advertising solutions for a more unified marketing proposition. And thirdly, it provides dedicated marketing tools – lead form capture, website demographics, dashboards and analytics – that can be used to drive other, non-digital areas of the marketing strategy.
Take website demographics for instance – a new feature in July 2017, explained in full detail here. Website demographics is a free service that gives marketers insight through the LinkedIn network on who is visiting their site, providing anonymised information such as job title, industry, seniority, organisation and location. There are a few known limitations, but as the blog post announcing the service says: “For B2B marketers, knowing your ideal audience is critical to driving ROI. But a key challenge is understanding whether you’ve created the right content for the right people so you aren’t wasting your marketing budget.”
Knowing the profile of the visitors who are on your website and reading your content can change the way you approach your outbound activity – activity that wouldn’t normally be associated with a digital connection:
Beyond its integration into CRM systems, as LinkedIn builds tools that impact the rest of the marketing funnel, it has the potential to increase its importance across the full pipeline of demand generation and sales.
What will be interesting as this continues to happen is to see how marketing teams evolve to understand the importance of it as an information source to inform strategy. How will team structures change, for example, to respond to the web demographics driving content and telemarketing approaches? And how will increasingly tight integrations between data services and funnel measurement change other channels?
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