The LinkedIn ecosystem is a very tempting target for B2B marketers. After all, you can target in ways you simply can't get away with in other advertisers. Someone's title, skills, location and company are all up for grabs. It should be like shooting fish in a barrel, but alas, like all magic bullets, this one still requires pinpoint marksmenship.
#1. Understanding Clicks
In LinkedIn's world, a click on a sponsored update also includes people clicking on the Company Page rather than just the item you're promoting. It's a little unfair, but LinkedIn claims that Twitter and Facebook also count those as clicks. What's different in LinkedIn's case is that shares and likes are not charged as clicks.
What this means is you want to take a look at your Company Page and make sure that there is clear messaging and calls to action. You have to treat it like a landing page (which isn't easy since you have to design it based on the existing, very limited LinkedIn framework). People do end up following your company more, but that doesn't mean they're hand-raisers. For all you know, they're just serial "likers," which brings me to #2.
#2. There Are Serial Likers in LinkedIn
LinkedIn members are generally legitimate, but they are not all shiny prospects. There are less-reputable companies out there specializing in invading LinkedIn (and other social media). They may have human-like identities and join groups and connect with people in hopes that they can promote some message in the future. How many click on ads, I'm not sure.
There are also people who like "everything." Why? In LinkedIn, the more activity you engage in (commenting, sharing, etc.), it bubbles your profile up and increases engagement on your profile. When LinkedIn reports people "viewing your profile," it increases your chance of being seen (great for professional networkers), but that doesn't mean that all your followers and likers are customers-to-be.
And just because LinkedIn reports you can reach 1 million people in your target profile, that requires those 1 million people to actually be logging in when your campaign is running. I'd love to see the ability to target those who log in more often. That would give a better indicator.
Simple advice: Be wary and research the people who engage with your brand.
#3. You Can't Optimize on Conversions
LinkedIn Sponsored Updates (unlike other display advertising networks), can't be optimized by conversion data. In fact, you have very little control over optimization of your Sponsored Updates.
It's one-way tracking. That means you need to have careful monitoring on your site for incoming clicks. It's almost a daily process.
#4. There's No Day-Parting on Sponsored Updates
Sponsored Updates on LinkedIn are active as soon as you say go. You cannot set up campaigns to run tomorrow at 7AM and stop at 7PM. You run until your budget is used up. It's not terrible, but it just means a little more manual effort if you hope to capture leads and interest in what you consider prime hours.
In theory, you could isolate based on location and budget so you run out naturally by the end of the day, but you'd still have to gauge how long to run.
#5. CPM Versus CPC
In multiple test campaigns, I found that CPC (cost-per-click) compaigns were significantly more effective in generating a response. CPM (impression-based) campaigns seemed like throwing money into a black box. Clicks were much lower, so it seems like there is some backend optimization for clicks if you choose to pay for clicks.
If you happen to have thousands of dollars just sitting around and want to do branding, I suppose you could go the CPM route, but if you're tasked with demand generation, you should stick with CPC. Just note that CPC is also more expensive in the long run purely based on reach.
Incidentally, LinkedIn's advertising system seems to be built on DoubleClick for Publishers (at least, that's the type of reporting that comes back if you engage with their managed ad team).
Summary - It's not all bad
If it sounds like I'm being negative, I don't mean to. LinkedIn Sponsored Updates offer a wealth of potential in how to engage the elusive B2B audience. Being able to target specific skillsets, interests or industries, seniority levels, even specific companies and to people who have self-published their profile is unique in the industry.
However, it is also unlike other media and should be approached with special considerations.
How have you utilized Sponsored Updates? What tactics have you employed that worked?