If you use social media mangagement tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Hubspot or many others, you likely started seeing notifications in mid-June that you would no longer be able to use those tools to post content to LinkedIn's Groups after June 30th. On that day, LinkedIn sunsetted it's Groups API, and along with it, the ability to post or retrieve content from its groups through external tools.
The end result of the change is simple - if you want to share to or read content from a LinkedIn Group, you have to log into LinkedIn and share the content through the LinkedIn interface.
There was a lot of debate about the reasons behind the move - and lots of reactions from marketers. With LinkedIn considered to be the largest B2B social network, this change was especially concerning to B2B marketers. My company specializes in doing inbound marketing for hi-tech companies, so our team was squarely in that group of concerned marketers.
The impact of this change is many-faceted, and we've been tracking and collecting data about as many of those facets as we can. In this post, we'll look at three of those facets; the change in our process and the time it takes to share content on LinkedIn, the impact we've seen in groups, and the impact on the traffic we get from the social network.
Why are LinkedIn groups so important? They're where professionals share information about their industry and other topics of interest.
Publishing content on LinkedIn is like broadcasting to your connections - you're speaking to everyone you're connected with, hoping that a few will like what you're saying. Messaging is another way to stay in touch with your connections - but the key deficiency of both publishing and messaging on LinkedIn is that you're reaching out to people you're already connected to.
With publishing, it is possible that your content will reach beyond your current network, if your connections share your article or if it becomes popular enough to be featured on Pulse. Other than that, those options don't give you direct reach beyond your connections. InMail's are a way you can reach anyone, inside or outside your network, but those aren't generally used for sharing content.
Groups, on the other, give you reach outside your network. Groups are for like-interested people to communicate and share ideas, regardless of whether or not you're connected. Many businesses will have members of their marketing department join groups related to the industries they serve.
Groups provide many ways to connect and engage, but this article is focused on content sharing. With regards to that, content posted to a group is likely to be seen by its members. That gives B2B marketers access to many people who they're not directly connected with, but who are likely interested in the products and services they provide.
We write a lot about conversion optimization tips, and one of the first steps to getting more conversions is sharing content on the networks where your target audience is active. As a B2B agency, we've gotten some of our best results from content shared to LinkedIn groups.
There were a lot of articles, and opinions, published in response to LinkedIn's announcement that the group sharing API was going away. Some, like Hubspot's, were simple notifications, others like BBR Marketing's, went through more of the potential impact. We all knew two changes were coming:
- Since social media management tools couldn't post to groups, B2B marketers would need to manually log into LinkedIn to share content and updates
- Content aggregators and other tools used to find and browse content would no longer be able to show content published to LinkedIn groups
There were also many theories about how marketing on LinkedIn would be impacted including:
- The lack of convenience offered by external tools would mean that people would publish less frequently
- That same lack of convenience would make it more difficult to find and consume content from groups, leading many time-strapped professionals (which is all of us) to decrease consumption of content in groups or give up altogether
- Marketers would move to other platforms
- Group participation would decline because less content will be posted to groups making them less valuable
Since we do a lot of publishing on - and get a lot of leads from - LinkedIn, we took a step back in mid-August to analyze our data in the wake of the change. And we found some surprising - and some not-so-surprising - results
The Impact to our Content Process
As part of a strong inbound marketing strategy, we have a process for consistently sharing valuable content on a number social networks, and through a number of other online channels that generate good web traffic.
One undeniable realization from this change is that we, and I suspect you as well, have become dependent on ease and convince of social media publishing tools. They make content scheduling to easy, and easy means consistency, and time savings.
Here's what we found since the change:
- Inconsistent publishing - Despite putting a plan in place, and allocating more time, our posting to groups became inconsistent. Content curation and content publication takes time, and adding time to that process for a busy marketing team can break things. We aim to post to LinkedIn groups once per day, Monday through Thursday. After we switched to manual posting, we found that we were missing one or two days each week. Team members needed more time to work manual posting into the daily process.
- Manually posting to groups takes longer than expected - Everyone knew it would take longer, but tracking time has proven it takes significantly longer than we expected. We use a word processor - Notepad works fine - to store a title, description, and shortened link. It takes about 30 seconds per group to copy and paste to create a post, longer if you want to add images. That includes pasting the different post elements, and, after the native link is populated, deleting the pasted link and quickly checking for errors. Unfortunately, humans get less efficient with repetitive tasks. The more groups you post to, the less efficient they become. We've seen 30 seconds creep up to a minute or more. It usually takes us about 15 minutes to post to 20 groups.
After switching to this manual process we quickly decided to take a second look at the groups we were posting to in order to make sure we're getting optimal return for the time we were spending.
While groups that were large and active before June 30th continue to have many conversations starting every day, activity in some of the smaller groups has dried up. In several groups, we were the only people posting, or doing the majority of posting. We'll likely stop posting to these groups to save time.
Groups that had low participation and engagement prior to the June 30th are the majority of the groups on our chopping block. As a benefit, or side effect, of this change, weaker and less engaged groups may die off while stronger ones thrive.
Impact on Traffic
If you're doing inbound marketing right, you're posting content on social networks to drive traffic back to your website so capture leads.
So that's the money question - what's been the impact on traffic after 2.5 months? The answer is not good.
Before June 30th LinkedIn consistently delivered the most, or second most referrals to our website from social networks each month.
We advertise on LinkedIn, so it's difficult to show six months or a year of data because advertising skews the numbers. But, taking the advertising out, on any given month LinkedIn generated between 15% and 40% of our traffic from social sites.
After June 30th, we saw a precipitous drop.
LinkedIn went from generating between 15% and 40% of our social traffic to 3.6%.
There are other factors to consider in this drop - we service the tech industry, and July and August are notoriously slow months for tech companies, due to vacations and July fiscal year turnovers. But it's never been this bad. Those previous low traffic months were the ones where LinkedIn generated 15% of our traffic from social - those were the slow months like January and July.
Consistency also has to be factored in. We changed our process and gave our team more time to get group posting done. We've been consistent since late August. Factoring out July and August we've seen a slight uptick in September, but still only to 5.8%.
This drop is too big to blame on the summer lulls or inconsistent posting. The more likely reason is that since aggregators and other tools can't access content from LinkedIn, people who rely on those tools to consume content, have stopped seeing the content posted to LinkedIn groups.
It's simple - we're all busy. Those tools make it easy for to find and consume content. If that content isn't there, it appears that LinkedIn group members won't go looking for it. So I may have been wrong earlier - easy means more than consistency, it means reach.
Without the easy, B2B marketers may have effectively lost reach to many professionals they share LinkedIn groups with.
While we're still assessing the impact of LinkedIn group sharing API changes, some might say they diminish the importance of content sharing on the platform. Others might argue it's just the end of the free lunch - after all, we've never had access to Facebook groups for publishing from external tools.
LinkedIn, like Facebook, is moving to a pay-to-play model. They'd prefer to you spend money to get reach. This API change appears, at least in part, to foster that goal.