Back in the day, when I was first starting out in my career, I ended up taking a job as a “social media ninja” for Monster Worldwide, the parent company for Monster.com. That job title should have been my first warning sign.
But it was a cool gig at what at the time was actually a pretty cool company, and a legit one, too; it’s hard to believe now, but back then, they were actually a component stock of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and actually hiring for positions like, well, social media ninjas. Plus, it was the only other business left in Maynard, Massachusetts, after the startup I started at failed to start up. So it goes.
My second red flag, of course, should have been about a week into the job, when I met the other person Monster initially hired to ramp up their word of mouth marketing efforts. His name was Matt Charney. Yeah, I know.
Charney and I worked in essentially parallel roles; I covered job search and career advice, he handled recruiting and hiring. Other than that, our roles and responsibilities were more or less interchangeable. And for some reason, our dynamic social duo was part of Monster’s Global Corporate Communications and Public Relations team.
Now, if you’ve ever met Matt or myself, you might think that was probably a pretty risky, if not downright dangerous, choice.
But we were corporate enough at the time to buy into BS like getting tweets pre-approved or going through mandatory media training, so we behaved well enough to actually do a decent job without being a total embarrassment to the brand. Or, I should say, it really could have been a whole lot worse, in retrospect. But I digress.
The Ballad of the Fiddling Beaver.
Part of our poorly defined roles and responsibilities at Monster was running point on digital marketing campaigns and running the social messaging and engagement on any PR or brand marketing push.
This included a little bit of creative, and a whole lot of procedures, processes and protocols that might have made sense for traditional PR or marketing, but a “placement” makes for a poor metric when you’re trying to be a content destination, for example.
Otherwise, we followed the usual marching orders for what big brands were supposed to be doing on social media back around 2010. We amplified and augmented marketing or communications efforts, sure, but at the time, social was seen as a megaphone, not a microphone.
This meant that one day in November, the key players in the marketing and PR teams jumped on a conference call for a “confidential briefing.” It turned out that the top secret stuff on that meeting agenda was to kick off our big push for Monster’s 2010 Super Bowl ad, which is pretty much the biggest deal buy any marketing group could make.
So, this was pretty important, and I remember thinking to myself how bad ass it was that I got to work closely developing on a big time campaign like this one. That is, until I saw the actual creative. After our CMO kicked off the call, I had high hopes. After all, if you remember, Monster actually blew up – and more or less launched the online recruiting industry in the process – largely on the strength of a Super Bowl Ad.
Called “When I Grow Up,” this 1999 spot established Monster’s name brand recognition and led to the billion dollar job board industry you all know today. After this commercial aired, there was an immediate jump in search volume; by the time the Big Game was over, there were already 400 searches a minute being performed, a boost of several hundred percent over the pregame numbers.
That year, the Broncos took home the title, but I think in retrospect Monster probably won the night.
11 years later, that early victory had built a big business and bigger brand – so the expectations and anticipation were pretty high when it was announced that year that we’d be making another Super Bowl buy, if only to shut up those stupid CareerBuilder monkeys, I guess.
But when senior leadership moved on from the pep talk to the actual game plan, let’s just say that it was clearly not only a very big deal, but the biggest brand campaign of the year. One that would make or break our marketing efforts, probably, considering the costs associated with the ad buy itself. This didn’t include the hundreds of man hours of people like me working to make sure those 30 seconds got as much play as possible, period.
Leave It To Beaver: Marketing Fiddles While Recruiting Burns.
That day, I watched the fog rolling in off the Charles River from my remote workstation in Monster’s Cambridge Office. I casually IMed Charney about scheduling tweets and what was upcoming on our ed cal; nothing out of the ordinary, just the standard social stuff that filled our first days as the first social media hires in the company.
Our CMO at the time, who shall remain nameless, was on the line from the literal C-Suite in New York, where executive management could safely stay several hundred miles away from the unwashed masses in Maynard like me and Matt.
After setting up the call and getting everybody sufficiently amped up (or apathetic, as Charney’s IMs would suggest), he handed it off to the team from BBDO to pull off the cover from the concept that was going to be the next big thing in advertising. Not only was this thing going to win over hearts, minds and the annual USA Today AdMeter, it was going to become the star of an integrated marketing effort akin to what Taco Bell did for that Chihuahua, or Snapple for that secretary, or Subway did for Jared before he found what really did it for him, sick bastard.
Now, BBDO is a big time ad agency. Their creative team gave the world Apple’s seminal 1984 spot, coined the catchphrase “Have It Your Way” for a Whopper of a client, and lit Michael Jackson’s hair on fire during a shoot for Pepsi, one of their longest tenured clients of record. Hell, they even created the term “brainstorming” sometime in the sixties. And now, that magic touch was coming to Monster. Their digital Don Draper took center stage for the big reveal…
…and said, “this story will star a beaver. But not just any beaver. One who dreams of someday becoming a concert violinist. And who, with the help of Monster, fulfills his dreams of becoming a world class fiddler.”
You could hear a pin drop, if Charney wouldn’t have been laughing uncontrollably (I could recognize it, and he was lucky no one did, frankly). But my reaction wasn’t amusement. Nope. It was just incredulity. A beaver. That fiddles. I’d be helping to market a Fiddling Beaver. That’s not inspirational, that’s one awkward ass double entendre that sounds NSFW. But this was my work, and I wanted it to be safe, even if my efforts would involve an obvious allusion to “female empowerment,” let’s call it.
One part of the strategy we came up with was to create a “personality” for this eager beaver, down to his own Twitter account, @BusyFiddler, not to be confused with the Vivid Entertainment title of the same name. So that year, I sat on my couch during the Super Bowl while my friends went out partying, and live tweeted in my assumed identity as the Fiddling Beaver.
I get a good laugh looking back on it now, even to this day. And wonder how the hell Charney managed to work on this campaign without getting fired, in retrospect.
Now, I doubt LinkedIn aspires to be the next Monster, but instead of the Super Bowl, the social network recently dropped its first ever broadcast TV ad during the Academy Awards, proving that yes, indeed, #OscarsSoWhite, Silicon Valley clearly does have a diversity problem that it’s totally tone deaf about – and the worst adapted screenplay easily goes to the guy on Madison Avenue who came up with probably the most awkward high concept for a commercial since the Beaver drove off into the sunset with a hot tub full of buxom babes (yes, that’s how ours ended).
Somehow managing to strike the perfect balance between aspirational marketing and false advertising, LinkedIn’s Best Picture was one of the worst and weirdest spots of recent memory. The premise was that with LinkedIn, you can do anything you want to (except export contacts, pull too much of their data via API or protect your PID).
This is why apparently on LinkedIn, you can even become an astronaut, based off the assertion that three million LinkedIn members were qualified for the job. Of course, this isn’t how NASA recruits or selects space program participants – at all – although all non astronaut openings are posted instead to USAJobs.gov, as is the case with all federal government opportunities.
Nor, likely, are those three million members even real people. Some don’t even pretend to be, as you can clearly see from the profile below. But it’s show business, and what better night than the Oscars for the red carpet debut of what can best be described as a surreal short form fictional film?
While the plotline of “use our technology, change your career, improve your life” was similar to that of the beloved Beaver, I think somehow, that damn Beaver was more successful, considering that we could always assume everyone was in on the joke, instead of actually being serious about the message. But if you’re “Closer Than You Think,” LinkedIn, you couldn’t be further off.
Eager Beavers: Account Targeting and LinkedIn’s New Ad Age.
While the concept behind LinkedIn’s first TV ad was truly a bomb, and no one in Mountain View seems to have gotten the message that no one watches the Oscars for their commercials or uses the Academy Awards as a platform to debut anything other than trailers for next year’s big tentpole films, historically, this move to traditional TV advertisements comes across a lot like a sign of the times.
While LinkedIn’s VP of Marketing, Nick Bartle, pointed to the choice of an astronaut as the “universal symbol of a dream job” (unlike running marketing for a fading technology company, presumably), the fact he also mentioned that the spot was “the lowest cost [production] I’ve ever done” indicates the real reason LinkedIn likely ran the ad in the first place.
As someone who’s personally managed a TV advertising budget of over $20 million in a past life, I can tell you that there’s nothing sudden or spontaneous about LinkedIn’s sudden shift from social to broadcast spend in the battle for mind and market share.
It’s a calculated move designed to diversity their business and shift away from the Talent Solutions business into other revenue streams and product offerings, since their core business is shrinking and this makes growing recurring revenue exponentially harder.
When you turn to purely consumer marketing as a B2B technology company, it’s more or less an admission that you need a new audience, a broader one, to even remain relevant to anyone but a few techies, super users and brand blow hards. This was confirmed when I saw a headline, just two days after LinkedIn’s red carpet debut, proclaiming the news that LinkedIn Launches New Account Targeting Option for Marketers.
Let’s be clear about what the words “new” and “marketers” really mean when used together in the same sentence. It means you’re about to see a whole lot more advertising plastered across every facet of this not so social network’s platform. As a marketing professional who has experience testing and buying LinkedIn ads in the past, I thought I’d dig in and see if this “news” was really anything new at all with Advertising on LinkedIn.
Poaching Ain’t Easy: What “Account Based Marketing” Really Means.
In short, I figured out what was meant by “account targeting” in publicly facing collateral was actually just extending the scale of a product LinkedIn has long offered, built around the core marketing concept of ABM (that’s “Account Based Marketing,” for the record). In plain English, ABM is a marketing approach where you create targeted messages and campaigns specifically based on a key corporate account or consumer brand.
The case use, if you’re in recruiting, goes a little something like this. Let’s say you work at Microsoft and are trying to hire current employees over at Apple. You’d start with a list of everyone you know who works at or worked with Apple in your network, right?
Marketers and sales pros use the same concept in ABM; for instance, if you really wanted to sign a deal with Pfizer, the standard approach is to create a targeted list of current Pfizer employees, then sift out the decision makers you need to make that deal happen. It’s a pretty standard practice, even outside of sourcing.
LinkedIn has previously offered this feature, but before, the option to leverage LinkedIn for ABM was limited to targeting a maximum of 100 companies. Now, with their new, somewhat improved and definitely expanded ABM capabilities, marketers like me can now have the ability to hit up to five thousand companies with a single buy.
Sounds great, right?
Hell yeah it does. That is, if you work in marketing. When it comes to scaling ad programs, more is almost always better. Their previous cap of 100 companies was a pretty small drop in the bucket considering that most corporations who can afford to pay for LinkedIn’s premium products – like Marketing Solutions – are probably selling to or servicing thousands more companies than the handful they were able to target using ABM in the past.
These companies, mostly multinational, enterprise kind of employers, also are the same ones who need to cast the widest net possible to ensure growth and continue to win new business. Quarterly growth gets hard when you already have most of a market – ask any LinkedIn shareholder.
Hence, the need for speed and scale necessitated LinkedIn expand that offering so that they could meet the needs of big company marketers rather than simply offering solutions geared mostly for that company’s talent acquisition and employer branding efforts, the source of most of LinkedIn’s sales to date. But recruiting budgets pale in comparison to their marketing counterparts, so for a company like LinkedIn, going after the bigger total deal sizes just makes sense.
For recruiters, the verdict is a bit more mixed.
Dam It All: What It Means For Recruiters (And Why You Should Care).
For recruiters or even casual end users like you and me, the expansion of LinkedIn’s new ABM offerings isn’t such a great thing. It means that there’s about to be a lot more spam on LinkedIn, and that’s pretty hard for a network which is pretty much predicated on spam for survival as is. Your news feed and your InMail are about to get a whole lot more cluttered with promotions and non-recruiting related offerings.
For regular users, this means it’ll be even harder to find the information and updates that are actually meaningful and relevant. For recruiters, it’s going to become infinitely harder to break through the noise and reach candidates with your message.
This impending infusion of unsolicited and sponsored marketing messages mean that more high value candidates and employers are likely to ditch the site altogether (the exodus has already begun), particularly when your software engineer or specialized developers get their 12th e-mail from some company trying to sell them some shitty SaaS product.
Because let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how much data LinkedIn is able to offer marketing people in exchange for their spend. These marketers are still going to be sending out the same canned messages en masse to everyone on the platform with no more targeting than the defaults set by LinkedIn on their ABM offering, not taking even a moment’s pause to consider that some simple, slight customized messaging or somewhat personalized content would make a much bigger difference than volume when it comes to meeting marketing objectives.
If they took the time to do more than randomly insert a first name and job title into a macro, they likely wouldn’t need to be spend on LinkedIn marketing solutions at all, in all honesty.
I’m guessing the timing of LinkedIn’s new ad serving capabilities are coming on the heels of a C-Suite directive that the key to expanding revenue is expanding paid advertising options and minimizing organic visibility for all the freeloaders out there using the site for nothing, a strategy that’s worked like a charm for Facebook, most prominently. The problem is that in diversifying away from recruiting to marketing, the only track record marketers have to work with are based on the mixed results most employers have gotten from premium job ads or other employer branding campaigns on the platform.
I’m guessing the results of those stupid embedded side bars and terribly targeted job ads probably won’t do LinkedIn any favors, as both have consistently underperformed in terms of cost per qualified lead, one of the most important metrics to any marketers. And I’d guess that right now, that number is about as good as it’s going to get considering the floodgates haven’t really opened yet for paid marketing.
But get ready, because it’s coming.
With LinkedIn, you’re not “closer than you think.” In fact, you’re about to get even further away, as top candidates ditch this network in droves once the spam gets too overwhelming, as it inevitably will sooner rather than later. While the Beaver fiddles, LinkedIn burns – but unlike the Beaver, I doubt they even give a dam.