American Hustle: How To Hack LinkedIn Advertising.

hovaI’ve spent quite a bit of time on planes lately, jetting between Denver, San Francisco, Boston and Orlando in the past few weeks alone. For whatever reason – maybe it’s because I’m a glutton for punishment, or some sort of brand loyalty sadist, I chose to fly Southwest on every one of those trips.

I’ve realized after exercising my freedom to move about the country, the value of flying Southwest extends far past free checked bags or cut rate ticket prices.

A Southwest flight is also something of a microcosm for human behavior and situational decision making, like the Stanford Prison Experiments served with some peanuts and snappy flight attendant banter. Don’t believe me?

Look no further than the phenomenon of seat selection for proof that Southwest is really running a giant consumer psychology experiment under the guise of operating an airline. Now, if you haven’t flown Southwest before and haven’t had the chance to witness this ritual firsthand, let me take a few minutes to explain.

While Southwest offers travellers the option to pay a nominal fee to get on the plane early, most of the cheap schmucks flying the Greyhound of the Skies refuse to ante up even this minimal amount, and therefore subject themselves to the luck of the boarding assignment draw, an order which is determined by how closely the traveller checks into their flight within the 24 hours before the plane is scheduled to take off.

This means that as soon as check in opens, you’re more or less forced to sit at your computer, hitting refresh until you can snag a decent seat within the much coveted “A” group. Being part of this elite milieu, of course, means there’s guaranteed space in the overhead bin, no having to deal with cramming into a middle seat and the ability to avoid high schoolers, frat boys, youth sports teams and other large, obnoxious groups of random travel companions that seem to be a feature on pretty much every Southwest flight ever.

If it wasn’t for my getting a glorious “A” boarding pass, for example, I’d have had to fly cross country with an entire high school orchestra – and therefore was on the other side of the plane, and more or less oblivious, when they started singing their way through their songbook. I’ll tell you from experience, you really don’t want to be trapped in a confined space for hours on end listening to a medley of Jimmy Buffett songs orchestrated for the trumpet, oboe and Sousaphone. Shoot me now, right?

Of course, after A Boarding, the groups quickly disintegrate into chaos and anarchy as Groups B and below fight for premium seats, overhead stowage and staying far away from brass instruments badly blaring Margaritaville. Now, when I’m on a full flight, after getting a choice seat thanks to my perpetual “A” group badge of honor, I watch the unwashed masses of “B” and “C” boarding cards come in and pick over the rows of seats, employing some vague, uniquely personal and secretive selection criteria for determining where they end up – and I’m always fascinated by the decision making process by which the two strangers who end up sitting on either side of me end up choosing my formerly empty row.

Butts in Seats: The Sociology of Southwest Airlines.

I’ve noticed there are a few approaches to picking seats. There’s the self-defense maneuver, which involves subtly eyeing a stranger to make sure they’re not going to touch you (or worse, try to talk to you) during the course of the flight

This is one of my tried and trued strategies, particularly when I’m planning to sleep off whatever conference I’m coming from and wish to do so undisturbed by bratty teenagers, bored businessmen or, worst of all, the person who needs to go to the bathroom or get something from their bag a minimum of a dozen times a flight, no matter how short that flight may in fact be.

These assholes, inevitably, always choose window seats, which is never good news for anyone with the bad fortune of sitting between them and the aisle.

The next strategy I like to try out is the “they look like me” approach, which might be a little discriminatory, sure, but no more so than your average hiring process. We’re all guilty of this – don’t lie. I’ve actually had a couple of potential employers say something to me lie, “We knew you looked like you were military. We’re military, too.”

Now, let me go ahead and clear up the fact that I am in no means ‘military,’ but I guess my parents combined 40 years of service have rubbed off on me by this point, the result of being raised as an Army brat. So, yeah – if it helps me get my foot in the door at a good employer, I’m willing to dance around the fact that my service to my country involved following my parents around to so many bases over so many years that I eventually lost count. And if it helps me score an active soldier – reserved, polite, quiet and courteous – as a seatmate n a Southwest flight, well, I’m not complaining, either. This happens a lot, proof I’m not the only one guilty of seatmate profiling.

The final approach to snagging a seat is the lesser of all evils. This is when you screw up, forget to check in and get stuck anywhere after C10 in the boarding order, meaning that you’re officially stuck in a middle seat. This means once you finally get to board, you immediately dispense with any strategy and just get your ass into a seat as close to your bag as possible and try not to worry about that breaking sound you heard as it was forcibly shoved into the overhead bin by a stewardess eager to get you and the other stragglers on and the flight in the air.

Social Ad Platforms for Dummies (A Handy Guide for the Rest of Us):

HustleFlowI mention the phenomenon of Southwest seat selection because many times as a marketer, selecting an ad platform requires more or less the same strategy as choosing a plane seat: you can’t really win, and most of the time you’re stuck choosing the best of a bunch of bad options. For example, you can always invest in Twitter, which drives a ton of impressions, but almost never converts those impressions into actual clicks.

Then, you’ve got Facebook, where you are guaranteed to get no impressions or clicks whatsoever without paying a premium for the privilege of sponsoring stories and promoting posts. Big results on Facebook mean spending big bucks, and even if those results are often really relevant, it’s often not enough to realize any real ROI from making it rain with your PPC and social marketing budget.

Finally, there’s LinkedIn, where, similar to Facebook, generating brand reach or converting impressions into qualified traffic and click throughs is strictly a pay for pay proposition. On LinkedIn, you get what you pay for – and if you want to actually make this a viable marketing destination, you’d better be willing to pay a small fortune for the privilege of serving up display ads and premium job postings – and that’s in addition to whatever your recruiting department is spending on a LinkedIn Recruiter license, a fee that’s as high as seven figures a year for enterprise employers.

The thing is, as marketing professionals, even if we’re not seeing the results we want, we’re forced to keep trying, tweaking, reinventing and reiterating our strategies to figure out how to make these limited offerings pay off, even as we pay through the nose for what is, at best, a bad ad decision when compared to other potential recruitment advertising or marketing platforms.

But for some reason, social media budgets are burning a hole in our pocket, and we feel compelled to spend with these half-baked, ineffective and inflexible solutions. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need, right?

And what marketers need is qualified leads. Budget and resource allocation be damned – it all comes down to results. Even if those results are pretty shitty, most of the time.

While marketers are inundated how-to articles about making “fill in the blank” social networks work for their advertising initiatives, or attend sponsored “best practices” webinars run by these ad networks’ biz dev guys, or forced to subscribe to mailing lists, private groups or paid forums to opt-in to product updates, pricing changes and a whole lot of direct mail trying to get us to improve our results by increasing our spend.

When we push back, we’re told that whatever problems we’re having are easily cured for whatever new dashboarding feature or third party integration that’s always just on the verge of being released. While these vaporware product updates never seem to actually ship, we’re left with the belief that, in the words of whatever social advertising platform is trying to upsell us, they’re working as hard as possible to redesign and improve their existing offerings “with users like you in mind.”

Right. I’ll believe that when these aren’t publically traded companies trying to keep increasingly agitated and impatient shareholders happy. Even if it comes at the expense of marketers like me – or recruiters, like you. Or anyone else trying to make social media work at work, really.

LinkedIn Advertising: What Recruiters Need To Know.

rick rossLet’s face it: any change to any of these products is designed to trick end users into thinking that suddenly, there’s a seismic shift or sweeping change impacting the audience you’re already paying to reach – and that improving your results, even if they’re not measuring up to your expectations or their promises, is as simple as spending a little bit more on whatever new features these platforms are rolling out, features that will finally inspire those elusive qualified viewers to take action and click through your targeted ads.

Of course, nothing about the audience, their online behaviors or media consumption habits have changed at all – nor, really, has the platform you’re relying on to reach them.

The problem is that for marketers trying to tap into a target audience or buyer persona, or for recruiters looking to reach the right candidates, no matter how many impressions you generate, most of these ads fail to make any sort of impression on potential leads whatsoever.

That’s because, on sites littered with more logos than your average Sprint Cup car, the average end user doesn’t really care about your sales proposition. They’re there so they can engage on these sites, not be directed off of them. This seems to be a universal truth, at least looking at average click through rates.

Now, while we might argue about whether or not it qualifies as a social network for the purposes of recruiting, from a pure marketing perspective, LinkedIn is really no different than Facebook or Twitter for running ad campaigns for both brand awareness and lead generation initiatives – and it’s decidedly a social advertising platform, if you consider its PPC/PPA business model, campaign management and reporting features.

Beyond these basic structural similarities to other social sites, however, LinkedIn is a little different purely because of the very specific kinds of information marketers can choose to target, information that’s simply not available on any other social network – namely, any consumer (or candidate’s) entire work history. This can be a potential goldmine for marketers if used properly – from serving up offers for alumni of specific schools to targeting current and former employees of a specific company or competitor with career or job related CTAs.

The problem with leveraging this potentially powerful data as a marketer, however, lies in the limitations inherent to LinkedIn’s advertising platform, which is light on innovation and heavy on generic “me too” features that look like poorly coded and designed reproductions of Facebook’s backend bidding platform. LinkedIn has special information, but the marketing product required to turn that information into results, sadly, is nothing special at all.

LinkedIn Advertising: Much Ado About Nothing.

drean us freeAnd that’s what the latest change to the campaign manager feature for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions comes down to: fake innovation, little real change except a few superficial tweaks to the UI/UX and the product marketing collateral.

LinkedIn, still struggling to decrease its dependence on recruiting and its Talent Solutions business and diversify its marketing services offerings in a desperate attempt to increase revenue and justify its outrageous share price, has touted the new Campaign Manager as being a big step in the evolution of LinkedIn from professional network to best-in-breed social advertising platform and display ad network, as touted in the official blog post announcing the changes.

Hey, if you’re too busy to click on that link, I understand. If it’s got anything to do with LinkedIn, and you’re a content consumer, turns out that you won’t click on any link or ad whatsoever. That’s why I thought it was apropos to provide you all with a quick recap – in LinkedIn’s own words.

“We’ve completely re-designed and rebuilt the LinkedIn Campaign Manager to provide our customers more control and visibility over their LinkedIn campaigns. You’ll notice many of the changes immediately, like the new look and feel, but it’s also important to note the major technological enhancements behind the scenes, giving us a new foundation upon which to build more features and capabilities in the future.” – Linda Leung, LinkedIn Product Manager

To put Linda’s jargon into actual English, the new LinkedIn Campaign Manager basically involved overhauling the product’s overall look and feel, but are still a ways away from rolling out anything actually innovative or groundbreaking…”yet.” You know how much marketers love their “just-you-wait” lingo, which supposedly entices users to stick around to see what happens, even though I’ve yet to see a situation where people actually do.

There are enough options out there where waiting on one platform doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for advertisers, particularly when most of us need immediate results over the short term instead of vague promises for the long term.

LinkedIn Advertising: Knocking The Hustle.

larryThis is why, as I sit here having been assigned to write a post on what LinkedIn is doing in terms of marketing innovation (thanks to my editor trying to provide more “balanced, objective” LinkedIn coverage, mostly), I find myself a little lost.

That’s because LinkedIn has achieved very little in the way of innovation, and where there’s nothing new, there’s really no news worth covering – including this Campaign Manager release, which is really the same shit as before in a slightly different package.

Yawn.

So, because LinkedIn won’t actually improve their core product offering or do anything to innovate or add additional value to anyone advertising on their platform, I thought as a marketer it might make sense for me to look at some really creative, low cost ways that HR and recruiting professionals can use LinkedIn ads to drive results.

Sounds crazy, I know, but stay with me here. Seriously.

Earlier this week on Twitter, I happened to spot a pretty compelling headline: “The LinkedIn Hack That Made Me $120,000.” With a title like that, I kind of had to click through to this post from e-zine TheHustle, which tells the stange story of Jack Smith, an ambitious entrepreneur with visions of Silicon Valley venture capital dancing in his head.

Smith had his eyes set on a spot in a high profile, highly competitive startup incubator – but getting a place meant beating the odds and getting noticed by one of the decision makers responsible for deciding which startups made the final cut. Smith, by investing a nominal budget in a LinkedIn display ad campaign, was able to explicitly target the founder of this incubator – and after serving him enough ads, was actually able to turn those impressions into action. The payoff? 6 figures worth of seed funding.

You’ve got to admire the guy – he’s a hustler, and there’s no knocking anyone who knows how to play the game by their own rules. And his definition of the hustle is particularly applicable to LinkedIn ads in particular, and recruitment advertising in general. As Smith recounts in the post:

“The word ‘hustle’ has lost its meaning. Everyone who works hard is called a ‘hustler,’ even if they don’t win. Fuck the conceptualization of ‘hustling’ as working hard. I only care about results. A great hustle without results isn’t a great hustle.”

So how did he get the great results he did from this unquestionably great hustle?

4 Essential Hacks for A Great LinkedIn Advertising Hustle.

The-Hustle1Let’s get to the good stuff, and reveal what Smith learned while testing LinkedIn’s ad platform – and how you can leverage those lessons into your own great hustle and your own great results.

It’s easy, it’s cheap, and best of all, it’s actually an innovative approach to social advertising – which is a welcome change from the long standing status quo of stasis in social advertising.

1. Utilize LinkedIn’s unique data to target ad campaigns for viewers based on information no other social network can offer – like job title and company name. When running his hustle, Jack specifically targeted the title “Founder” and the company name, meaning that his campaign would ultimately only reach one user – the man responsible for slotting startups within a specific accelerator.

That means the only PPC spend required involved clicks originating from only a handful of highly qualified end users – and improving the chances those click throughs are coming from the only end user that really mattered as far as achieving the campaign’s ultimate objectives.

2. Target a minimally viable group to ensure LinkedIn approves your ad. The magic, minimal number of users a LinkedIn advertising campaign has to target? Seven. That’s right – only 7 people have to fit the criteria for your campaign before you’re allowed to launch an ad. This is pretty simple – just add another direct competitor or similar job title to your search criteria to get to the minimum number of users allowed. Before you do this, though, make sure that the number of users you’re targeting is wide enough to reach your intended audience while staying within your budget.

li ads

3. For LinkedIn Advertising, Use CPM, Not CPC, When Targeting Your Ad. If you’re not familiar with these marketing acronyms, CPM represents the cost per 1,000 unique impressions (and no, I have no idea why it’s not “CPT” instead) – and CPC represents the cost per individual click. Because you’re ideally targeting a very small group of potential leads, CPM makes much more sense because it more or less guarantees that your ad will only be seen by your tightly defined targets, and those targets see the ad a lot – at a minimum, 1,000 impressions split among seven people. You don’t have to be a math wizard to see why this ad buying formula just makes sense.

4. Copy Counts. Of course, Jack didn’t just use some generic copy in his campaigns – instead, he used the actual headshot of the person he was looking to reach as the ad’s associated image – which could be a bit creepy in recruiting – and redirected anyone clicking through to a landing page with an introduction video.

Put in recruiting terms, you could use a picture of a desk with a name plate with the job title you’re hiring for or a “We’re on The Hunt” sign with your target audience’s current company logo or brand imagery on your ad, and then redirect those viewers to a landing page with a very direct, highly personalized and extremely impactful direct video ad. This helps extend the LinkedIn campaign to another network, and augment the advertising with even more content designed to convert those incoming links to engaged leads. If you need a refresher on some best practices for video job ads, click here.

Look, LinkedIn advertising probably won’t work if you play by the rules. But it’s not hard to see how with a little bit of hustle and a whole lot of creativity, you’ll be able to produce awesome results that are not only innovative, but cost effective, too. And that’s the only way you’re probably going to get your money’s worth on LinkedIn. Unlike, say, the cost per hire realized by most employers’ investment in LinkedIn Recruiter licenses.

Hey, this is all a hustle. Just don’t hate the player – change the game, instead.

katrina-300x300About the Author: Katrina Kibben is the Director of Marketing for Recruiting Daily, and has served in marketing leadership roles at companies such as Monster Worldwide and Care.com, where she has helped both established and emerging brands develop and deliver world-class content and social media marketing, lead generation and development, marketing automation and online advertising.

An expert in marketing analytics and automation, Kibben is an accomplished writer and speaker whose work has been featured on sites like Monster.com, Brazen Careerist and About.com.

A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Kibben is actively involved in many community and social causes – including rooting for her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.

You can follow Katrina on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

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RecruitingDaily contributing writer and editor.  I am a storyteller. A tactical problem solver. A curious mind. A data nerd. With that unique filter, I work to craft messages that strategically improve the perceptions and experiences of our clients, the people they employ and the candidates they wish to attract. I methodically review and collect research and insights to offer solution-based recommendations that meet the one-off, and not so one-off, recruiting and employer branding problems of today’s global employers.




mm

RecruitingDaily contributing writer and editor.  I am a storyteller. A tactical problem solver. A curious mind. A data nerd. With that unique filter, I work to craft messages that strategically improve the perceptions and experiences of our clients, the people they employ and the candidates they wish to attract. I methodically review and collect research and insights to offer solution-based recommendations that meet the one-off, and not so one-off, recruiting and employer branding problems of today’s global employers.

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