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When Facebook opened to the public in 2006, companies scrambled to make profiles, which later became pages. Brands knew that this platform was a then cutting-edge way to reach their customers — a way to “fish where the fish were”.
Over time, though, Facebook has become less of an idyllic fishing sanctuary. Facebook can still deliver results for certain companies, especially paid campaigns for ecommerce. But if you’re talking B2B, forget it.
Most marketers today know this kind of site targeting just isn’t worth the effort, as the business prospects you really want to reach are not looking for your business on Facebook. The real action is on LinkedIn, which has somewhat quietly become a huge marketing platform with unparalleled targeting functionality.
I’m a huge advocate for LinkedIn, and there are many, many things it’s great for. However, the platform also deserves criticism, because there are a lot of ways LinkedIn could be even better.
Where LinkedIn excels
Jokes about “I’d like to add you to my professional network” were common even a few years ago. But LinkedIn has really come into its own recently. The hard data is compelling, as the site now has nearly 800 million members across the globe who submit more than 200 million job applications every month to the 57 million companies listed there.
What’s more, these millions of professional users have little incentive to gravitate elsewhere, as there are very few serious competitors to LinkedIn — at least not as a definitive CV directory that can directly connect employers with potential employees.
My anecdotal experience supports this, and I suspect yours does as well. The last three hires my firm made applied through the site. And recruitment is only one benefit. Professionals really do use the site to engage with one another! When I post sales and marketing questions there, for instance, I get thoughtful responses from people I’m only loosely connected with. It’s such a welcome change of pace from other social sites — especially Facebook — which seem to bring out the worst in people.
Because LinkedIn has become a site people regularly check out, that means it’s also by far the best social channel for targeting business audiences and reaching key personnel. The site’s targeting options allow you to filter ads and paid posts for:
Company (size, name, industry)
Experience (job function, title, seniority)
Education (degree, university, field of study)
These options are especially important for B2B marketing, where you often need to reach the decision-makers who can choose your product or service. LinkedIn offers the perfect platform to find them when their attention is focused on work.
How LinkedIn could be better
As much as I adore LinkedIn, the platform would be even better if it offered marketers more functionality and increased access to data. So many marketers are ready to cut the cord with Facebook entirely, but LinkedIn won’t get us the data and tools we need to justify the switch.
Here’s what LinkedIn lacks:
Listening capabilities. Conversations relevant to our organizations, products, industries and more are happening on LinkedIn, but there’s no good way to get alerts, spot trends or understand sentiments. We’re doing manual searches — like cave dwellers — to uncover these conversations. Meanwhile, competitive social media platforms offer up this data through API in real-time, so we continue to over-index on Tweets even though more meaningful conversations take place on LinkedIn.
Competitive analytics. Competitor benchmarking is critical for reporting, but LinkedIn doesn’t allow you to see page analytics unless you’re the admin of the page. So many of our reports are still using Facebook or Twitter performance as a proxy for overall social performance, but the platforms are wildly different, and so our audiences and goals for them are different, too.
Link preview penalty. Savvy social media managers try to avoid link previews on LinkedIn because the algorithm is said to penalize links for taking users off the platform. Instead, we bury our links in the comments to try to maximize impressions or suffer drops in reach with a link preview. In both cases, the result is the same — our reporting shows that LinkedIn drives less traffic to our website than Facebook and Twitter.
Third-party publishing. Lastly, third-party publishing tools don’t have access to all of LinkedIn’s native features. For events and polls, social media managers are forced to mock up content on the platform and send screenshots via email for content review and approval — like the olden days of content calendars in Excel files. We can’t even tag individuals in our pre-scheduled company posts. These little nuisances aren’t deal-breakers, but they also seem like easy fixes in LinkedIn’s quest to become the ultimate corporate social channel.
Now, I also recognize that opening up user data to marketers like me is clearly a step that should be taken with caution. Right now, LinkedIn expressly prohibits the use of any third-party software that scrapes, modifies the appearance of, or automates activity on its website — which is one of the reasons why LinkedIn is the most trusted social network in the U.S., with 73% of social media users at least somewhat agreeing that LinkedIn protects their privacy and data. Compare that to just 53% for Facebook.