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Why Few Marketers Reap the Full Potential of LinkedIn


I was an early-adopter of the LinkedIn.com platform, having received an invitation from Reid Hoffman shortly after the beta site was launched. Back then, the user experience was very different, because the site was little more than a U.S.-centric online directory of member profiles.

The site is now an invaluable worldwide business development tool, for those who apply its unique attributes that enable commercial-oriented interactivity.

eMarketer reports that merely a month after its debut as a public company -- and now eight years after its launch -- LinkedIn has recently passed Myspace to become the number two global social networking site in terms of visitors, according to the latest market study by comScore.

Marketers can learn how to most effectively reach LinkedIn members by observing how they typically use the site and where they interact on the platform. In July 2011, market research firm Lab42 surveyed LinkedIn users and found that the membership is somewhat engaged. Approximately 32 percent of members check the site several times a week -- 35 percent of survey respondents said they sign-in to the website daily.

The Inherent Value of Member Profile Segmentation

The Lab42 market study also found that 42 percent of LinkedIn members update their profiles regularly and 81 percent belong to at least one group. The study also revealed that some LinkedIn users are interacting with the numerous features, and searching for individuals and companies on the site.

That being said, the actual reasons why members use the site apparently can vary substantially, based on their role and responsibilities. In all cases, the typical member use case scenarios are different than Facebook users. In my opinion, LinkedIn has never been a "social network" platform -- in fact, that's a key part of its appeal for informed marketing professionals.

Senior level executives use the site mainly for trade industry networking (22 percent) and promoting their businesses (20 percent). Middle managers are more likely to use LinkedIn primarily to keep in touch (24 percent) with others, as well as for industry networking (20 percent). Entry level employees, not surprisingly, are using the site mainly for job searching (24 percent) and co-worker networking (23 percent).

Usage differences among demographic and psychographic segments are worth noting, particularly if marketers are trying to target higher level executives or entry level employees with their outreach on the site. Display advertising on LinkedIn -- which can already be targeted based on education, location, job level and other criteria -- can be focused in various sections of the website, including Jobs, Groups and Answers.

LinkedIn is Not an Audience of Typical Consumers

Savvy members know that LinkedIn is best utilized for no-cost marketing efforts. Meaning, they can easily connect with their target stakeholders via the creative use of LinkedIn Group discussions or the Answers section of the site.

eMarketer believes that now LinkedIn is public, more information will surface about the site and how the members use it, potentially providing deeper insights and benefits for marketers. However, I'm not convinced.

Based upon my own observations to date, the vast majority of legacy marketers will never reap the full potential from LinkedIn, because that would require an investment in their time and purposeful engagement. Regardless, too many professionals would gladly browse content on Facebook, with zero return on their investment. Moreover, those who purchase display advertising on Facebook are equally misguided.

Update: Lab42 created an infographic to help visualize their study results.

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