IAA Webinar: 'We are still in the process of evolution to ‘always on’ marketing models’: LinkedIn’s Nishant Rao

In the third IAA Webinar hosted on 27 June, Rao spoke on the relevance of content marketing

Jul 08, 2013 02:03:00 PM | Article | Campaign India Team

The third in the International Advertising Association (IAA) India Chapter’s IAA Webinar series themed ‘World goes Digital’ was hosted on 27 June, and featured Nishant Rao, country manager, LinkedIn.

Rao opened the webinar observing: “As there is information bloat, relevance becomes importance to you and me as consumers.”

The Webinar was moderated by Pradyuman Maheshwari, editor-in-chief, MxMIndia. Edited excerpts:

Ramakrishnan Lakshman, head - digital business, ABP News: News seems to be an important focus area for LinkedIn, especially via LinkedIn Today. What percentage does LinkedIn Today contribute to the overall traffic of LinkedIn? Right now, we mainly see US sources of content. Do you have plans for including Indian content on the LinkedIn platform?

Rao: As we thought of the member experience and what sort of information helps makes them more productive, news is definitely one of those things that as professionals all of us look towards and gravitate towards not only from an individual perspective but also from a business standpoint. The broader vision for LinkedIn is to become a professional publishing platform for individuals, and part of that is generating their insights to something particular - whether it is a news article, content piece or influencer pieces published by business leaders. Overall, this is a shift in the direction to make sure that we move away from being just a static profile into a kind of more holistic representation of who you and I are. The starting point is to have some content out there so that people can react and share their opinions - one of those being news.

Increasingly, we are kind of having a more integrated view to that, to have channels. Say, for example, a leadership channel. That channel could come from influencer content or news content or individuals writing posts. So, that’s the direction that LinkedIn overall is taking. Hence, I wouldn’t call it focus on news per se, but focus on more becoming that professional platform.

We want to respect the IP of the news sites. So, when you click on a news article, it is actually a page view that gets generated on the publisher’s side. Because of that, we have become one of the largest routers of traffic to the different sites – whether it is a TechCruch or Forbes or Fortune. That gives you the kind of impact LinkedIn has had in this space.

Coming to the second part of your question about content sources: we are definitely working in that direction. We are a scalable technology business and tried to start with global news and influencers for Indian consumers (and others). We are now pivoting towards a point where more local news and influencers have relevance, and we are in the process of making changes to the product for that to happen.

Deepali Naair, country head - brand, corporate communications and customer service, L&T General Insurance Company: Networking platforms have really taken off in India. If I have to compare LinkedIn with personal networking sites, I would think that you are at a slight disadvantage, and Twitter stopping their feeds didn’t help you guys at all. I wanted to understand from a consumer behavioural perspective, as a brand manager if I want to attract the B2C kind of customers, doyou share information about what consumers are doing on LinkedIn apart from updating their profile?

Let me answer this in the reverse order.

We started the company around 10 years ago, and early on it was definitely true of LinkedIn being a place where you update your profile or come to look for jobs. We have seen increasingly in the three and half years ago - and in India also over the last year or so - that people have stopped updating their profile just when they are looking for jobs. And, that’s really what has enabled us to create a lot of magic. It is also because they are realising that their profiles are conduits to a variety of other factors. If you think about the three kinds of content that our users are saying they want from our site, it is information on connections and job or business opportunities, updates on brands that will help make them more productive and successful, and information on relevant current affairs.

As a consumer when LinkedIn is my professional dashboard in the morning, I get to see what is going on within my network which includes people sharing news articles or insights, or people have switched jobs, or reminders on someone’s job anniversary, etc. Thus t enables me to stay in touch with my connections. If there are opportunities that have popped up with regards to conversations, etc., I find out more about that. And obviously, getting updates from brands have targeted updates to their followers. All of that is coming together, and people are realising that the more you fill out your profile, it allows us to make things more relevant for you. So, that gives you a sense of what people are doing on the website. Interestingly, we did a research in India also to find out five things what people are using LinkedIn for. TNS did this survey for us, and it really helped us differentiate between a personal network and a professional network.

The genesis of what we have found is that, people go to personal networks to spend time, while they come to professional networks like LinkedIn to invest time. To be fair, each person can have these different personas and as a result, different sites are a manifestation of that. I use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and I use all three for completely different reasons. Facebook allows me to stay connected with my friends and family like never before, Twitter gives me a voice to have real time communication and LinkedIn has my professional avatar, sharing my thoughts and comments from a professional context. So, the professional context has really helped us in not necessarily playing not really the same game as other networks. We don’t want them to come in and have dilutive random comments on the site, but very aspirational and productive comments.

I think the numbers are just a manifestation of that.  Even in India, where we have over 20 million members, the ratio of number of people on LinkedIn relative to personal networks is closing fast. That just gives you a sense of what value people are seeing on the website.

To illustrate how brands are using LinkedIn, I will give you an example. Citibank has done a great job where we have seen them adopt the platform across a variety of facets – including status updates, followers, a managed group, influencer posts, display ads, etc. This has led to a two and half ‘x’ increase in engagement.

I think what marketers are lacking is how they can use the audience that they have on LinkedIn. Citibank wanted to kind of have a little more awareness with professional women. So, they created this managed group, and invited their targeted audience on it. They had a choice of what kind of content they can put on the group. Most marketers that I talk to or how it has happened in the past is that they take the same content they have for other campaigns and put it on a new channel. Citibank decided to not go that route and it did really work well with our member’s philosophies as well. Instead of Citi messaging on it, they decided to curate content on topics that professional women want to hear about. How do we help them be more productive? Based on that, whether it is the topics or the sponsored content that they were sharing, it was related to what the members needed. Now, just by doing that, they saw an unaided brand awareness lift of 50 per cent for Citibank. And, that gives you a sense of how marketing in evolving.

Members or consumers broadly want to be part of these conversations, and they want it to be relevant to them. When they are seeing updates from brands, they want to see updates that make them better as professionals. Whether you look at that from the Citibank professional women group or in the technology side of things where LinkedIn has the ability to offer is decision makers at scale. You can talk to IT decision makers and figure what’s on their minds and try to solve what they are trying to solve rather than pushing your products. That’s really working well and we are seeing increasing virality from the campaigns that they run as a result.

Sheran Mehra, head-marketing, Mahindra Holidays: Everybody is talking about big data. How much of it is that you are leveraging it in India?

Yes, it has become one of the big buzz words and everyone wants to do something about it. I was at some seminar where Oracle said that almost 68 per cent of companies had some sort of data warehousing, but only 8 per cent of them actually used it. So, that gives you the sense of disconnect. This is something that we take very seriously at LinkedIn because of the volume of data that we see on a very regular basis.

We definitely have the technology set up where we are moving away from complete relational databases to having unstructured information using technologies. We have also used those insights to mine or pull it back into our product process. I will give you a couple of examples. Our iPad application, when it was originally launched, it was kind of a simple mirror of the website. Over a period of time, we realised that people were using the iPad differently. There was a spike from 7 to 9 am in the morning, where it seemed as people were planning for their day, and again in the evening for catching up what they missed out. When we got that insight, we quickly integrated a calendar with the app for those people who were planning their day in the morning, and members could actually look at what meetings they had, who they are meeting, get their personal profiles, see what conversations they have been having recently.

Sheran Mehra, head-marketing, Mahindra Holidays: Which clients are using this effectively? Barring banking, is there any other sector which is using this effectively?

There are many examples of clients using big data effectively. GE, for example, use our partner ads, sponsored messages, etc. They were using a lot of insights on what is going on in their groups – like which content topics are being interacted withmore. And then they use that in real time to make changes to their content strategies including status messages that they share with followers.

There are tools already on LinkedIn to tap into insights and reporting, and we are able to give you reports by industry, geography, and so many different cuts. On the flip side, from a client or an agency stand point, are you actually using those in real time and making course correction to your campaigns – including creative, the content being pushed, etc. in a rapid enough manner? I suspect not all of them are fully tapping the potential of. Partly because we are still stuck in one off-campaigns and we are still in the process of evolution to ‘always on’ marketing models.

Suraj, HR Professional: Why is it that LinkedIn doesn’t allow users to message other users without adding them as a connection?

Broadly speaking, it goes back to the ‘Member First’ philosophy. If you compare LinkedIn with some of the other competitors that you might have (related to talent solutions), they have taken a little different approach where they publish phone numbers, email addresses and things like that. It is one of our philosophies that we don’t like doing that, because it is not ‘MembersFirst’. The member has the right to obtain to a program and share the information they deem fit. You can obviously message a person if they are not a connection, and then it is up to that person to realise maybe this is relevant for me and respond.

Manish Advani, head marketing and public relations, Mahindra SSG: Has LinkedIn thought of giving an option of ‘Verified’ account, where users could pay a small fee and LinkedIn does a background check of the user and give a ‘verified’ tag to the individual or user?

We have not necessarily announced anything on those lines, so far. Part of our belief is that the verification may not be unique to any one person. We kind of think that your network verifies for you; we have public tools where people in my network can use it to curate what I am saying on my profile and report something that is factually incorrect. We have seen members exercising it. So, it is almost like verification by proxy. We are always encouraging that when you are making a talent decision or sales decision, you don’t have to look at that person in isolation, but also look at the network connections and use conversations with those people to do a verification of sorts.

We have not yet heard a lot of noises about factually incorrect information yet, and probably that could be a reason why it has not bubbled up to be in the top list of priorities.

View the webinar here.