Business Publishers See Growing Opportunity On LinkedIn

LinkedIn-for-PubsLinkedIn is no Facebook, but it is a growing source of referral traffic for publishers.

And as it turns to sponsored updates for more of its revenue, LinkedIn is encouraging users to spend more time scrolling through the feed – a move that will only benefit publishers posting content in that feed.

Forbes, Bloomberg and Business Insider have taken notice. Their focus on business and career-oriented content makes them a natural fit for LinkedIn’s audience.

Forbes, the top business publisher on LinkedIn, grew its account followers 72% to 1.8 million between Jan. 1 and March 15. In that same time period, shares, likes and comments soared 157%.

Bloomberg’s referral traffic rose 237% over the past year, including a 40% increase from January to February.

And Business Insider recently topped 1 million followers, and it counts LinkedIn among its top five traffic drivers.

Significant Changes

There are a couple of factors behind these increases, according to LinkedIn. One reason: It’s been changing its feed to focus more on news instead of just network updates.

“We actually launched the feed a long time ago, but then it was more about keeping in touch with your network versus staying informed,” said Tomer Cohen, LinkedIn’s head of content.

LinkedIn acquired news reader Pulse in 2013. A year later, it bought Newsle, which updates users about connections in the news. Those deals brought more news articles into the feed.

Meanwhile, its sponsored updates product took off. Sponsored updates – the fastest-growing monetization product at LinkedIn – accounts for more than half of all marketing solutions business.

That’s put renewed emphasis on making the feed as relevant and engaging as possible. Publishers that offer content that appeals to LinkedIn audiences are seeing jumps in referral traffic.

In late January, LinkedIn made a switch that turned dark social (links without referring URLs) into LinkedIn-referred traffic, leading to a big first-quarter bump for many publishers.

Most publishers saw triple the referral traffic from LinkedIn.com once these changes went into effect, according to Chartbeat chief data scientist Josh Schwartz. That’s in addition to a steady increase in referrals Chartbeat observed in its publisher base over the past year.

That combination – a focus on bringing news into the feed and better visibility into LinkedIn’s traffic – is giving LinkedIn a reputation as a top source of referral traffic.

LinkedIn Tips And Tricks

Just like every social platform, success on LinkedIn requires understanding the platform’s audience, mindset and the content length and formats they prefer.

Forbes recently experimented with adding more content to LinkedIn posts so they appear like mini-articles. Forbes made the switch because people are less likely to click off-site in mobile environments.

That tweak helped increase Forbes’ likes and shares by 157% over the past few months.

People tend to like and share after reading the article snippet. “It makes for something of an instant response,” said Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin.

Business Insider focuses on tailoring content for the LinkedIn audience. Anything career-focused, such as tips for writing a resume or how to best present yourself, performs strongly.

Another type of content that works well?

“Things that make you look smart,” said Meena Thiruvengadam, head of audience development for Business Insider. People post content that “supports the images of themselves they want to reflect.”

It’s important to understand how LinkedIn’s algorithm weighs content. Bloomberg has worked with LinkedIn to tweak the different feeds it distributes on the platform. But there’s no one switch that makes a big difference, just constant fine-tuning.

“We don’t have a simple answer,” said Scott Havens, Bloomberg Media global head of digital. “It’s a bit of a black box.”

Business Insider sees more quality users coming in via LinkedIn.

“They are less likely to bounce quickly, and spend more time on the site,” Thiruvengadam said. “They tend to peruse because the content we are giving them is in line with the LinkedIn audience and its interests.”

Havens likes the alignment between the LinkedIn and Bloomberg audiences.

“LinkedIn is a core target [platform] for us because our audiences overlap quite a bit,” he said. “Our audience is global executives, and our strategy is to be in a place where our audience is.”

Understanding The LinkedIn Business Model

Where is the LinkedIn product headed? One possibility is that LinkedIn will embrace something along the lines of Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles.

“We are definitely looking into it,” Cohen said, adding that any such change would be driven by concerns about user experience and load times.

But even as LinkedIn embraces the feed, it’s holding back in some ways to protect the user experience. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, its business goes beyond advertising and the feed to include subscriptions that contribute heavily to its bottom line. That’s one reason why Facebook embraces video ads, while LinkedIn is shying away from them.

“For us, it’s always been about how you serve the best experience for the members, and that will ultimately serve the best experience for publishers as well,” Cohen said.

LinkedIn has another wrinkle that poses a competitive issue for publishers: It’s a publisher, too.

Anyone can write a post within the platform, such as when an Amazon employee famously defended his company after a negative New York Times article. LinkedIn also recruits influencers – Bill Gates and Richard Branson among them – to write posts on the platform.

These articles are featured fairly heavily in user feeds, which can make it harder for a publisher to “get traction.” said Business Insider’s Thiruvengadam. However, first-party traffic and referral traffic are growing “rapidly and at a similar pace,” Cohen said.

Some publishers don’t appear bothered by the potential conflict. Bloomberg, for example, has some of its on-air personalities write articles as influencers. User-generated content on LinkedIn isn’t that different from user-generated content elsewhere, Havens said.

Forbes’ DVorkin doesn’t see LinkedIn as a threat either.

“Forbes has a publishing culture,” he said. “Linkedin has an engineering culture. Engineers have a certain philosophy and journalists have a certain philosophy, and they are different.”

Those differences mean Forbes will have an edge (and vice versa) where they work best.

As LinkedIn referral traffic grows, it offers publishers a chance to diversify their social traffic, becoming less reliant on places like Facebook. But it’s still fairly small overall, Chartbeat’s Schwartz said.

The success of career-minded content on LinkedIn is itself a sign of the platform’s limits – many people only check LinkedIn frequently when they’re in search of a job.

But as LinkedIn brings more relevant business news to the platform, it could inspire members to become more frequent users. That, in turn, will only help publishers posting content to LinkedIn.

 

 

 

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