LinkedIn Sponsored Updates and Blurred Lines

LinkedIn Advertising SolutionsLinkedIn has announced that sponsored updates have been officially rolled out following six months of testing.

On the site’s blog, Gyanda Sachdeva writes:

“We know that getting relevant information at the right time can help inform the many business decisions you make throughout your day. Through Sponsored Updates, businesses aim to engage select communities of LinkedIn members with useful information. This can come in the form of an article, blog post, video or presentation that is rooted in relevant content.”

Essentially, it’s the same business model as ever. In print, advertising remains most valuable when it is advertorial content – all but indistinguishable from unsponsored material – while online, the ability to reach specific strands of a site’s user base means that advertising can be better tailored towards them, thus increasing the level of engagement.

Blurred lines

Ensuring profitability when your revenue comes from advertising involves carefully balancing the needs of users and advertisers. Essentially, you are dependent on both, but yet there is a clear conflict between them.

Users are attracted and engaged by high quality, independent content and repelled by intrusive advertising or any implication that the views expressed may be compromised in some way. However, advertisers get a better return from blurring the boundaries between editorial and advertising as this ensures a better return.

Publishers must forever walk a tightrope between doing what’s best for building an audience and allowing advertisers to do what’s best to exploit that audience.

Offering value

Publishers will frequently talk of providing users with valuable sponsored content in a bid to paint these compromises in a better light. However, it rarely amounts to much. For the most part, if someone needs to pay for information to be put in front of a user, then it usually isn’t what that person was really looking for.

An exception to this – and consequently one of the internet’s greatest success stories – is Google’s AdWords program. On search results pages, ads are presented in prime position, above all other results. Google gets away with this because the targeting has been honed so carefully and for so long that most sponsored results will genuinely be of use to users. If they aren’t, they won’t be displayed. This means that advertising can be presented in a form that is virtually indistinguishable from the main, unsponsored content, which makes it so much more appealing to advertisers.

LinkedIn will be hoping to achieve something similar, but this will require a very large palette of advertisements from which to choose in order to ensure relevant content – something they won’t yet have. In the short-term the commercial need to display ads might expose this fact, so users will have to hope that some degree of restraint can be exhibited while more advertisers come on board.