Penry Price joined LinkedIn as VP of marketing solutions six months ago, after two years as president and board member at Dstillery, formerly Media6Degrees. Prior to that he oversaw ad sales at Google. At LinkedIn, he’s been charged with growing the social network’s ad business, creating new tools with which advertisers can engage with the platform’s more than 300 million users globally, more than half outside the United States. Those new opportunities include Showcase Pages, Sponsored Updates and the Content Marketing Score, in addition to the Influencer program and Company Pages. Right now there are more than 3.5 million Company Pages representing more than 140 industries.
Indeed, LinkedIn looks less like a job board and more like a publisher every day. “There is six times more interaction with content than with jobs” on LinkedIn today, Price said.
And it is working to attract more than just business-to-business advertisers. The company recently engaged in a partnership with Delta, for example, to create a program called “Innovation Class” through which Delta offered its LinkedIn community the opportunity to meet with leaders from different fields on a designated flight. The airline previewed the concept at the TED2014 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, in March. “The program is really tapping into this younger professional demographic,” said Mauricio Parise, Delta’s director of worldwide marketing communications. “There’s huge upside. As we position this company for the future, we’re engaging with these travelers early in their lifetime, and LinkedIn is a great way to do that.”
I sat down with Price to talk about his role, his plans for the company moving forward, LinkedIn’s opportunities for advertisers, and why he believes the social network’s younger professional demographic will keep it unique amid competition.
LinkedIn is so much different today than it was when it first started. How are you managing the evolution of the company from a brand perspective?
Part of what I was fascinated by is [the fact that] they personally felt the evolution of the brand. It’s hard to change a brand’s message without evolving the brand itself.
The platform and products really need to do that to evolve a brand. I personally found myself using the platform very differently. Two years ago it was recruiting. Now I see the evolution of how important content has become. The brand has evolved because the brand has adapted.
How has the LinkedIn user evolved?
It’s now almost every professional. The evolution is about the breadth vs. who they are. We are closing in on 50% of the globe. There is growth in the younger demographics—students or recent grads. They recognize there are a lot of challenges to finding jobs. They understand that careers and knowledge is important for them to get ahead. This notion of professionalism is starting at younger and younger ages. They know that this is the place [for connecting with professionals], this is where they want to be.
As you morph to look more like a publisher, and marketers of all shapes and sizes dive into developing content as an engagement and thought-leadership platform, why does your model make more sense for advertisers than established publishers/media companies?
[That’s] part of the moving from this jobs world—still having that but moving toward engaging with content. That’s what our members were looking for. They were looking for that content. They were starting to form this content in a truncated version. The real difference is around the Influencer program that we started, when we started to give real business luminaries the ability to post long-form content within their professional identity. Truly it’s coming from this person who is attached to their profile, and going to an audience that is there for those reasons. Similar to Forbes or other publications, they come to read a certain type of content.
The uniqueness and the layer of that that starts to become really interesting is the rich engagement that comes with that content, for example, the commenting. The reason why that’s different is the commenting is your professional identity of record. You’re not just commenting as someone who can sign in under a pseudonym. You’re commenting as yourself. That’s hugely important as a differentiator.
I think people want to learn. I don’t think people are looking at LinkedIn as a place for promotional content. It’s a platform for thought leaders.
Yes, there might be companies or individuals who are promoting what their topic or content is, but really it’s the notion of, “I can follow certain individuals who can help me with my career,” that’s attractive. There’s a lot more flexibility here to follow writers. We just opened the platform to move from [just] the Influencers to all the members will be able to post. That, to me, changes everything about how we consume content related to our professional career.
You needed to have the platform of content to then make it accessible for marketers to inject sponsored content. Now people are coming for content.
You recently introduced the Content Marketing Score. Explain what it is and the goals behind it.
We’re going to enable marketers to understand how their content is indexing against their peer companies and really give them some tips about how to do a better job of having their content land with the relevant members of the network. This is the first time marketers will be able to understand what content is resonating with what audience. We are using the aggregate profiles to show that CMOs, for this month, are 50 basis points higher than anyone else, for example. We are giving tools to marketers to be really more strategic about what they’re delivering.
Are you creating the content yourself on behalf of marketers?
We’re working right now with a lot of the content agencies, helping marketers with their own content and also finding content out on the web somewhere that those companies want to promote and support as well. Lots of agencies we are looking to partner with on the content generation piece. [Since our interview, LinkedIn announced two new types of Certified Marketing Partners: Sponsored Updates Partners and Content Partners. Sponsored Updates Partners provide customers with advanced tools, powered by LinkedIn’s APIs, to manage their Sponsored Updates campaigns; the Content Partners provide advertisers without in-house content-creation ability access to high quality content to use in their efforts.]
Talk about some of your other offerings, like the Influencer posts, the showcase pages and sponsored updates.
We had started with Company Pages. That was the beginning of your company presence on LinkedIn. Showcase Pages are enabling marketers to have sub-brand pages. For example, it creates the ability for Watson to have its own page [separate from IBM’s]. They get to better understand what content’s being engaged with. [It’s great] for smaller businesses as well, for new product launches, etc.
How have your content-marketing offerings so far affected LinkedIn revenue?
There is going to be a slightly slowing of revenue as we shore up our content strategy.
How do you compare against the competition?
Across the industry, we’re all seeing content becoming really important. The other important piece is mobile. The number of members accessing us via mobile is accelerating at a very fast clip. 41% of our visitors are coming through mobile and we expect that to pass 50% this year. The Sponsored Updates work very well in the mobile platform. They fit seamlessly in the feed. Of the three platforms—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter—we have the answer for the moment in fitting the ad content into the feed—we feel like ours is by far the best from a B-to-B or prosumer mindset.
As others—Twitter, Facebook, for example, which recently announced it would allow B-to-B advertisers to target by title—build competitive prowess, how does LinkedIn remain unique?
The space iterates and changes so quickly, you always need to be thinking about your next play. We’re not standing still. But you can’t just change your paint and you turn into a new thing. These platforms are trying to be a lot of things for a lot of people.
We’re focused on professionals. We believe that our mission is to make professionals more productive and successful. In doing that, we’re giving them a framework and playground to have meaningful conversations with connections and companies. For us, we’re going to continue to make sure that everything we’re doing is focused on the professional in the professional context and enable them to be productive and successful.
We’re staying with the professionals, [based on] this notion that iron sharpens iron. That’s what’s different about us. Everyone is a professional and they realize they can learn from everyone else and also be empowered to help others learn. This is professionals helping professionals.
Where you’ll see more focus for us is around B-to-B: more targeted to lead generation. We are looking at, how do we deliver relevant information? Giving those marketers the ability to capture information about those people [is our priority].
By Jennifer Rooney, Forbes Staff
Image via Getty Images