collage of letters making up the LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn Audience Network isn't the first foray into audience networking, but it is its first post-Microsoft acquisition PHOTO: Esther Vargas

Microsoft made a major play to increase the reach of its ads — and ad tech — earlier this week with the announcement that users of LinkedIn sponsored content will be able to push its marketing and advertising campaigns beyond LinkedIn and onto third-party sites and apps.

The newly released LinkedIn Audience Network (LAN) extends the reach of content-driven campaigns beyond the professional contacts in the LinkedIn newsfeeds, and pushes that content onto the websites and apps where professionals spend their time.

According to a blog post by Divye Raj Khilnani, a product manager at LinkedIn, over 6000 LinkedIn advertisers are signed up to the network.

Khilnani claimed advertisers that have used LAN have seen a 3 to 13 percent increase in unique impressions served, and up to an 80 percent increase in unique clicks.

Expanding LinkedIn's Ad Networks

Khilnani told CMSWire that while the company plans to expand the program in the coming months, it is already working with some of the largest third-party ad exchanges such as Mopub, Google AdX, Rubicon, Appnexus and Sharethrough.

However, LAN is more than just an intermediary between LinkedIn and third-party platforms.

“The LinkedIn Audience Network is more than an intermediary between marketers and third-party platforms. We are leveraging our targeting technology to help advertisers reach LinkedIn’s professional audiences on premium third-party desktop and mobile publishers,” Khilnani told CMSWire.

“This is a key differentiator which distinguishes LinkedIn Audience Network from other solutions in the market,” he continued.

Campaign performance is measurable with the new service. LAN users can download performance reports that measure clicks and impressions and provide insights into ad engagement across the network.

LinkedIn Audience Network Joins Growing Ad Ecosystem

LAN was launched at the beginning of the year in limited beta and is now set to roll-out in English-speaking countries.

Given the amount of personal information contained in LinkedIn, the addition of an audience network that provides ads to users based on that personal information is an obvious business move.

But it is not the only advertising and marketing solution that LinkedIn offers. Among its other offerings are:

  • Lead Gen Forms
  • Sponsored Content and LinkedIn Audience Network
  • Sponsored InMail
  • Text Ads
  • Display Ads
  • Matched Audiences - you can leverage this off offline
  • Conversion Tracking - you can leverage this offline

Marketers See Benefits and Questions 

The LinkedIn Audience Network is a double edged sword, according to Alex Gorbansky, co-founder and CEO of New York City-based Docurated. "On the one hand it gives marketers enormous leverage around content distribution,” Gorbansky told CMSWire.

“On the flip side, it further exacerbates the challenge of measuring content effectiveness and revenue contribution. I will be watching to see what type of holistic reporting and analytics LinkedIn will provide as part of this offering."

Veteran marketer Christopher Justice, founder and CEO of enterprise event management provider High Attendance, believes LinkedIn Audience Network will give marketers a more focused way of targeting customers.

“LinkedIn Audience Network gives an entirely new level of focused retargeting capability for event marketers to bring more visibility into the behavior and preferences of event attendees,” he told CMSWire.

“LinkedIn Audience Network also allows event marketers to increase the potential audience of every piece of business and technical content and presentation for events.”

According to Justice, LinkedIn is now a critical tool for accurate attendee identity and event registration while providing more accuracy than in-house first-party data sources.

“LAN, in combination with contact targeting, allows organizations to build larger audiences for every online or in-person event and increases the engagement of the content produced by organizers, exhibitors and sponsors.”

Not Alone in the Audience Network Market

This is not the first time LinkedIn has built an audience network. In 2008 it launched an ad network that also targeted individual LinkedIn users across hundreds of websites.

In 2015, it also launched its Lead Accelerator global display advertising network as part of its ambitions to build out a $1 billion business-to-business (b2b) marketing businesses.

But all this was before Microsoft. This new effort is different in that this experience focuses on mobile and native formats.

LinkedIn isn't the only one to build an audience network. Google has the lucrative Display Network, while Facebook released its to the public in 2014.

Microsoft's LinkedIn Ambitions

While Microsoft has been working on new ways to use LinkedIn since its acquisition, it was clear from the start that this was about buying content for potential use in advertising campaigns.

Research from the Synergy Group showed the enterprise SaaS market in the second quarter of 2017 grew 31 percent year on year to reach almost $15 billion in quarterly revenues, with collaboration being the highest growth segment.

Microsoft was the top player in the field, largely as a result of the boost the LinkedIn buy gave it.

Even still, it’s not finished. It is only starting to use the data available in LinkedIn and has indicated it will be looking at ways of developing synergies between Office 365, Dynamics 365 and the recently released Microsoft 365.

LinkedIn Audience Network is a good start, but it’s certainly not the end.