LinkedIn to Marketers: Gather Ye Followers Now

Cost of building a follower base will only increase

Brands hoping to keep up online better hurry up and start courting LinkedIn followers fast.

So says the recently public social network for professionals, which plans to emphasize its follower feature (that lets members follow specific companies) at the upcoming Advertising Week in New York.

Mike Gamson, SVP of sales for LinkedIn, said now that the company has achieved brand-friendly scale (with a membership of 120 million professionals globally), it plans to make a major push with advertising. And, he added, the next step in engaging customers on LinkedIn will involve the “Follow Company” feature it launched last year.

“We believe there’s an incredibly important moment right now in the world of online advertising,” he said. “Right now is the moment of acquisition of a follower base.”

For the next year to year and a half, brands around the world will be investing in their follower and fan base “assets,” he said. Those that don’t join the fray now will find themselves at a disadvantage later on.

“We believe there is a finite number of brands that any single LinkedIn member will follow,” Gamson said, adding that he estimates that the number is in the low single digits, or a couple of brands per category. (The company is conducting research to get at an accurate number.)

Attracting followers now, while the feature is still relatively new, will cost much less than courting them down the road, when brands might have to lure them away from rival companies they’ve already decided to follow.

While Twitter and Facebook both offer advertisers similar (and arguably better known) follower features, Gamson said the big difference with LinkedIn is the audience.

With a global membership of well-educated, more affluent professionals, and a business-first context, he said, LinkedIn is a better place for companies to reach consumers with messages around financial services, business travel, and other similar topics.

“Facebook or Twitter, [that’s] a very, very broad segment of the population,” he said. But for companies trying to reach consumers about IRA rollovers, business class airline tickets, or small business credit cards, “the perfect lead for those marketers is on Linkedin.”

The company, which made its public debut in May, has been consistently trading well above its first day offering price. But some analysts have expressed concerns that engagement on LinkedIn (measured by time on site) has been lower relative to other social networks.

Gamson said that since the company’s mission is to drive productivity (and success) for professionals, it thinks about time spent on site differently. Helping members accomplish more is the first goal, spending time on site is a byproduct of that, he said.

In recent months, the company has rolled out features, such as LinkedIn Today and LinkedIn Groups, which boost engagement by highlighting content or member activity. 

Gamson said the company would share more details about its new advertising developments—involving the follower feature and other efforts—next week.