SINGAPORE - Professional networking platform LinkedIn announced on 28 June that it would be offering advertisers the option to buy display ads programmatically for desktop devices, two weeks after its US$26.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft.
In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Matt Tindale, head of enterprise for APAC at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions (LMS), said the move was a response to a rapidly changing buying landscape for display media.
“This is part of our move to build capabilities into our platform to meet what advertisers have come to expect—efficiency,” he said. “It is also going to simplify and extend advertising on LinkedIn. Ultimately, our goal with programmatic is to give our clients even more flexibility in the way they work with us.”
The move opens RTB access to all major demand-side platforms and agency trading desks. Tindale said the platform has partnered with more than 100 approved buying platforms to purchase its inventory.
Advertisers can either buy LinkedIn display ad inventory via the open exchange or through LinkedIn Private Auctions.
“We see programmatic becoming a primary way that customers access our display inventory over time, but they are still able to buy our display ads directly from us through insertion orders,” said Tindale. “Our goal is to offer flexibility by allowing advertisers to work with their existing preferred buying platform.”
The launch in Asia Pacific was timed with the global availability of this offering and while Tindale called it “early days”, he added that the team has received positive feedback from agencies and clients.
“We're watching and listening as we go, and we will invest accordingly as appropriate,” he said. “We will continue to monitor new levels of interest from marketers as they experiment with different ways of reaching their customers.”
The platform currently claims 433 million members worldwide, and within APAC, LinkedIn’s member base—both businesses and individuals—grew to more than 92 million as of the first quarter of this year.
Tindale reported that the platform continues to show “strong growth” in the region, with membership having more than doubled from just three years ago.
“And there is lots more room to grow,” he said. “APAC is home to 40 percent of world’s professional population, which is about 250 million people.”
Native content and mobile
The opening up of programmatic display inventory comes as the company sees declining display revenue performance—last quarter it decreased 30 percent and made up only 10 percent of LMS’ revenue.
“This launch is about meeting demand from our customers to buy this inventory programmatically,” said Tindale.
The bulk of current revenue comes from sponsored content, which allows marketers to engage with professionals natively via their feed. The company lays claim to being the world’s largest distributor of professional content, with members now engaging with content 15 times more than jobs.
According to the company's first-quarter 2016 earnings announcement in late April, total revenue increased 35 percent year-over-year to US$861 million. LMS revenue grew 29 percent year over year to US$154 million, with sponsored content now accounting for 56 percent of that revenue.
Tindale said that the ratio between display revenue and sponsored content mirrors the global numbers.
He shared that the LMS business has grown to 18 percent of the company’s total revenue, and credits it to the “significant increase in quality content delivered within the LinkedIn feed, the subsequent increase in feed engagement and exceptional results that sponsored content has delivered to advertisers.”
Currently, programmatic buying is only available on desktop, but mobile also currently accounts for more than half of LinkedIn's advertising revenues.
Tindale said mobile is a big priority for the company with its flagship app. Marketers can engage with professionals via mobile using sponsored content and sponsored InMail products but as yet, not display.
“We want to help companies reach professionals in the most seamless way, but we do not have a specific timeline yet regarding mobile inventory for programmatic buying,” he said.