When 140,000 "chief experience officers" received a video ad from Cisco Systems on LinkedIn last month, it represented the most expansive advertising use of that site's InMail messaging platform to date - and a notable step forward in LinkedIn's efforts to integrate more advertising into the site.
InMail allows anyone on LinkedIn to e-mail anyone else on the site, but had never before been used to send a video to such a large swath of members, said Hani Durzy, director of corporate communications for the social network. The Cisco campaign "is unique in that it is the first time that a brand has integrated full video into a partner message on such a large scale," said Durzy, "a great way to do one-to-one communication with a very targeted segment of professionals."
The idea came about when Cisco asked LinkedIn what it could do to launch its "Built for the Human Network" campaign that no one had done before. "Our campaign is focused on Cisco's innovation and how our network is helping our partners do things they never dreamed of before," said Michele Bogdan, VP of corporate marketing and branding for the San Jose, Calif-based company. "Using an innovative new way to get our message out was our focus."
The video ad featured assembly line robots working to an instrumental version of Gary Numan's 1979 version of "Cars." When one of the robots breaks, another robot steps up and fixes it. "Assembly lines that fix themselves," says a voiceover. "The most innovative companies are doing things they never could before, by building on the Cisco Intelligent Network."
The ad gave users the option of sharing the video or clicking through to a Cisco landing page, "where we call out different solutions we're providing in different industries," said Bogdan. Both LinkedIn and Cisco said it was too early to provide results from the effort, but Bogdan said that on the day the ad went out there was a "huge increase" in the number of people interacting with Cisco's LinkedIn page.
Outside of LinkedIn, the "Human Network" campaign also involved homepage takeovers on the sites of CNBC, The Financial Times and The Street.
Part of what made the Cisco campaign possible was LinkedIn's implementation last year of standardized job titles on the site. Rather than list any job titles they want, LinkedIn members must now choose from a standardized list, making it easier for advertisers to target their messages. Cisco chose 140,000 members who described themselves as "chief experience officer," or CXO.
Of course, any social network takes a risk sending an identical marketing e-mail to 140,000 members. While Durzy said he was aware of no negative feedback from members, he acknowledged that LinkedIn did have to take such matters into consideration before opening the platform up to other campaigns like this. "In order for them to be an effective tool, we do limit the number of Partner Messages that any one member can receive over time," he said. "LinkedIn constantly thinks of its members first so we are always thoughtful about how we create ad inventory."
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
March 19, 2014