For a while, Facebook was the leading source of online traffic for publishers. But recent developments caused Facebook to deprioritize content shared by publishers, and combined with a drop in Facebook usage, traffic took a nosedive.
Publishers have now started to explore other options for reaching a wider audience online, and some interesting, heretofore not widely utilized, options are coming to the fore.
One surprising discovery? The reach, engagement and new audience of Linkedin.
A group of University of Maryland students, in a collaborative research project with the USA Today Network, examined how news content could be shared to readers outside the traditional audience, using Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
USA Today Network shared real-time analytics with the students, who used tools including Adobe Analytics, Chartbeat, Parse.ly and CrowdTangle to identify patterns and recommend strategies.
According to Taylor Blatchford, the 2018 Google News Initiative Fellow at The Poynter Institute, “The students found that LinkedIn could be a valuable way for newsrooms to reach certain target audiences who were trying to improve their career prospects. These audience groups used LinkedIn at much higher rates, they found.”
For some publishers, this may not come as a total surprise. LinkedIn, after all, is the world’s largest professional network with more than 562 million users in more than 200 countries. But for most, LinkedIn is not where they first look to strengthen their online presence, in spite of its impressive growth record. Between 2011 and 2017, LinkedIn’s user base grew from 140 million to 500 million, shattering the growth rate in previous periods.
Just last year, Parse.ly—a technology company that partners with digital publishers to provide web analytics and audience insights— reported on where audiences came from for publishers. The Referrer Dashboard published by Parse.ly shows that LinkedIn doesn’t even feature in the current top 10 external referrers for publishers.
Yet, last year mobile referral traffic for LinkedIn across Parse.ly’s publisher base more than doubled. According to NewsWhip, engagement on LinkedIn content has increased fourfold in the last two years with publishers like Forbes, the BBC, Bloomberg and Business Insider. LinkedIn told Digiday that comments, likes and shares are up more than 60% year-on-year.
The Drum reports that while Facebook’s relationship with publishers has become increasingly strained, LinkedIn has been going out of its way to entice them onto its platform by offering them first dibs on new tools. When it launched its native video functionality last year, Business Insider, The Economist and The Financial Times were given access before anyone else.
“Many of these publishers are seeing strong growth in referral traffic (an increase of 2-4x quarter on quarter on average) and follower count (average 120% year-on-year growth to Company Page followers) as a result of publishing on LinkedIn,” says Isabelle Roughol, International Editor & Director at LinkedIn.
This is where the opportunity lies, as the University of Maryland study shows. The research even indicated that publishers could reach out to a fresh, engaged audience without even having to generate new content.
“We were positively surprised that we were able to reach people on LinkedIn with content we already had,” says Mackenzie Warren, the senior director of news strategy for the USA Today Network. “That matchmaking had never happened before.”
So while LinkedIn isn’t usually the top priority for publishers’ audience engagement teams, the network can have more value than they think.
When I look at all the platforms, the biggest opportunity to grow audience and revenue is LinkedIn.
That’s according to Owen Wyatt, managing director at Shortlist Media. “LinkedIn is trying to learn with content companies,” he says.
For most of the working world, LinkedIn is the go-to platform for business connections and job hunting. But it’s metamorphosing into something even more powerful.
“LinkedIn is no longer known only for their résumé and job searching capabilities. It’s evolving into a thriving network of incredible content, influencers, and networking opportunities unmatched by other social media platforms,” says Brian Peters, Author at Buffer Social, in his extensive coverage, The Silent Rise of LinkedIn to 500M Members.
As of now, LinkedIn is a relatively untapped channel for publishers. It’s also a community that represents 10+ million active jobs, access to 9+ million companies, and has more than 100,000 articles published every week. A professional community of this size has never existed until now.
“The impact of half a billion professionals connecting and communicating is very real, and very accessible to anyone who wants to take part today,” says Aatif Awan, ex-Vice President, Growth at LinkedIn.
An active, engaged, relatively untapped channel with over half a billion members in 200+ countries may just be what the doctor ordered, for publishers looking for the next big traffic source.