Part 1 of our discussion with Hari Krishnan, LinkedIn‘s Country Manager for India, focused on how the company is approaching sales and product development in India, and what is LinkedIn’s growth in India. The key question on our mind was about how a professional network allows advertising without being intrusive, and the challenges it faces with advertisers who are used to traditional online models of advertising, in a market that is leaning towards lead generation. Part 2 of our interview focuses on Advertising and Marketing:
You’ve recently partnered with CNBC-TV18: what’s the deal there?
With Network18, I think clearly there it was more about funnelling some of the insights from the LinkedIn platform and channelling them. We were trying to get insights on how professionals think about specific issues, whether it was the growth rate, GDP or Copenhagen carbon emission curb and India’s responsibility.
It is a marketing focused activity to, at one level do brand building, but brand alignment more than anything else. To some degree activities are also certainly to drive home the point that while finding a job or finding candidates are a part of what we do in our platform, you can get business insights as well.You will see more of these initiatives in the coming months.
How is advertising working for you? Is it CPC, CPM, CPL based, time based…how do you sell advertising?
Well, a part of the process is to educate the advertisers about advertising in the social media. I think a lot of the selling that has happened till date has been about retro fitting models which are better suited towards the search engine or a portal. For example, the insane focus on the CPC and CTR as the sole metric of success which plagues the industry. Maybe because we have derisked our dependence on advertising as a revenue source by having two or three other sources, we are able to go to the advertiser and say that if you are going to keep measuring on CPC and CTR, you should be looking elsewhere, but if you really are serious about social media, we will give you measurements on how you benefit.
I still get the fact that the marketing head needs to show it was worth the money, and there are other ways to do that, but the way in which you advertise here needs to be customized. For example, we recommended to a bank that they step back, and instead of just negotiating on CPM, we asked them what they want to achieve. They wanted thought leadership in the SME space. The way they went about doing this was that an employee of the bank put up a question on LinkedIn answers and it came from an employee of the bank essentially putting out a question; they ran banners with the question and targeted it down to correct audience to SME and entrepreneurs. They were able to drive people to the LinkedIn answers page where the question had been placed, and people responded. When a person responds, you know where they’re from, their name…They started down the path of building thought leadership.
We are aware that there are lots of people in India who want to do this, and if a publisher will guide them on how to do it and they will put serious money. Otherwise, because they’ll see what looks like poor performance according to CTRs, they’ll feel they’re better off using search. Technically, we use CPMs because they need metrics, but we try and sell solutions: custom groups, sponsored polls, LinkedIn Answers. We don’t do mail blast, but there are targeted campaigns we do. In our line the advertiser’s needs are not greater than that of the consumer, so we will always do these checks and balances. For example if a paying customer uses Inmail, and three users mark it as spam, the paying user loses his benefits.
We essentially tell advertisers if you want to do XYZ, this is the way in which you should interface with us, quality, what audience will engage with us. For instance a business school wanted to show thought leadership, and wanted to reach out to people who have 5-6 years of experience but don’t have an MBA. That’s a potential student. We have a platform called White Paper, which they put out, and we targeted the audience. It shows up like a ad unit at first, and it requires contact info for downloading. So this is quality lead generation, not volume. But they are willing to pay a premium for that.
So who operationalizes all of this? Do you have a team here or is it done internationally?
We have a team distributed internationally in Europe and US, we are also in the process of hiring out a team in India as well to support it. As of today there is no delay, the way it works for us is if we do have an advertiser, they interface with us and NetworkPlay and the advertiser is educated on the process of what they need to do, and then we essentially work with our backend, whether its Ad Ops or custom solution sales people. In the future, in the second half of 2010 a lot of that will happen out of India itself. It’s just a function of time and our building out our team.
UPDATE: On hindsight, such a publisher supported model doesn’t appear to be scalable. Responding to my question on the same via twitter, Krishnan agreed that it’s not scalable, but “the goal is to work with key advertisers and use them to educate the market. Scalability comes from regular advertisers who gain superior relevance/targeting as well as through our self service ad platforms”
So what kind of employee strength are you looking at in India by the end of this year?
The way we have stayed profitable as a company is by building the team to support the business; we don’t believe in putting in a lot of people, and then firing and rehiring. The team strength today is under five; we are going to take it to around 20 people by the end of this year and beyond that it’s a function of the business. The good news is LinkedIn is ready to invest in India as much as it requires supporting the business.
You have opened up the APIs last year so what kind of developer activity have you seen from India?
There has been a lot of interest, a number of the SDK and API Keys have been downloaded from developer@LinkedIn.com. There has been a lot of interest I think, so the good thing is we have invested in working with the teams post download. The developer forums have been fairly active, there are a few apps that are pretty close to getting to the market. I think it’s just a matter of time you see LinkedIn profile information and search boxes in other platforms as well.
Anything in terms of the activity in India that really surprised you, something that you weren’t expecting?
The level of activity in LinkedIn groups have been exceptional in India, much more than the global average. I think, now having analysed it, it is little less surprising to me, but initially when I looked at the data I was quite surprised. Their willingness to share information fairly transparently on what is in a sense a public platform, and actually try and leapfrog the competition by getting global intelligence is very interesting.