LinkedIn Turns Industry White Papers Into Ads

Industry white papers, in general, are dull reading—unless you need a piece of information in one of them to do your job. Then you’ll pay almost anything (i.e. expense it) to get your hands on the white paper you need. Sometimes companies produce white papers and give them away for free, but they have a hard time finding the professionals who might be interested in whatever narrow topic the paper covers.

Enter LinkedIn. It knows what industry you work in and your job title, making it easy to guess what kinds of white papers you might actually be interested in. The business networking site is testing a new feature that turns white papers into ads and presents them to the narrow group of professionals most likely to want to read them. LinkedIn members can get white papers for free, and in return sponsors get qualified leads.

A few hours ago, CEO Reid Hoffman sent out a Tweet saying that he “downloaded my first whitepaper from Linkedin.” He linked to this white paper from VMware and Intel titled “VMware vSphere™ and Intel® Xeon® Processor 5500 Series: Delivering the IT Infrastructure of Tomorrow – Today.” (You can only see it if you are signed in).

Before letting you download the paper, it asks for your contact information and whether you “have a budgeted project.” In other words, the price of the white paper is that you basically agree to be contacted by the company. This is standard practice on company-run sites and sites like IDG and Bnet where they distribute their own white papers, but it seems like they will have better luck finding takers on LinkedIn.

I contacted Hoffman to ask if this is a new feature. He responded via e-mail:

Yes, it’s a new feature in our advertising program. Essentially: Linkedin is where professionals search for people and information to accomplish business tasks. As such, whitepapers are valuable information for professionals in particular jobs and doing specific tasks. So, Linkedin has deployed an initial system for matching whitepapers to professionals that we will be further developing over the next couple of quarters.

If someone downloads a white paper on VMware and Intel, is that worth more than someone clicking on an ad? It certainly is a bigger commitment. LinkedIn expects to get $40 to $100 per lead. Soon LinkedIn will put up a white paper directory, and LinkedIn users will be able to spread them viraly by sharing them with their network.