There’s been a lot of discussion and debate around the benefit to brands of building a presence on Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, LinkedIn has been ramping up its efforts to get brands to create content and promote it through advertising.
To illustrate the benefits of building a successful sponsored group, LinkedIn pointed me to Connect: Women’s Professional Network, which was launched nearly two years ago, in April 2012, and is “powered by Citi”. Connect is full of career- and finance-focused content aimed at women, such as this post about International Women’s Day and this discussion of communication challenges in the workplace, and it’s overseen by Jacky Carter, full-time community manager at LinkedIn.
Linda Descano, managing director at Citi and head of content and social, told me that the bank had been “talking to women about money, about the intersection of money and their life, since 2000” through its digital initiative Women And Co. She said building the Connect group on LinkedIn was an attempt to extend Women & Co. by giving its members “new ways to network and to move their careers forward.”
Put another way, Descano suggested that when women visit the main Women & Co. site, they come “with their CFO hat on, in terms of how they’re managing their money.” On the other hand, when they visit LinkedIn, “They’ve got their CEO hat on, because they’re CEO of their careers,” and the content is adjusted accordingly.
The strategy seems to be working — the group now has more than 260,000 members, and it’s the third-most engaged group on LinkedIn (behind TED and the Harvard Business School), according to Jonathan Lister, LinkedIn’s vice president of marketing solutions for North America. The professional networking site reports that those members are 2.6 times more likely to say that Citi is a company that they’d want to work for and 2.4 times more likely to say that they’re going to seek out more information about Citi products and services.
Also, 60 percent of group members could identify Citi as the sponsor of of the group, an increase of 50 percent since its launch. (And hey, it may not be exactly what Citi wants, but I think that if group members can’t identify the sponsor, it also speaks to some degree of editorial quality and independence.)
“Citi knew that while a clear brand strategy is vital in any content marketing effort, it takes a great deal of momentum to drive discovery and engagement,” Lister told me via email. “They knew that close and constant communication with their target customer is the key to raising awareness and enhancing relationships. Citi’s been publishing through Women & Co for more than a decade, so they have the long-term view of what this takes.”
The group has taken on a life of its own outside of LinkedIn, with about 30 real-world meetups over the past couple of years. I asked Descano if there was ever a tension between allowing Connect to exist as its own entity and as a promotional vehicle for Citi, and she said she’s satisfied as long as the group “stays authentic” to the initial vision and provides insights to consumers.
“I think we spent a lot of time upfront really working through the partnership and the interactions and the decision matrix for our two brands,” Descano added. “If we didn’t put that work in upfront, we would have had more bumps.”