Kirsten Korosec, B2B Marketing

LinkedIn, the social platform for professionals boasting 350 million users, wants to turn employees into brand advocates—a role long reserved for consumers—with its new Elevate app.

The paid mobile and desktop app, which is currently in beta and will be publicly available in the fall, aims to help companies and employees mitigate risks as they use social media to broaden their network, generate sales and even attract new hires. The upshot is an app that could become the go-to social media management tool for B-to-B marketers, experts say.

LinkedIn is already a powerful lead gen tool and content avenue in B-to-B, according to the Cleveland-based Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report. According to the report, 94% of B-to-B marketers said that they use LinkedIn to distribute content. Confidence in LinkedIn is also high among B-to-B marketers, in particular, with 63% reporting that the social media platform is effective.

However, using social media has its own share of risk. It can be difficult to determine whether sharing content about industry trends, new jobs or product announcements actually leads to sales or attracts talented new hires. The app was designed to address those challenges, says Joe Roualdes, senior manager of corporate communications for LinkedIn.

Companies might share content on social and professional networks, but their reach—particularly B-to-B businesses—can be limited. Professionals have, on average, 10 times more connections than the company they work for, Roualdes says. And yet, very few employees are encouraged to share content amid concerns that they may say something that contradicts the company message. Employees are often wary of posting content about their employer over the same fear.

“There’s a lot of sharing on social professional networks, but there really isn’t a partnership between employees and the companies they work for,” Roualdes says. “We saw the opportunity to bridge that gap and create a product that’s mutually beneficial.”

The app uses internal algorithms to pull content relevant to a company via LinkedIn’s news recommendation services, Pulse and Newsle. The company can post the content to its own LinkedIn page as well as onto the mobile app, where it’s accessible to employees. Once an employee logs onto the app, a stream of content chosen by the company appears. The employee can pick articles of interest, add a personal comment and share those links across LinkedIn and Twitter. More social networks such as Facebook will be added over time. The app, which is available in iOS, Android and desktop, also has a scheduling feature to give companies and employees power over when content is shared. According to Roualdes, the price of the app is still under review.

The app’s analytics feature is perhaps its most valuable. Employees will be able to see how many times a link has been liked, commented on and re-shared, as well as how many people it reached. The app will eventually tell the employee who viewed her profile or requested to connect as a result of the link that was shared.

Companies receive the same data, in addition to job views, company page followers and other results that impact the bottom line, including hires, leads and sales, says Roualdes.

According to Julia Cupman, global director of White Plains, N.Y.-based market research firm B2B International, digital marketing tools like LinkedIn’s Elevate app won’t replace traditional B-to-B marketing methods anytime soon, and social media might never provide the same power for B-to-B as it provides for consumer brands.

“Some of the B-to-B clients we work for have hundreds of customers, compared to consumer brands that have millions,” Cupman says. “When you’re talking about a target audience of hundreds or even a few thousand customers, those B-to-B brands tend to prefer a more personal marketing and selling approach as opposed to casting a net really wide on social media.”

San Jose, Calif.-based computer software giant Adobe Systems Inc., which has been testing Elevate with a group of 60 employees since February, added a layer of its own analytics to the app. Biopharmaceutical giant Quintiles and consumer goods firm Unilever are also testing the app.

Adobe found that, on average, each of the 60 employees was bringing in three to four trial downloads of its creative cloud and other consumer solutions every month, according to Cory Edwards, head of Adobe’s Social Media Center of Excellence. The company also saw an 80% spike in use of job descriptions that were shared via Elevate.

“That’s a real impact,” says Edwards, who believes a broader impact will be felt if the app is integrated across LinkedIn’s portfolio of solutions, including its standalone Sales Navigator app. “This could be a really powerful thing when you tie it to Navigator or when you tie it to some of their HR solutions.”

According to Cupman, Elevate will more likely complement the traditional B-to-B marketing strategies, and it will be particularly valuable to B-to-B marketers because of the analytics it promises. “B-to-B marketers are hungry for any intelligence that can tell them how well their marketing is working, and they don’t get that when they’re placing ads in a trade magazine or when they send a team of sales people and marketers to a booth at a trade show,” Cupman says.

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