LinkedIn Conversation Ads in the Wild

Your incomplete—but still pretty amazing—guide to getting started

Introduction

Would you believe it if we told you we generated over $1.3M in revenue and another $5.3M in late-stage pipeline for Metadata over the last year—all from a single tactic?

It’s true, and the tactic was LinkedIn Conversation Ads.

The real kicker is we only spent $275K to make it happen (not a bad return on ad spend, #amiright?).

This guide is designed to offer you the best tips and tricks we’ve discovered along the way to get your own Conversation Ads running and generating demand for your business.

Skeptical? Don’t just take our word for it—we also pulled together some customers (and a customer-turned-Metadata employee) that use Conversation Ads to share their experience and lessons learned.

Keep on scrolling to for all the deets on:

  • What exactly are LinkedIn Conversation Ads?
  • Strategies for using them well—from targeting through sending and optimizing
  • Three real conversation ad plays and their results

What are LinkedIn Conversation Ads?

Remember those choose your own adventure books from when you were a kid? Or maybe you’ve seen the equivalent interactive TV shows on Netflix (check out Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch episode if you haven’t yet). These stories adapt based on the viewer’s choices.

Conversation Ads are like a choose your own adventure chat right within your LinkedIn messaging inbox.

No, we’re not talking about those sponsored InMail messages you get from a recruiter or salesperson.

With Conversation Ads, you can build a conversational flow with your own messages and specific response options for your recipient (these options are presented as call-to-action buttons). Your next messages are triggered based on the recipient’s responses. These ads allow you to carry on a fairly complex branched conversation that:

  • Is personalized to the recipient
  • Helps you qualify each person you’re speaking with
  • Drives the valuable ones to action (e.g. demo request, content download, webinar registration…)

And it’s all done at scale.

How Do I Use Conversation Ads?

You’re intrigued, right? Then let’s dive into the details of good strategy and execution. These are our best tips and tricks from 18+ months of trying and tweaking our own Conversation Ads. Steal liberally.
Targeting
Very first message
How to set budgets
Additional info and qualification
Who the message comes from
Testing and optimizing

1. Define the right target audience

Choosing the right target audience is the most powerful lever for most marketing efforts—and Conversation Ads are no exception. A mediocre ad targeted to the right audience will typically outperform a stellar ad targeted to the wrong audience.
With Conversation Ads, you can target natively using all the standard segments (industry, company size, job title, years of experience, yadda yadda). You can also upload company lists or contact lists from outside of LinkedIn.
But your Conversation Ads will perform best with further honing.
Talk to the right people:
  • Target by membership in a relevant LinkedIn group. We tried it with huge success. Just make sure to layer this variable over the other characteristics of your ideal customer.
  • Get good at exclusion lists. If your goal is lead gen, exclude your existing customers. If you’re targeting a group, exclude the students and researchers lurking in the group (there’s no sense in wasting spend on students that want your DoorDash gift card).

Trouble getting your title exclusions right? Tell your sales team you want to know if they end up with a crappy lead—and check out the CRM record. This will help you suss out titles that you might want to exclude.

  • Be ultra-specific with job titles—and title exclusions. LinkedIn used to let you target by title, then exclude by function (for example, if you target marketing titles, you might want to exclude sales and business development functions). Now, when you use titles in the inclusion, you can’t use functions in the exclusion. Instead, you need to understand what specific titles under those functions to exclude.
  • Build an audience of at least 50,000. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but the ad inventory is limited and highly competitive. You need to start big to end up with a reasonably-sized audience. This means you may have to loosen up your targeting a bit at the top. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure to include good qualifying questions to weed people out before they get through to a demo.

2. Set your campaign budgets

Budgeting for Conversation Ads is a little different than your other ad channels because delivery is different. Unlike an ad impression that’s counted as soon as the viewer scrolls by, the conversation ad sits in the recipient’s inbox until they see it (or it gets eternally buried). You might get a response a month or two later when a recipient finally gets around to checking their LinkedIn inbox.
Each individual person is capped at one conversation ad delivered to their inbox from an advertiser in a 30-day period. This limits the inventory and means that you need to bid high to win it. You’ll need to choose bid amounts and daily budgets that get you into the LinkedIn inbox quickly without risking the possibility of overspending.
Go big with your budget:
  • Set high daily budgets and bids for fastest results. To get your messages out (and read) as quickly as possible, consider a daily budget and bid amount well above what LinkedIn suggests as the maximum. This will allow you to win all or most of the bids in a short period of time—and it’s highly unlikely it will actually cost you as much as you’re bidding. LinkedIn will only bid as much as it takes to beat the next highest bidder.
  • Compromise with a high daily budget. If you’re dealing with a smaller budget and/or the first approach makes you uncomfortable, start with a more modest approach to bid per send (but keep your daily budget high). Then as you see results, increase your bid over time to more consistently beat out the competition.

Chris Ebhogiaye

Labelbox

“As we've increased bids, we haven't necessarily seen increases in our cost per send or cost per delivers. The real difference that we have seen is just overall delivery. We're just winning more auctions.”

3. Choose your sender

Typically, you don’t have much choice in who your ad comes from. With Conversation Ads, you can literally send from anyone with a LinkedIn account (with their permission via the platform, of course).
The sender doesn’t even have to be from your company. This opens the door to a lot of fun possibilities outside of the typical salesperson (although Maurice at LaunchDarkly says that can still work, too).
Get creative. Who’d have thought Bob Saget could be used in B2B marketing?
Choose the best sender:
  • Choose someone with a title relevant to your audience. The C-level isn’t always the most credible sender. Someone with the same job often has the same challenges and can lend some unique credibility to your message and build trust with your recipients.
  • Partner with a customer. Got some raving fans? Ask if they’d be willing to send the conversation ad from their name. Just make sure to involve them in the ad creation so everyone feels good about the content.
  • Make sure your sender has a legit profile. Do you accept messages from people with no headshot? We don’t either. Your recipients can click into your sender’s profile, so make sure it’s built out professionally—picture, title, job experience, etc. You can even consider adding a banner image that supports the CTA in your message.

Run Conversation Ads

Now you can launch your Conversation Ads campaigns directly from Metadata.

4. Get your first message right

What, exactly, should you include in your first Conversation Ad message? In this case, think of it like an email. You need to get your recipient to open it, read it, and take action on it.
Nail your first message:
  • Get the offer in the preheader. You need to get your subject line right, but the preheader is also clutch. Recipients can see this copy before they open, so make it juicy. Just remember, this preheader is even shorter than your typical email preheader, so it also has to be snappy.
  • Introduce yourself and explain your relevance. Tell them who you are, why you’re contacting them (specifically), and why they should care. Including social proof can help if your recipients don’t know your sender or your brand. But you’ve got to do all this in 500 characters or less, so hire a good copywriter.
  • Offer an out. When you present the offer, make sure one of your recipient’s options gives them a way to decline. You don’t want to force them into a conversation—that wastes everyone’s time.

Sylvio Perez

Metadata

“Just like email, it’s all about your subject line. Our testing found a difference between around 50% to 77% in open rates on that first message.”

5. Qualify your contacts

You probably have a an ideal customer profile you’re going after, but some features of that ICP aren’t easy to target with traditional searches and filters. At Metadata, for example, the customers that get the most benefit from our offering spend at least $10K a month in paid social advertising. The problem is there aren’t any data sources that can tell us how much somebody spends in paid social.

But we can find out through Conversation Ads.
Once you get your recipient into what you’re offering, you can take them through a variety of subsequent messages to further qualify them. When a customer is interested in our Conversation Ad offer, one of our next messages asks if they spend at least $10K per month on paid social.
BOOM—we’ve just found some of our best prospects.
Find your own best prospects:
  • Ask customers if they’re actually interested. Don’t be afraid to be straight with people, especially when you’re offering something of monetary value. If you’re giving away $100 for a demo, you want to make sure the person is worth your $100—and your sales associate’s time.
  • Consider progressive offers to gauge interest. If your recipient indicated interest by downloading your content offer, your next step may be to offer a demo.
  • Dial back the offer. Conversely, some people might be hesitant to book a demo right up front. When you find these folks, you try offering them a smaller step, such as downloading a piece of content.

Jason Widup

Metadata

“If you offer a hundred dollars in exchange for anything, you're going to get some tire kickers in the door just trying to get your hundred dollars. We add a sentence asking about real interest—and it has actually reduced these tire kickers.”

6. Test and optimize

Let’s take a page from Nike’s book here. When it comes to testing and optimizing, just do it. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table. This is true for most marketing, but it’s especially true for Conversation Ads because there are so many different levers you can pull.
Test and optimize everything:
  • Sender. CEO vs. others on the leadership team. Leadership team vs. mid-level team members. Same function as recipient (e.g. marketer to marketer) vs. different functions (sales to marketing). Test out a variety of people to see which senders resonate best. Then test their profile pics, too.
  • Subject line. Have you tried putting the offer in the subject line? Test that out versus just trying to pique general interest. Try out a question against a statement. Sentence case? Title case? Lower case? Test each to find out what gets more opens.
  • Banner images. Should you include creative? Test it against no creative. Maybe you also want to test out including social proof in the form of logos versus only copy.
  • Body copy. So. many. options. Test talking about them versus talking about you. Try formal vs. informal. Lead with the offer—or try burying it.
  • Offer/CTA. Will a top/mid funnel offer like a content download work best? Or something lower in the funnel like a demo? Should it be paid or non paid? If paid, test out premium ($) versus cheaper paid offers ($).

Maurice Maxwell

LaunchDarkly

“Make sure to test your copy. We ran with three variations and tested each one. If we had just gone with one, we would've sucked.”

LinkedIn Conversation Ad Campaigns

Enough with the best practices. It’s time to check out some real, live LinkedIn Conversation Ad plays—the good, the bad, and the (not so) ugly.

LaunchDarkly drives product demos—and a 1500% return

When the LaunchDarkly team set out to test some Conversation Ads, their goal was to move key decision makers by offering an incentive to book and attend a demo. These people had engaged with the brand before—but hadn’t progressed through the funnel.
  • Goal: Drive more demo requests
  • Audience: Senior-level and higher engineering executives in growth companies
  • Offer: $50 DoorDash gift card
Notice how LaunchDarkly used social proof and offered an out in that first message. They also made great use of a qualification question in the second message by asking if the recipient manages DevOps or engineering teams.
How’d the campaign work out? Pretty, pretty, pretty good (any Larry David fans in the house?).

What they accomplished:

accomplition

What they learned:

  • Dial in your sweet spot. Make sure you have a laser-focused ICP, and exclude functions and/or titles that don’t fit. It was particularly helpful for the LaunchDarkly team to use LinkedIn’s targeting to find contacts at growth companies. They also relied heavily on exclusions to remove student titles that were close to their target engineering titles.
  • Use images. It’s optional, but you’ll want to include images in your Conversation Ads—or LinkedIn may fill the real estate with your competitor’s offer.
  • The generic pitch can work. You just need to execute it well. There’s nothing particularly jaw dropping about LaunchDarkly’s ad, but they connected with the right people, the content was relevant, and the offer resonated with their audience.
 
 

Maurice Maxwell

LaunchDarkly

“Surprisingly, these people moved really quickly through the funnel. We actually started getting pipeline really fast. Spending $4K and getting $60K in pipeline…I'll do that all day.”

Labelbox primes prospects with content—and cuts CPL by 44%

The Labelbox team is marketing a highly technical offering, so they like to prime prospects with content before they launch into more in-depth conversations or offers. Labelbox hypothesized that the technology leaders they were targeting with this content would be more willing to engage with ads coming from their Head of Technology (compared to ads from the company’s LinkedIn page).
  • Goal: Generate content downloads
  • Audience: ML/AI engineers and data scientists at midsize to enterprise companies
  • Offer: Training Data Platforms 101 (a downloadable guide)
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Notice how Labelbox dove headfirst into the value their solution offers to the recipient. Then, in the follow-up message, they offered the recipient a second opportunity to engage further with the brand through a demo.

What they accomplished:

acc-2

What they learned:

  • Optimize messaging for lower funnel activity. Labelbox found that people who downloaded the content from their initial Conversation Ads were less likely to engage with other content on their website and to become an opportunity. This learning led them to tweak their messaging and add the demo offer to ensure high-quality leads and continued engagement.
  • Increase audience size for lower costs. Once you nail your ICP, increase your audience size to drive lower cost per delivery. In Labelbox’s experience, cost went down while engagement stayed flat.
  • Brevity leads to higher engagement. Get to the point quickly in each message, and don’t send too many messages. Keep the conversion funnel short for higher engagement and lower CPLs.

Chris Ebhogiaye

Labelbox

“We wanted to make sure that it was very easy for our potential customers to understand what we were selling and that they were able to download that content in a snap.”

Metadata shares personality—and generates significant awareness

We were looking to generate some buzz, help unengaged prospects get to know Metadata—and have some fun. Our conversation ad took recipients through specific details of our products’ features and benefits, then presented them with a quiz at the end. 

Recipients that answered all of the questions correctly got to pick their own $20 gift card from Sendoso.

  • Goal: Generate deep awareness
  • Audience: B2B demand marketers at small to midsize businesses
  • Offer: $20 gift card
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Check out how we immediately started collecting some prospect information by asking them about their primary pain point—which resulted in a great click-to-open rate. Then we personalized the next message with information about their specific pain point. We also used the image real estate for a meme rather than a promotion because, well, memes are fun (doesn’t Buddy brighten your day?).
Our messages introduced really specific details about our product for recipients to digest—such as the number of contacts we have in our proprietary B2B identity graph. We weren’t giving that $20 away for nothing!

What we accomplished:

acc4

What we learned:

  • Have fun, but make sure you optimize. We were running this ad at the same time as a more traditional demo request Conversation Ad. Thanks to a bit of squirrel syndrome, we didn’t give this ad the focus it deserved and moved on too soon. We could have improved results by tightening up the audience, for example.
  • Follow up (just not with an automated, annoying nurture asking for 15 minutes). After the winners received their gift card, we ghosted them. This was intentional—we told them we weren’t trying to sell them. But we probably could have converted a few more opportunities if we had checked in to see how they were doing or if they had any questions.
  • Different is good. Jason received a lot of personal outreach about the creativity of this campaign, and that sort of impression has lasting brand value.

Jason Widup

Metadata

“There are lots of variables you can personalize—like first name, company, industry, etc. But be careful with the amount of those variables that you use. A lot of people sound like robots when they use them. When you say, ‘Hey, if you're a blahbity blah from blobbity blah industry,’ they just kinda know.”

Get Started Using LinkedIn Conversation Ads with Metadata

If you’re not interested in Conversation Ads at this point, then we’ve totally failed here. So, let’s assume you are.

We’ve created some pre-vetted flows and offers in the Metadata platform to get you started. 

They include many of these tips and tricks we introduced in this guide—all you have to do is customize them for your brand and audience.

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Run Conversation Ads

Now you can launch your Conversation Ads campaigns directly from Metadata.

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