Have you checked your InMail lately?
Yes, it’s probably filled with Connection requests and ‘quick questions’ from professionals already in your network. But there’s something else: a sprinkling of sponsored messages, designed as organic messages.
Every LinkedIn user can use InMail to message their existing network. But you can only reach prospects outside of your network using one of three options:
- InMail Credits: With LinkedIn memberships (including Premium and Sales Navigator), you get 10-30 InMail credits every month.
- Sponsored InMail: Use Message Ads to advertise to your target audience directly in their InMail inbox.
- Exported Emails: Scale your outreach efforts by exporting lead emails from LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
As of a couple years ago, Sponsored InMail messages were around $0.80 per send (this translates into over $5 per click). It’s much more affordable than $10 per InMail message — but much more expensive than cold email or typical CPC strategies.
What else do you need to know about Sponsored InMail?
Sponsored InMail is Now ‘Message Ads’
This year, LinkedIn has rebranded sponsored InMail to ‘Message Ads’. This is seemingly to incorporate the offering into the rest of its advertising.
But let’s be real: everyone is still searching for Sponsored InMail.
You did, didn’t you?
Here’s how LinkedIn describes Message Ads:
“Send direct messages to your prospects to spark immediate action. Deliver a targeted message with a single CTA. Communicate to your prospects without having to worry about character limits.”
Sounds a lot like sponsored InMail, eh?
Branding aside, much has remained the same. Moving on.
What is Sponsored InMail?
Sponsored Inmail messages – or Message Ads — are an advertising format unique to LinkedIn.
“Send direct messages to your prospects to spark immediate action.”
Like other LinkedIn advertising format, Message Ads are almost purely for a B2B audience. If you have a specific target audience, Message Ads are a good channel to explore. But, like other LinkedIn advertising, the costs can add up.
Here are a few ways sponsored InMail is different than normal InMail messages:
- Leads can’t respond to a Sponsored InMail message. You can include a CTA — as a link to a form or optimized landing page — but the people you send a Message Ad won’t be able to respond directly. Since these are meant to be sent at scale, this automates much of the follow up work.
- Sponsored InMail is only delivered when people are active. This effective (sneaky?) tactic from LinkedIn boosts open rate of Message Ads, supposedly.
- Sponsored InMail is less expensive than organic InMail. Since buying additional InMail credits runs $10 per message, sponsored InMail messages have a much lower cost at scale. In general, brands will spend less than a dollar per sponsored InMail message sent.
- Message Ads are marked as ‘sponsored’. While you can send completely organic InMail messages (or email) with a premium LinkedIn, Sponsored InMail messages are delivered with a ‘Sponsored’ tag before the subject line.
Sponsored InMail Pricing
There’s no way around it: Sponsored InMail is one of the most expensive forms of advertising on LinkedIn. And LinkedIn already has one of the highest CPC rates of any digital platform.
That’s because Message Ads are priced by the number of messages sent, not the number of clicks.
These are rough estimates, based on lower end of bidding and an estimated CTR:
- Cost per send: this depends on your audience and targeting, but messages can cost around $0.20 per send.
- Spend: You must spend a minimum of $25 per campaign.
- CPC: With an open rate below 50% and an optimistic CTR of 4%, you can expect at least $5 per click.
Why Use Sponsored InMail? Pros & Cons
Sales leaders use Message Ads for a host of reasons, from lead generation to account-based sales.
Here are a handful of the pros and cons of using Sponsored InMail.
Pros of Using Sponsored InMail
- Specific targeting: You can home in on high value leads, using InMail messages as one touchpoint in a multi touch campaign.
- High visibility: Get delivered to your prospects’ LinkedIn inbox without risking the spam folder.
- Bulk messages: Instead of manually sending InMail messages (and spending a fortune to do so), you can scale your Message Ads easily (but be wary of the cost that can add up).
- Ease of use: Many users report that Message Ad campaigns are easy to set up — though you may end up spending more time on landing pages and fitting the campaign into your funnel.
- High open rates. LinkedIn claims an open rate close to 70%, while some users report their open rates to be closer to 50%. Either number is higher than the average cold email open rate (though there are plenty of ways to boost your cold email campaigns).
Cons of Using Sponsored InMail
- Cost. Message Ads can add up quickly if you’re sending thousands of sponsored InMail messages every month. It’s definitely a better option for highly targeted campaigns.
- Sponsored tag. Remember that your leads will know it’s not a truly organic message right off the bat. Message Ads have a high open rate (who wants to leave unread messages in their LinkedIn inbox?), but actual conversion is not as clear.
- More time investment. To get the most out of Message Ads, you’ll need a dedicated landing page or conversion form.
- Unclear metrics. Spend is not tied to clicks or conversions. You pay for how many messages you deliver, period. It could easily be higher cost than other forms of advertising (and definitely higher than cold email campaigns).
Alternatives to Sponsored InMail
- Cold email: Cold email sometimes gets a bad rap in terms of organic engagement. But cold email can be easier to scale, much more personalized and much cheaper than InMail messages. And you can still use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to prospect, then extract emails.
- Direct InMail messages: These can feel more authentic and they’re almost free (since you get 30 InMail messages with Sales Navigator). Save these for your high value targets, particularly in account-based campaigns.
- Other forms of LinkedIn advertising: The B2B social media platform offers a host of advertising options, from banners across the homepage to in-feed display ads. It’s worth testing out each of these options with conversions. Since you get a wider reach but can still target, the ROI may be higher. You can at least test the results before diving into Sponsored InMail ads blindly.