LinkedIn’s status as the social network most attuned to the business world gives it a unique place in business-to-business content marketing. Advertising on LinkedIn can take many forms, but one of the most effective ways may involve sending sponsored messages through the platform’s built-in communication channel, InMail.

This kind of LinkedIn marketing requires a specific strategy, as InMail isn’t exactly like email, Facebook Messenger or any other communications tool. Custom content designed to be sent through InMail messages must suit both the rules of the platform and the expectations of your audience.

Following best practices can be the difference between valuable ad campaigns and wastes of budget.

First things first: What is LinkedIn InMail?

Before delving into the best ways to use InMail, it’s worth taking a step back and figuring out what the platform is and what makes it unique. At the most basic level, InMail is LinkedIn’s direct messaging platform, with functionality very much like you’ll find on social networks ranging from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram.

Due to LinkedIn’s frequent usage in job searches, the most basic ways to use InMail often involve sending recruiting messages to prospects. While standard account holders can only reach out to people they’re mutually connected with on LinkedIn, premium users can reach out beyond their present networks, to a maximum of 90 people per month.

If your company depends on attracting highly targeted leads, creating tailored InMail messages is one way to feed new people into your funnel. Marketing expert Neil Patel acknowledges that funneling sales leads through a leading executive, subject matter expert or entrepreneur’s LinkedIn page isn’t a particularly common form of outreach, but adds that it has value due to factors such as the highly business- and networking-focused nature of the site.

Sponsored InMail: A promising B2B marketing tool

Using InMail for LinkedIn lead generation on a bigger scale – as more of a general B2B marketing tool – will require more messages per cycle than these plans can provide. This is where a dedicated marketing tool, LinkedIn Sponsored Mail, comes in. LinkedIn lists several advantages of running your B2B campaigns through this messaging medium instead of email, Facebook or equivalents.

First of all, your open rates may be larger when you use this platform. In addition, the social platform now offers a suite of built-in conversion tracking tools.

The LinkedIn Campaign Manager suite of paid advertising tools allows you to link website conversions to your outreach efforts. The dashboard gives you a quick and easy view of the return on investment of a given campaign, as well as granular details such as click-through rates on ads of all kinds. All sponsored content across LinkedIn ads, including but not limited to Sponsored InMail, is filtered through this set of analytics tools.

With this suite of features at your fingertips, you have the technology you need to start reaching out to prospects – but success isn’t that simple. Maximizing your brand’s reach means taking advantage of InMail’s unique spot in the social media ecosystem and focusing on promising lead generation tactics.

5 LinkedIn InMail best practices for marketers

Making a good first impression is essential when bringing InMail into your overall marketing strategy – and that comes down to following a few best practices.

1. Select the right sender for each message

Since LinkedIn is heavily based around personal connections between businesspeople, the sender of your InMail messages should be one of your leading executives or subject matter experts. If recipients follow links back to this person’s profile, they should be impressed by his or her depth of knowledge and engagement in the industry.

LinkedIn’s own advice on creating ad campaigns focuses on the sender’s authority being a major selling point. Rather than having Sponsored InMail content come from an intern or a mid-level marketing employee, the messages should originate directly from someone in the C-suite, or who has a background that relates directly to what you’re selling.

Since LinkedIn ad campaigns are rarer than email blasts, even sponsored messages carry the weight of a person-to-person conversation. The person on your company’s end of the conversation should be someone recipients will be eager to learn from.

2. Include a banner ad

Some of the features of InMail are optional but worth using. Social Media Today suggests that the ability to add a 300×250 banner to your InMail deliveries is one such important priority. This ad will serve a few distinct purposes. For example, if your marketing team has created a banner that perfectly matches the current lead generation campaign, the ad will reinforce the call to action of the InMail message.

In addition to the simple value of having another space to display branded messages, including a banner ad ensures that no other company’s content shows up in that particular spot on the recipient’s inbox. You don’t want the message of your campaign to be diluted by having a competitor’s content appear directly next to it. This is why Social Media Today suggests you treat the ad as a mandatory addition.

3. A/B test your campaigns

While it is safe to assume your targeted recipients will be more likely to open and read InMail messages than emails, due to the simple fact that the former is less common and less likely to be part of a spam blast, it’s not wise to treat this as a fait accompli. You still need to focus on crafting content people will respond to well, to make sure your messages aren’t ignored.

Treating an InMail ad campaign like an email outreach effort – testing and measuring the content’s conversion rate and other metrics, refining messages over time and optimizing your performance – is a valuable way to keep your LinkedIn marketing from fading into the background. LinkedIn recommends updating factors such as subject lines, pictures and calls-to-action based on A/B testing. Which version of your campaign is having the greatest impact, and what can you learn from that success?

4. Keep your messages short and to the point

When designing the body copy for your InMail message, it could be tempting to lay out every single reason to try your products and services. After all, you’ve got the attention of targeted decision-makers. Shouldn’t you use every bit of that attention? The actual best approach is more subtle – and takes modern tech preferences into account. Many of your recipients will probably open these messages on smartphones, so keeping your InMail dispatches very short may be wise.

You can likely get your point across in 125 words or fewer. If you can get a message down to this length, you may greatly increase the odds that recipients read the missive in full, and therefore reach the CTA. On mobile devices, you don’t get the option of using a banner ad, which makes the written CTA even more effective than on a desktop. Listing out your most compelling product features as punchy bullet points may draw prospects to your main LinkedIn page or website where the in-depth lead nurturing can begin.

5. Go ahead and be informal

When sending messages through LinkedIn, it can be tempting to be very businesslike. After all, some of the value of the network comes from the fact that it does not have a massive presence among casual users the way Twitter and Facebook do. You are here to represent a company, so shouldn’t you be formal? According to LinkedIn’s own InMail advice, it can actually pay to go against the grain and be conversational.

Sending a sponsored message that reads too much like a formal introduction may turn recipients away without getting them to engage with the substance of the copy. Reading about the benefits of your products or services shouldn’t be a chore for your recipients. This advice combines well with the need for brevity – if you’re intentionally making your InMail messages short and easy to read, it’s likely they won’t be too formal.

LinkedIn: Part of a balanced marketing strategy

Account-based marketing efforts that incorporate many channels shouldn’t overlook LinkedIn and its messaging solutions. A LinkedIn campaign can either complement more general outreach through email and other social networks, or it can be the primary method of contact, especially if your company is trying to make direct connections between your subject matter experts and the decision-makers at potential client companies.

Your success or failure with InMail messages may come down to how much you focus on the content of each individual campaign. Contacting people through LinkedIn instead of email or a less business-centric social platform can give you a direct line to display the value of your company. Forging such a connection is an opportunity to achieve a return on investment, as new contacts rely on your brand’s expertise.

LinkedIn is a versatile network. Blogging, multimedia-enhanced paid campaigns and other advertising options can accompany your InMail efforts to create a balanced picture of your brand identity. Platform-specific best practices can bring a strategy together and turn this buttoned-down network into an exciting marketing tool.

Anthony Basile has been part of Brafton since 2012, having written and edited every form of content that Google's algorithm has favored (there have been a few). When off the clock, he sings and plays guitar at the pubs and clubs of Boston.