LinkedIn’s CMO on being a marketing boss with ‘PR DNA’

LinkedIn’s chief marketer had 20 years of corporate communications experience before taking over as CMO and says content marketing and social media is blurring the line between the two.

Shannon Stubo

“I didn’t really want to do it at first as I wasn’t sure I was going to be good at it,” says LinkedIn’s Shannon Stubo, reflecting on her promotion to chief marketing officer from a corporate comms role two years ago.

But the chief marketer now acknowledges that what makes someone a good leader is the ability to see something in someone in their team that they may not always see in themselves, and says she was “talked into” the role by the CEO.

As the worlds of marketing and PR converge Stubo believes companies are increasingly looking for CMOs with “PR DNA”.

“Ten years ago it was, ‘I’m in PR I pitch [to] reporters’ and ‘I’m in advertising, I spend money with agencies to buy ads’ – that was it,” she says. “Now with content marketing and social, the comms people are doing marketing campaigns and the marketers are doing PR.”

“It’s all converging and that’s why our CEO asked me to do the job. A lot of other companies are going down the same route.”

Starting out as corporate communications manager at Yahoo in 1998, Stubo crossed over to eBay in 2001 and took on a number of senior roles including vice president of corporate communications. After joining online restaurant reservation service OpenTable in 2008 as senior director of corporate communications, Stubo was appointed vice president of corporate communications at LinkedIn in 2010.

The communications person is now becoming the CMO.

Shannon Stubo, LinkedIn

In April 2015, she took on the twin responsibility for marketing and PR in her new role as CMO and senior vice president of corporate communications.

“I had a lot to learn when I first took over the job. I knew hardly anything about things like demand generation or product marketing,” Stubo recalls. “But, a big piece of it came down to the fact I know how to be a leader and how to ask questions so I figured out how to do these things, and of course I hired really good people.”

She now manages a team of 440 people and combines her corporate role with mentoring startups and young marketers, offering the perspective of a female executive in the tech sector.

READ MORE: GE’s CMO on redefining B2B marketing at the ‘pretty damn cool’ brand

“For a long time it didn’t dawn on me that I was a female executive, I was just an executive. But as the world changed and it became such a [big] topic I’ve really gotten on board with the fact that I am, and I should be, a role model for female executives. It’s really important,” she explains.

Stubo mentors a variety of startups from financial comparison site NerdWallet to social dining app Eat With, sharing advice on how to overcome problems and frame their thinking inspired by her experience at companies like eBay, Yahoo and LinkedIn.

Working with entrepreneurs also helps Stubo channel their “scrappy” attitude and willingness to defy the odds and apply it to her day job as a chief marketer.

“I think, ‘Oh my god, we have 440 people surely we should be able to get this done [when] this company has one marketer’. There are lots of ways to do this and it doesn’t have to be over processed,” she explains. “I like to work with the startups because then I don’t lose that scrappiness.”

Changing perceptions

From a brand perspective Stubo’s main objective for 2017 is to clearly define LinkedIn’s identity as a business that stands for opportunity inside the “Microsoft machine”, following the software giant’s $26bn (£20.8bn) acquisition in December 2016.

LinkedIn will remain an independent entity, with the closest comparison being the way Instagram operates within Facebook, according to Stubo.

“Because the LinkedIn brand is so strong the plan is to leave our brand the same and learn from their brand. I feel like there is nothing but synergy that will come from partnering with them, especially on the product side. But the rest of the stuff is intended to stay independent and that was agreed at the beginning of the acquisition,” says Stubo.

“I think it’s more important than ever that we’re really clear what the LinkedIn brand stands for because we are part of this large organisation now.”

The aim is to position LinkedIn as an innovative brand, which Stubo accepts has not always been the perception of the business. “When I joined the company seven years ago a tonne of people where like, ‘why would you go work at LinkedIn. It’s just a Rolodex, right?’. But over time the site has really changed and you’ve now got this very active feed and content platform.”

In a world of hate speech, ad fraud and fake news, Stubo wants advertisers to think of the site as a safe place for professionals to connect and share content. The fact users have to post content under their own name means they are less likely to want to tarnish their professional brand by publishing offensive comments, which she argues is the reason it runs into less trouble than sites like Facebook.

READ MORE:The fake news effect: What does it mean for advertisers?

Stubo recalls the way the LinkedIn community reacted to comments in the build up to 2016’s US presidential election. “During the US election when anyone would write anything about politics a lot of people would jump on them and say, ‘this is LinkedIn, this isn’t a place for politics’, even if it was business related in some way,” she says. “Those conversations don’t tend to go on for very long without somebody saying it doesn’t work.”

Linked In
The new look LinkedIn profile page has been designed to be more intuitive and user friendly.

Publishing power

As a content platform LinkedIn is benefitting from the continued rise of content marketing. Stubo believes the site has managed to differentiate itself from social media rivals as a place to share long-form content and professional thought leadership.

In the three years since LinkedIn opened up as a publishing platform, 11 million posts have been published by three million members. Depending on the topic, content that sparks real interest can generate anything from 20,000 to 200,000 likes.

Brands are also getting in on the act. In a bid to drive a deeper connection with B2B prospects and strengthen brand awareness, Chinese tech brand Lenovo worked with LinkedIn to roll out geo-targeted content hubs in 13 European markets during 2015. Sponsored content was then used to boost the reach of organic posts, 70% of which exceeded industry benchmarks for click-through and engagement rates.

The social platform also works with 500 high profile influencers, including Richard Branson and the CEO of Dell, Michael Dell, who share stories about their experience and expertise. The site has been trying to make these 500 as diverse as possible and expand outside the tech community.

READ MORE: Finding the best measure of success for content marketing

To fully exploit the potential of LinkedIn as a content platform, Stubo admits the site needs to focus more on in-product marketing, moving away from tutorials and billboard ads in favour of in-product pop-ups.

“A product like Facebook is a lot easier to use and you don’t need a lot of in-product marketing because you basically just put up a picture of yourself and the whole world starts to come together,” she says.

“The thing that’s different for us is that we’re asking a lot of people to create a LinkedIn profile. They want to make sure they have a professional picture and they represent their work well. So it’s a different value proposition and the more we can do in-product to make people feel confident when they’re filling out their profile, the better.”

Getting this right is a way for the brand to present itself as a safe space for B2B marketers to operate in, as well as a relevant content platform that stands apart from the rest of social media.

“If you want to see what your friend ate for breakfast you’re going to Instagram or Facebook, you’re not going to LinkedIn. But I think there is fatigue around your friend’s breakfast,” Stubo warns.

“Our position is that we offer you intelligence that actually makes you better at your job. We want our brand to stand for opportunity and there’s a lot of work that we need to do to make sure people understand all the things they can take advantage of. We want more people to think about us first.”