LinkedIn, the powerhouse of professional networking, is set to undergo a transformation in its suite of audience expansion tools by deprecating the widely used Lookalike audience functionality starting on Feb. 29, 2024. This change is part of an evolution toward more robust and privacy-resilient targeting options.

LinkedIn originally introduced Lookalike targeting in 2019, aiming to extend the reach of first-party audiences by connecting with users who shared similar characteristics. Since then, LinkedIn has refined its targeting offerings, giving way to Predictive Audiences, which combines intent signals with machine learning and predictive AI modeling.

LinkedIn asserts that this move will empower marketers to choose the best-in-breed tools for reaching their target audience with unparalleled performance. Instead of Lookalike models, LinkedIn suggests diving into the world of Predictive Audiences or embracing the versatile Audience Expansion. Let's explore these alternatives and understand their unique capabilities.

Audience Expansion–Unleashing the Power of Similarity

Audience expansion is best used to address Awareness and Consideration Metrics. The technology primarily uses professional demographics, which can be combined with Matched Audience segments. AI is utilized to identify similar targeting characteristics to extend the targeting net, enabling marketers to grow their target audience by reaching similar users. Audience Expansion is automatically enabled during campaign set up and refined daily based on quality match of the original target and the Expanded Audience engagement data.

  • Audience Expansion can be easily disabled at the campaign level during campaign set up.
  • To retain relevance, utilize negative targeting to remove unwanted targeting criteria from the expansion pool.
  • Matched Audience segments include uploaded lists of companies or contacts, retargeting a user based on engagement on or off LinkedIn (site retargeting, ad engagement/viewing).
  • Expansion size can be varied based upon budget. Audience Expansion is not available for dynamic ad formats.

LinkedIn does not provide distinct data cut downs between the original seed audience and the Audience Expansion pools. Only aggregate campaign performance data is available.

Predictive Audiences–A Glimpse Into the Future of Targeting

Predictive Audiences steal the spotlight for Consideration and Conversion campaigns. Ideal for extending the reach of first-party data audiences (such as CRM lists, lead gen forms, LinkedIn Contact Lists or Conversions using Insight Tag or Conversions API), this tool employs predictive AI to find similar members more likely to convert.

  • You will only be able to select one type of data source as your seed audience (as listed above).
  • Your data source must have 300 or more members to build the predictive audience. You can select multiple sources of the same type of data source to develop your seed list.
  • A maximum of 30 Predictive Audiences can be built per account, with no sharing across ad accounts, and no Audience Expansion enabled on Predictive Audiences.
  • Audiences must be developed before the campaign starts (with up to four days for processing). Predictive Audiences can be used for inclusion or exclusion.
  • Audience scale can be customized based on geo-location, up to 10% of a given population.

Implications for Current Campaigns

With the impending deprecation of Lookalike audiences on Feb. 29, marketers need to prepare for some changes:

  • No new Lookalike audiences will be built after Feb. 29.
    • As of Feb. 29, marketers will no longer be able to create and add Lookalike audiences.
  • Existing campaigns will continue to run, but audiences will no longer dynamically build.
    • Existing Lookalike audience data will no longer refresh. This means that Lookalike audiences will become static and will show the “Building” status.
    • Active campaigns using Lookalike audiences will continue to run using the static audience.
  • Old Lookalike audiences are scheduled to archive and expire.
    • After 30 days, Lookalike audiences that are not in a draft or an active campaign will be archived.
    • If an archived Lookalike audience is added to a campaign, it will show “Building” status, and will rely upon static data.
    • Once archived Lookalike audiences expire, they will be deleted permanently.

Strategies for Brands Adapting to new Audience Expansion Tools

For brands grappling with the shift, here are some considerations and recommendations:

  • Brands without access to first-party data sets can turn to Audience Expansion for similar targeting expansion technologies.
  • Brands with robust first-party audiences can explore Predictive Audiences for a performance-oriented alternative.
  • Testing audiences of different seed sources may provide meaningful insights into audience quality.

As LinkedIn ushers in this new era of audience expansion, marketers have the opportunity to refine their strategies and embrace the evolving landscape. Whether it's the expansive reach of Audience Expansion or the predictive prowess of Predictive Audiences, LinkedIn's suite of tools promises to open new doors for marketers seeking impactful connections with their target audience.

About Jessica: Jessica oversees media strategy, planning, implementation and cross-channel measurement as Vice President of Performance at Edelman DXI.