For millions of business professionals LinkedIn is the platform which hosts their network and helps them to find, connect and engage with new contacts. New data laws are about to make LinkedIn an even more critical tool for business to business communications.
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and its sister regulation ePR (ePrivacy Regulation) are an attempt to update the ageing 1998 data protection laws to cope with the changing data landscape. Remember 1998? Ford announced its latest model, the Focus, the DVD format was launched, and email marketing was in its infancy. An update is long overdue.
How will the new laws impact marketing activity?
The two regulations operate in tandem but have slightly different emphasises. As Kim Bradford, E-GDPR specialist, explains, “GDPR is primarily about personal data and protection, whereas ePR is directly about marketing activity in alignment with the principles of GDPR.”
For practical purposes, however, it’s probably less confusing for businesses to think of them as a single combined set of regulations – let’s call it E-GDPR.
In the new rules the default position will be that all marketing to individuals by phone, text or email must be opt-in. In addition, businesses will need to obtain specific consent for each separate marketing channel, and to be able to demonstrate that consent.
Let’s talk mailing lists. If you have operated a double opt-in mailing system i.e. each person has to separately verify their consent by email before being added to a mailing list, you will have proof of consent and do not need to seek permission all over again, unless you plan to use a different marketing channel e.g. phone or text.
However, if you have been using a single opt-in system, as most businesses do, and you cannot provide proof of consent then you will need to ask afresh for permission to send them marketing communications, and specify what type.
I don’t have to tell you that in the process, there will be some attrition. It could be 20%, but more likely 40, 50 or even 60%. In other words, your mailing list is going to shrink. The good news is that those people who choose to remain on your list are likely, at least in theory, to be more responsive.
A dramatically shrunken mailing list will be one of the most immediate and visible impacts for most businesses of the new regulations.
How will GDPR affect LinkedIn?
As a LinkedIn specialist, I am especially interested in how GDPR might affect the way we use LinkedIn since it is for most of us a business-critical communication tool.
E-GDPR applies to any business that has customers in the EU including the UK. LinkedIn is responsible for making sure that its platform and its own marketing activity is compliant with the law. On the website LinkedIn is the data controller not the members. So, if you are using LinkedIn within the user agreement there is no issue for you with E-GDPR. In other words, you can communicate with other members freely within the rules that LinkedIn sets.
That’s the first point.
Over the last few weeks I have had a number of conversations with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) about how LinkedIn is regarded in the context of E-GDPR. Essentially what I have been told is that as a networking platform, members will reasonably expect to receive communications from other members. So, member to member communications within LinkedIn should continue to be straightforward.
If, however you step outside the LinkedIn environment e.g. exporting your connections or by copying data from the screen to your CRM and then you or your business becomes the data controller and is responsible for compliance with E-GDPR.
Will LinkedIn make changes?
LinkedIn already has a multi-layered approach to permissions in settings. For example, members can choose what information to display on their public profiles, or what type of messages they are willing to receive. Kim Bradford (E-GDPR specialist) believes that LinkedIn will probably need to add additional layers to satisfy the new laws, but I do not believe this will impact the majority of member communications.
Reaching beyond the LinkedIn network
As email marketing becomes more restricted, I predict that many businesses will take another look at B2B advertising. With its huge database of business professionals LinkedIn offers some very powerful targeted advertising opportunities. Currently there are three basic options: text ads which appear on the right-hand side of the members’ screen and sponsored content i.e. a company page post which is converted into an ad and inserted in the homepage of your target audience. Both options are available as pay per click or pay per impression (the number of times the ad is displayed).
A third option is sponsored InMail where the advertiser can send a promoted InMail directly to the inbox of their target audience. I am confident that the first two options would create no difficulty in relation to E-GDPR, if it did Facebook and Google would be out of business overnight! Sponsored InMail however could be trickier.
Another interpretation of GDPR is Growing Deeper Personal Relationships or Great Data and More Personal Relationships. The regulations basically aim to enshrine good practice, which is a good thing. There is no doubt however that businesses will be involved in extra work to become and remain compliant. The earlier this work begins the better. The ICO has many useful resources on its website and there is a growing number of GDPR experts (I don’t include myself) who can offer detailed technical advice.
What is clear however is that promoting your business is about to get a little harder which makes it even more important to invest the time in building a broad and relevant communication network on LinkedIn.
Finally, the regulations are still evolving. Although the broad principles are established, details will change. Keep reading those email updates on GDPR!
About the Author
Greg Cooper is a Fellow of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing and an internationally recognised LinkedIn Coach and Trainer. He coaches SMEs mainly in the South West of England and Wales to use LinkedIn to find, win and keep customers.
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