How To Identify Authentic Advice from Sponsored Ads
How to tell real job-seeking advice from paid ads on LinkedIn? Learn key differences and spot genuine tips among online promotions.
LinkedIn is an essential platform for professionals across all industries to connect, network, and share knowledge. However, like any other social media platform, promotional content is an inevitable presence. I'm referring to sneaky hidden ads disguised as genuine tips, instead of professional advertisements.
Recently, I have observed an uptick in LinkedIn influencers offering seemingly authentic advice about job hunting, and career growth and sharing their tips on applications they just find out.
But are these tips as genuine as they appear?
In this newsletter issue, we will explore how to identify promotional content on LinkedIn and how to navigate these posts to find truly valuable advice.
The Rise of Sponsored Content
It's not unusual to stumble upon LinkedIn influencers sharing tips like, "This salary tool is the best I’ve found to land a 6-figure job" or "Get a job tracker (X is my favorite!)".
While these posts may initially seem helpful, it's crucial to recognize that many influencers are paid by companies to promote their products or services.
Therefore, the tools they're recommending might not necessarily be the best or their personal favorites! Instead, they are a form of advertisement intended to generate revenue for both the influencer and the company they're promoting.
Understanding FTC Guidelines
According to the FTC guidelines, influencers should transparently disclose their relationships with brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media. The "#ad" and "#sponsored" hashtags are a result of these regulations, designed to increase transparency in digital advertising. When an influencer uses such hashtags, it indicates that they're being compensated in some way by the brand mentioned in their post.
However, not all influencers adhere to these guidelines. Some may neglect to include these hashtags or bury them amidst a sea of other tags, making it challenging for consumers to identify the promotional nature of the content.
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Spotting the Ads
So how can you discern if a post is genuinely helpful or merely an ad in disguise?
One way is to look for hashtags indicating sponsored content, such as "#ad" or "#acmepartner", where ACME would be replaced by the company name.
Companies often use link shorteners like bit.ly or LinkedIn's own to conceal tracking URLs. Sometimes, they even create custom shorteners using a person's name (e.g., example.com/johndoe).
However, you can uncover the hidden tracking information by clicking on the shortened URL, revealing the full link containing UTM codes.
When you click on the shortened URL, the full link containing UTM codes will be revealed.
For instance, in this link: example.com/apply?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=paidsocialcampaign&utm_campaign=linkedin_john_apply&utm_id=linkedinmay&utm_content=started.
The source is LinkedIn, and it's a paid campaign originating from John (name changed for privacy). Companies have used UTM codes for tracking for years. However, when you see a "genuine" recommendation from an influencer, you should expect a simple link, not a "paidsocialcampaign" UTM code.
An apparent sign of promotional content is if the influencer seems to be pushing a specific product or service without offering any substantial insights or value to their followers.
If a post focuses more on promoting a tool rather than providing practical advice or sharing personal experiences, it's likely that the content is sponsored.
The growing presence of promotional posts is concerning, particularly when combined with the scams that some LinkedIn users carry out. A typical scam involves receiving a request to help someone by liking, commenting on, or even resharing their post.
Here's one of many examples I received via email and LinkedIn.
However, they won't disclose that they will earn money from it, for example, $100, if someone applies via their affiliate link. The "/ref/" in the URL stands for "referral." The following code is unique to them so the link act as a shorter version of the longer one (with UTM code) I shared.
While there's nothing wrong with asking someone for help, the lack of transparency is quite surprising.
Finding Genuine Tips
Now that you know how to spot promotional content, how can you find genuine tips and advice on LinkedIn?
First, always check for disclosure hashtags like "#ad" or "#brandpartner" in posts.
Secondly, maintain a healthy skepticism towards endorsements from influencers, even those you trust. Always cross-verify the information from multiple sources before making decisions based on their advice.
Understanding Influencer Marketing Tactics
Having a basic understanding of influencer marketing tactics is beneficial. Recognize that influencers often have a vested interest in promoting certain products or services. Being aware of this can help you better evaluate the content they share.
For example, overly enthusiastic posts about a particular tool, product, or service, frequent mentions of the same brand, or posts that sound too scripted could all be signs of paid promotion.
Don't hesitate to engage with the post by asking questions in the comments. If something seems unclear or suspicious about a product or service being promoted, ask for more details.
Navigating the World of LinkedIn Promotion
While navigating the world of LinkedIn promotion can be challenging, learning to recognize sponsored content and seeking out genuine advice from industry experts can help you make the most of this professional networking platform.
Always approach the content you consume critically, and don't hesitate to conduct your own research before investing in any tools or services promoted by influencers.
Armed with these strategies, you can better navigate LinkedIn's promotional landscape and make informed decisions that will truly benefit you and not LinkedIn influencers.
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