What is a LinkedIn InMail and How to Leverage Them

What is a LinkedIn InMail and How to Leverage Them

LinkedIn is a great place for networking, whether it be for your career or for business, but what happens when you want to contact someone that you are not connected to on LinkedIn? Regular messaging is available only between people who are connected to you. Enter the LinkedIn InMail, the internal LinkedIn system for email between one user and another. These are a highly effective tool that help you get the best results, so long as you use them right. But how should we maximize their potential?

What is an InMail message on LinkedIn?

A LinkedIn InMail is a LinkedIn Premium feature which allows you to send a LinkedIn message to ANYONE on LinkedIn. Your recipient will usually be someone that you aren’t connected to, such as a business decisionmaker in B2B sales. Or, as a jobseeker, you might reach out to recruiters about your interest in certain jobs.

InMails are part of the Premium suite of products that LinkedIn provides paid members, with the number of InMails allotted per month dependent on the paid plan. This means that you should only send an InMail if the target is important to you. In other words, it’s too expensive to send a large number of InMails blindly. Worse, it’ll lead to your not having any allowance left when it matters most.

LinkedIn is generous in offering you an InMail credit if the recipient of your InMail message responds within 90 days. One reason for this is that LinkedIn prides itself in the effectiveness of LinkedIn InMails. It also means that, so long as you choose your recipients carefully, sending an InMail is relatively low risk.

Even if your recipient doesn’t answer, however, there’s a high chance that they’ll at least open it. In fact, open rates of over 85%, and clickthrough rates exceeding 5%, have been reported. From this, we can conclude that you’ll probably get a sales impression even if the interaction goes no further.

What is the difference between InMail and messages on LinkedIn?

Under normal circumstances you can’t send someone a message on LinkedIn without being connected to them or in the same LinkedIn Group. This helps protect people’s privacy, as well as limiting the presence of spam. There are exceptions where sometimes LinkedIn Premium members allow others to message them for free. People who are sales professionals might benefit from this feature, as can recruiters.

If someone decides to send an InMail, their recipient will know that immediately. LinkedIn InMail messages are clearly labeled as InMail, indicating that they are not organic messages from your connections and that someone paid for the privilege to send you a message. This arguably helps encourage people to open it, since they know it isn’t spam. On the other hand, they’ll know that the sender wants something.

How do you write a good LinkedIn InMail?

First, you should know that there are limits on the length. InMail messages can have up to 200 characters in the subject line and up to 2000 characters in the body. 2000 characters doesn’t go very far if you’re messaging a friend. But if you’re sending a business message, then this is enough. Besides which, you probably don’t want to write a long sales letter anyway. 

Formatting basics

Second, a successful InMail begins with the subject line. In this case, the subject line shouldn’t be boring. Choose something eye-catching, yet professional. Ask yourself: If you were in the recipient’s shoes, what would make you want to open the LinkedIn Inmail? Chances are that it is the impression that the InMail contains something valuable. And statistics bear this out: Up to 35% of recipients will only read it if the subject line makes a connection.

Third, be sure to demonstrate that what you have to say is important. That being said, you don’t have to use all of that text count. In general, be brief and to the point. LinkedIn says that shorter InMails perform significantly better than longer ones. Professionals are busy, so they will decide quickly if an advertised product or service is relevant to them. It has also been found that LinkedIn InMails under 100 words are 50% more likely to get a response than their larger counterparts.

Fourth, you MUST personalize the email – this is the whole point of sending a LinkedIn InMail! A personalized subject line alone will increase open rates by as much as 26%. Think about it this way: without personalization the message will seem a lot more like spam.

Not convinced? A Salesforce study found that nearly half (48%) of decision makers in B2B categories won’t respond to an InMail unless it’s personalized. Even LinkedIn admits that personalized mails do around 20% better than their mass-produced counterparts. Considering that LinkedIn refunds certain InMails that go unanswered, their estimates are likely very good.

That’s great…how do I say it?

As important as basics are, sometimes saying it the right way is difficult. My first tip is to explain clearly why you reached out to them. Do you want to tell this person about the opportunities in your company? If you’re sending that LinkedIn InMail to a job candidate, the news will likely be very welcome. The same thing goes with a consultant who’s looking for the next great client. For sales professionals, it might be a harder sell.

Another tip is to mention any common associations. In fact, mentioning a mutual connection in your subject line increases your chance of getting a response by as much as 27%.  In addition folks who share a group in common with you, for example, are 21% more likely to write back. And referencing a former employer in common increases your chances of getting an InMail response by 27%. If you don’t have common associations like this, then try and find something that you have in common otherwise.

Although most people will recognize this as a sales technique, don’t forget to explain WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Even if you aren’t trying to “sell” goods and services, you are asking the LinkedIn InMail recipient to respond positively to you. Any advantage you might realize, especially if there’s a lot of competition, is beneficial.

Finally, give them a reason to reply by asking for advice, opinions, or referrals. In this case, you aren’t necessarily going straight to the sales pitch. Instead, you’re demonstrating that your LinkedIn InMail recipient is valuable and has something to offer. In other words, they aren’t just a number or an impersonal sales target. This is very powerful and incites a response.

What is Sponsored InMail?

Not all LinkedIn InMail is connected to a premium account, and it isn’t always limited. Whereas InMails are part of premium for-fee profile enhancements, Sponsored InMails are a LinkedIn Ads product that let you utilize the LinkedIn Ads platform to target users and send them InMails at scale. In other words, these are the bulk email of LinkedIn, as opposed to the handcrafted prospecting emails.

Because Sponsored InMails are based on advertising, you cannot choose who exactly receives your InMail, only the targeting options to send to a blanket number of people. This means that you’ll set a budget and let LinkedIn do the rest. On the other hand, if you choose your targeting options carefully, it should lead to a decent response rate. Digital marketing tools are your best friend here.

Sponsored messages are also different from LinkedIn InMail from the way they behave in your target’s inbox. Since Sponsored InMails are ads, people can’t respond to them and instead are forced to respond to your CTA. This frequently means going to a landing page and filling out an information form. Or, it might mean registering for the free webinar. Whatever it is, be sure your CTA is clear and easy to do.

Another thing you should be aware of is that sponsored InMails are clearly labeled as sponsored in the subject line. Therefore, no matter what else you do, the message will be thought of as an advertisement. Being chummy or chatty in a sponsored InMail is rarely a good idea. After all, people don’t like bulk mails that are chatty: being to the point typically performs better.

That being said, LinkedIn claims they are effective with a 57.5% open rate and 3.6% clickthrough rate, compared to 21.6% and 2.6% for normal email marketing. As you can see, that’s more than double the open rate, and half again the CTR. These are good numbers, even considering that they are more expensive to send out. It would be interesting if we could compare them with other forms of advertising. However, this is difficult because of the differences in intended audience. 

If you’re trying to learn more about LinkedIn Ads, check out my video on the subject here:

What About Cold Outreach?

It should be noted that while LinkedIn limits the InMails while Sponsored InMail allows you to send broadly targeted emails at scale, there is another option: cold outreach. With cold outreach, you’re using LinkedIn as a data source, rather than a contact method. This is similar to other forms of reaching out to people when they haven’t opted in.

Cold outreach involves scraping the profiles of LinkedIn users that you want to message, using tools to find their email addresses, and then doing cold outreach using email marketing software. Tools used to send emails to LinkedIn derived emails often are provided by the same tools to find email addresses. It’s an ecosystem of marketing from LinkedIn without involving the paid features of the network.

A description of this process goes beyond the scope of this article, but for more information see this informative article from one of the leading data scraping tools, Phantombuster. In general, cold outreach from LinkedIn data is highly controversial. LinkedIn has even tried to block it on several fronts. But as things stand, it isn’t a violation of law to do so.

Ready to Use LinkedIn InMails?

Using LinkedIn InMail for marketing is a highly effective tool. Even though it costs money, and you’re limited on how many you can send each month, for many of us marketers they’re a lifeline. The important thing is to know-how, and when, to send them. In addition, you should know when to send sponsored messages instead. Either way, message-based LinkedIn marketing is highly effective.

Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

LinkedIn InMail is a paid messaging service that savvy salespeople and professionals use for a reason. Learn why here.
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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.
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