Improve Virtual Event Attendance With LinkedIn’s Sponsored Message Ads

Social media news feeds are crowded and noisy and people scroll through them quickly. While they can and do work for advertising, it’s not exactly a captive audience. But LinkedIn has an ad type that allows you to avoid that.

Reach people’s message inbox directly

LinkedIn Sponsored Message Ads (formerly InMail) are ads that are sent to people’s messaging inbox on LinkedIn where they would get other messages from people.  Just like an email, they include a subject line and body text. But unlike email (and the point of them), they include a call to action button that allows people to respond to whatever you offer in your message.


With these ads, instead of paying per click as you may typically do for digital advertising, you pay every time your message is sent to someone in the target audience you’ve chosen.  Now you may be wondering “what if the person that the message is sent to never gets on LinkedIn and opens it?”  Well, thankfully that’s not how it works.

Your message, and therefore your cost, is controlled by the system only sending messages to people that are logged in and online in their account. Now that doesn’t mean they will open and read your message, but it does mean you’ll never pay for a message being sent to someone that never gets on the platform.

They’re best for events and opportunities

While it sounds great that you can just send messages to people instead of them having to find your ad in their news feed somewhere, this type of ad only tends to work really well for personal invitations to events and opportunities (webinars, virtual open houses, etc.).



They don’t work well for traditional top-of-funnel or mid-funnel soft marketing messages and offers.  This is because they cost quite a bit per Click.

According to LinkedIn Ads expert AJ Wilcox, the average CPC on these ad types is $23-$58. Although you are charged on a per send basis of anywhere from $.30 to $.80 (depending on your audience selections), only about 55% of people that receive your message are going to open it. So sending your message to 100 people results in a $30 – $80 Cost and 55 people opening it. Of those people, only about 3-4% (3.2% average) will end up clicking (like 2 or 3 people), depending on how compelling your offer is. Doing more math, you end up about in AJs stated range for the Cost Per Click.

With Click costs being this high, we have to make sure of two things…

  1. Your offer is compelling, leading to higher Click-through and Conversion Rates.
  2. A conversion is valuable, giving you enough margin between what you pay per conversion and the value you’re getting from it.

My first use of them

For a higher education client, we thought Message Ads would be a good solution for their summer virtual open house. Not only would the offer be compelling for the right audience as a personal invitation, but getting someone to attend would be highly valuable to the school because the chances of someone starting a program skyrocket if they attend an open house.



We used 3 targeting types and 4 different audiences with this campaign…

  • Retargeting.  To all website visitors in the recent past
  • Contact list.  Of all leads from the past 18 months that hadn’t yet enrolled
  • Member traits. Of “Job Seekers” and “Open To Education“.  These are behavioral audiences, so they can be pretty broad.  LinkedIn creates them based on what it deems to be a behavior that indicates a person belongs to that group.  But there are certain behaviors on the platform that make it obvious that you’re in a certain group. Like if you login to the mobile app from many different locations over time, you can be labeled as a “Frequent Traveler.” So, these tend to be more trustworthy than Interests.

The results

Directly through our LinkedIn Message ad, we got 8 total registrations for the open house at under $200 per registration; which is a good deal for someone to register for an open house.  As we expected, our more targeted retargeting and contact list audiences performed much better than the broader audiences based on Member Traits.  In fact, those two Matched Audiences were pretty stellar, driving 4 registrations for under $100 combined at a 50% Conversion Rate!

Additionally, we built a remarketing list on Facebook out of all the people we drove to the registration landing page and remarketed to them an additional chance to visit and register for the event. This drove another 5 registrations for only $42 total!

Some adjustments I’d make

So, overall I’d say things went did pretty well for my first time out with these. But, there were a few adjustments I could see being obvious to implement for the next time we want to run this offer with this ad type…



  • Do more work to build Matched Audiences for the next open house.  These audiences worked great, so if we can build them bigger, it’s probable we can drive even more registrations for the next event.
  • Bid a bit lower on the broader audiences.  The CPAs on these were around $350 combined.  While that is still worth it for an attendee, we also understand that not everyone who registers ends up attending.  So, we’d like to see this CPA be a bit lower.
  • Build engagement retargeting lists.  This is a brand new feature to LinkedIn, which is why we didn’t run it in this campaign.  But now, we can build remarketing audiences out of people that engage with our content on the platform (similar to Facebook).

If you have some kind of event or opportunity to promote that fits an audience you can easily target on LinkedIn, I’d say you should give this ad type a try.