According to a January 2012 Forrester Research report, 75% of professionals say they rely on social networks to make business decisions, and 65% of businesses say they’ve acquired sales from LinkedIn.
Whether you own your own business or work for someone else, the principles of using LinkedIn as a marketing and business development tool are the same. LinkedIn can be used for SEO, reputation management, networking, and lead generation. To use LinkedIn as a sales and marketing tool, you need to build a network, attract followers, add value, have great content, and drive traffic. Here’s how.
Make Your Profile and Your Company Page Polished
There’s nothing worse than a poorly written or incomplete profile. If someone is considering doing business with you, he’s going to want to see that your profile is professional and enticing. Be sure that it’s clearly written, free of grammar errors and typos, and it highlights your achievements in a way that makes you stand out from the crowd. Just because LinkedIn is a professional social networking site doesn’t mean your profile has to by dry. Don’t be afraid to share some of your personality. After all, likeability goes a long way in business. Be sure to choose an appropriate photo. For your personal profile, make sure it’s a professional shot and not one of you at a party with a cocktail in your hand, or one of you on the beach in your swim suit. If it’s for your business, make sure it’s a clean, clear logo of your business. Ask your existing connections for endorsements and recommendations. Having a third party vouch for you is influential.
Make Connections and Build Relationships
It’s as simple as reaching out to people. Check out the connections of your existing contacts, and use the advanced search feature to seek out people in specific companies you want to connect with. When you do find someone you want to make a connection with, don’t just use a canned “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message. Personalize the message to include with your connection request. It’ll make you look better and the person more likely to accept your invitation. People always want to know how a connection with you can benefit them, so you could start with that.
Join Groups and Be an Active Participant
LinkedIn Groups are an excellent way to have a dialogue with prospective new connections. LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 groups, so research groups that closely align with your interests, profession, and industry. For example, a person who is a marketing manager working for a hospital would want to join groups relevant to the healthcare industry and marketing profession. Once you’re a group member, give and receive information. Like you, others are members to grow and learn new things. Spend time reading what others are posting, but start some conversations of your own. Pose thought-provoking questions, share new industry statistics, or links to helpful articles. Make sure what you’re posting is relevant to the group, though. You can also offer answers to questions others are asking. Responding to questions is a great way to appear as a thought leader in your space. Groups are terrific for helping you to stay current on your industry and profession, which will come in handy when it’s time to pitch your next prospect.
Follow Companies and Individuals You Admire or Want to do Business With
Stay updated on happenings with companies you aspire to be or want to form a partnership with. You can find out about job openings, new hires, if they’re sending out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that you can bid on, etc. Also, if you have an upcoming meeting with a person to whom you’ve never met, search for her on LinkedIn to get a sense of her past experience, education, and connections. That way, you can “name drop” a mutual connection or comment on her alma mater or previous employer making her all the more open to doing business with you.
Toot Your Own Horn
Did your company just win an award? Did you just launch a cool new product that is sure to excite your prospects and make your competitors green with envy? Post about it! It will drive traffic to your website so people can learn more about you or request more information about your products or services. However, there is a fine line between posting information you think others would be interested in and being “spammy.” So, tread lightly when it comes to self-promotion.
Think like an SEO
Keywords aren’t just important if you’re trying to get your website highly ranked on Google or Bing. They can also give you search ‘cred with LinkedIn Search. Identify the keywords that your prospects are using and searching for and incorporate them into your profile wherever possible such as the headline, current position, summary, specialties, and experience. But remember: Incorporate the keywords naturally so it sounds like a human wrote your profile and not a robot. On your own website, enable social sharing so your website content and blog can be promoted on LinkedIn, too. LinkedIn is also a great resource for outbound linking, which means you can send traffic to your website, blog, YouTube channel, etc. But, remember: White hat only, kids!
Advertising on LinkedIn
If you have some money to spend, consider LinkedIn Ads. Creating ads is an easy, DIY process. All you need is a credit card, an image for the ad, and some ad copy. You can set your own budget and spend as much or as little as you want. You bid how much you are willing to pay for a click on your ad, and you only pay when someone actually clicks it. There are multiple targeting options including job title, company, industry, etc. There are character limitations and image requirements to adhere to, but you can create multiple ads. You’ll be able to see which ad performs best as LinkedIn provides tracking and analytics right within the advertiser’s account interface.
Upgrade Your Account
If you really want to use LinkedIn as a marketing tool, you can pay to upgrade your account. LinkedIn Premium users have added features that basic users do not have access to such as increased visibility into who’s viewed your profile, full profile text for prospects, In Mail messages, advanced search features, and more.
LinkedIn is an excellent resource for growing your business if you take the time to learn the features, read about your industry and offer valuable information to your peers and prospects. To learn more about using LinkedIn for business, check out this white paper from the marketing software company Hubspot.