Put LinkedIn to Work for Your Business

In the past, LinkedIn got a bad rap as a network solely for job hunters. Many passed it off as merely a social smorgasbord for people looking for work, or for companies angling for new hires.

It’s tough to compare this business network to its social media brothers and sisters. LinkedIn doesn’t offer the immediate gratification of Twitter, the excitement of Facebook, or the early-adopter allure of Google+.

So if you’re not looking for a job, a tweet-up or a meet-up, what’s LinkedIn to you? The fact is, LinkedIn has a lot to offer any business. LinkedIn’s value is in its connections. It allows you to get to know who your network knows. And, it’s getting bigger.

Now 147 million users strong, LinkedIn is a relevant and profitable business asset. Fortune 500 execs use it, and 59% of those active on social networking sites say LinkedIn is their platform of choice over Facebook or Twitter, according to a June 2011 report by Performics and ROI Research.

With users hailing from 200 countries and all seven continents, LinkedIn is a living laboratory, working to help businesses:

  • Conduct market research — Stay abreast of what people and companies are doing and talking about. You can search what services other professionals, vendors and suppliers are offering, and see what other people are saying about their experience. You can also post questions to potential clients and customers.
  • Mine relevant content — The better job you do at setting up your company or individual profile and growing your network, the more resources for news and commentary you’ll gain. Here are some tips on setting up a profile.
  • Find and connect with hard-to-reach people — Think of LinkedIn as an online networking event. Each time you connect, it’s like running into a friend, who in turn introduces you to their friends and associates. It’s hard to establish a connection with someone you don’t know. LinkedIn puts you on a level playing field.
  • Market themselves — Where LinkedIn was once looked at as a hub for personal job marketing (it is still very good for that, and that’s okay), it now affords companies a cost-effective channel to find potential customers through the power of networking. Everyone on LinkedIn is looking to sell or be sold something. That’s why they are there. By facilitating a connection, LinkedIn creates the spark.

Here are four things every business should do:

1. Set up a company page.

Setting up your business as a “company” on LinkedIn gives you an opportunity to have a presence beyond a personal profile. You can embed banner images and videos on your company page, feed your blog posts and tweets, and link to Facebook.

To maximize your company page’s exposure, be sure to have your employees link up with it. They will extend the page’s reach by sharing status updates with their connections. Here’s a good article on maximizing a company LinkedIn page, including tips on how to get the most out of the new updates that were just released in November 2011.

2. Join/start a group.

Participating in a discussion group on LinkedIn can be one of the single best sources of market intelligence on the Internet. Whatever business you’re in, chances are there is a relevant LinkedIn group for you. Using the advanced search feature, you can locate and join any group that fits your interests.

Once you join, don’t just lurk and watch. Jump in, ask questions and engage. Used properly, LinkedIn groups can serve multiple purposes. On one level they are great peer groups, providing a useful platform for professionals to learn and share common interests. They’re also terrific focus groups for learning about your customers, competitors and prospects. Seek out groups with a lot of activity rather than simply a lot of members.

For marketers, LinkedIn discussion groups are a treasure trove of free intelligence. Want to learn more about a current or prospective customer? Join a group and talk to them! If the group you’re looking for doesn’t exist, start one. Managed and moderated effectively, a LinkedIn group is a great way to connect with an audience. Discussion groups enhance networking, advocate thought leadership, promote learning and sharing, and best of all, generate business. Learn how to build and sustain a productive LinkedIn discussion group.

3. Promote your products or services.

Product and service pages offer a simple way to show your network (and your network’s network) what your company offers. Once you’ve completed your product and service profile, you can maximize your message by creating graphic banners that link to your other social platforms, or even include video. It’s a wide-open platform with a lot of flexibility.

4. Leverage your other social media platforms.

Create synergy by connecting your profile to a Twitter feed, Facebook and Google+, adding YouTube videos, and installing apps that display blogs, product samples, portfolios and presentations.

Without a lot of effort, any business can quickly harness the networking power of LinkedIn for any number of sales, marketing, research, or employment initiatives. LinkedIn may never take over Twitter or Facebook as the go-to social network, but it doesn’t have to — it’s a business network, and it’s free! This isn’t a competition. Use them all and see what works best. LinkedIn, with its growing audience and continued enhancements, is definitely worth the time.