LinkedIn is currently the largest available free database of business people in the world today. You can target and search for potential colleagues to meet almost any business goal you wish to accomplish.
I started this series of articles by offering the reasons why your small business belongs on LinkedIn. I next outlined how to build your brand and then lastly showed how to expand your network of connections. Too many people just stop right there. This is wrong since at this junction you have merely finished building a networking foundation.
Your next critical step is to launch your action steps and market your brand, spreading the word that you exist, that what you offer is pertinent and valuable and encouraging people to do business with you. There are various tools available for you to accomplish your goals on LinkedIn as well as some networking philosophies to keep in mind as you do so. Let’s start by briefly examining some of the LinkedIn tools for your consideration.
Share an update from your home page to all your first level connections. You can even Tweet the update at the same time you share it with your connections. Even more important is the ability to share the update within the groups you belong to. Simply click the < share > link after it is published and follow directions. (click to enlarge images)
Although similar to updating your status to your friends on Facebook, your updates should be business oriented.
Use Questions and Answers to gain visibility both on LinkedIn, on Google searches, as well as exposure on such sites as Guy Kawasaki’s http://linkedin.alltop.com/. The site lists answers to top five questions in 21 LinkedIn categories ranging from ‘Marketing and Sales’ through ‘Law and Legal’. Just pick a category you consider yourself an expert in and answer questions. Your goal is to build to an ‘Expert’ status.
Publicize upcoming Events such as Webinars, meetings, workshops, etc., to increase attendance and gain publicity.
Take Polls to gauge interest and develop statistics.
Start your own special interest Discussion Group. As owner you literally have complete control over the group and its discussions. Use the power wisely to attract people you want to develop relationships with. Do so by posting interesting articles and happenings and encourage others to participate. You even have the ability to send out periodic announcements to group members.
Publish a Company Page. Anyone who clicks on the ‘Company Name’ on your personal profile is taken to your company page where they can ‘Follow’ company updates. On your page make sure you add a hyperlink to your website, post a wide banner header and you may include a video in addition to your description. Add pages for products and services, job openings (there is an investment required) and publish updates as you do on your personal profile’s home page.
Other tools and tactics include directly engaging with second level contacts and group members, adding and commenting on group discussions, monitoring and searching ‘Signal’ news feeds, writing recommendations as well as endorsing LinkedIn members.
Examine these and other tools you may discover, and determine what fits your style and circumstances. Time may not allow you to make use of each and every one. Whatever you decide, don’t merely sit on the sidelines awaiting others finding you (remember the Jules Feifer cartoon!). Once you select your first tool of choice, develop your strategy and lay out a plan. Implement your plan and measure the results and the effectiveness. Select another tool as need be, and repeat the trial. Once you find your “sweet spot’ of success, repeat, repeat, repeat.
There is tons of information about networking floating around including reports, workshops, books as well as postings on the Internet. However, I must explain my definition of the general purpose of networking. In my estimation the real goal of networking is to come into contact with lots of people and sift through those you meet to determine who you might want to develop a deeper relationship with. Then take the conversation private either through a coffee meet up or lunch. Sometimes it may even be a Skype conversation for long distance relationships. It’s much like dating, if you recall.
Networking on LinkedIn is like digital ‘speed’ networking. You must take a somewhat different approach than you might think, and demonstrate you are truly a ‘giver’ and not merely a ‘taker.’ (A taker refers to someone eagerly looking to consummate a transaction or to gain an immediate benefit).
I therefore developed this short list of no-no’s which include, don’t:
These tactics generally fail on LinkedIn as well as in the real business world. You must be a true giver and initially never ask for anything in return. Focus on what you can do for someone rather than seeking what you want or need at the onset. Think about what you can possibly do to make people WANT to help you. Remind yourself you are in a long term relationship building mode; your goal is to get placement within someone’s funnel and then be referred or called upon as the need arises. When you are in a true business relationship, the other person answers your emails and picks up the telephone when you call.
LinkedIn is a stepping stone to building relationships. It will never substitute for face to face encounters but the extensive search capabilities coupled with the extremely large database lends itself to target marketing. And target marketing is the one advantage that small businesses have in this ever competitive world. Set your goals and get down to work. Good luck in your LinkedIn endeavors!
Check out my additional LinkedIn How-to’s on the SCORE Chicago blog.