In the summer of 2006 I read an article about a networking site that was for business people. I had heard of MySpace and Facebook, but those were networks for high school kids and people in college. A network dedicated to business professionals was definitely worth checking out. That network was LinkedIn.
I signed up for an account and started looking through it to see if I knew anyone and to also see if there were any ways to use it as a prospecting vehicle. After numerous searches my conclusion at the time was that this was a good site for people in technology industries but not necessarily relevant for anyone else.
At the time you could connect to other business professionals, participate in Answers, and join groups (although there really wasn’t any additional functionality to groups).
Five years later I have a different perspective, having used the service to build a network of business professionals and driven new business from being a member of the site. I wasn’t wrong in my initial assessment; it’s just that LinkedIn has evolved into a great tool through the increase in membership and functionality. It just had to mature a little bit, much like the internet of the late 90’s.
In the late 1990’s the internet was starting to gain traction and companies were starting to get in on the action. For a while, having a website was a cool thing to do but not a make or break decision. That changed and eventually having a website was as much a credibility play as it was a functional part of any businesses marketing efforts.
Social networking/media has followed the same path, although at a much quicker pace. Two years ago having a presence on the various social networking spaces was a cool thing to do for a business but once again not a make or break decision. Today if you’re not on a social networking site like LinkedIn you’re missing the boat.
Social Media/Networking has expanded the opportunity to have conversations with your prospects, increased the availability of information on companies and individuals, and provided new opportunities to deliver your message to tens of thousands of individuals and companies.
When I work with a client on developing a social media/networking strategy we focus on three of the available networking sites: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Out of the three LinkedIn is still the one that provides the most opportunity for small businesses. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages LinkedIn offers:
1. An Impressive Membership
Consider the demographics of the average LinkedIn user:
- The average household income is $92,000
- 50% are college graduate (another 30% have attended college)
- 50%+ are decision makers in their companies
- Demographics exceed those of Wall street Journal in most categories
If you’re looking for a financially qualified prospect you’ve come to the right place.
2. Expand and Enhance Your Networking
Networking has been a staple for most business people throughout the years. LinkedIn doesn’t replace face to face networking but it can enhance it. When I first started getting serious about using LinkedIn I used my offline networking to drive new connections.
After each event I attended I went online to LinkedIn to invite those that I met to connect. This allowed me to add a new dimension to the people I was meeting.
I took it a step further by inviting those that I did not get a chance to speak with to connect as well. This allowed me to connect with someone who attended the event even though we didn’t have a chance to meet or have a conversation. If they never attended another chamber event I still had the opportunity to connect online and then decide if they were someone I wanted to meet offline.
3. Identify Prospects or Potential Employees
Most businesses rely on sales people to develop new prospects. The difference between a failing business and a successful one is often the ability to find and develop new prospects. LinkedIn allows youYou have the ability to search for members that fit specific criteria. If you want to find a Purchasing Manager in Atlanta Georgia you can search for this specific person. Looking to fill a business development position with software sales experience in Denver, you can identify individuals to target. You can even add keywords to narrow your search for instance if you need someone with Oracle experience.
It gets better. Once you identify the individual that you are looking for you have access to their profile. You can learn a lot by reading a person’s profile. Where did they go to school? Where have they worked in the past? Who recommends them? Who do they recommend?
In the old days you might walk into an office and look at the photos and items on a shelf to get a feel for the person you were meeting to find common ground. Now you can learn a lot before you even meet.
4. See How You Connect Into an Opportunity
Having the ability to conduct research on a prospect is important. Being able to identify how you connect to an opportunity is even more valuable. When you look at a person that is a 2nd or 3rd degree connection LinkedIn shows you the people that connect you to the person. It’s no longer about whom you know; but who do the people you know, know!
You can also choose to connect directly to the prospect or potential employee establishing the beginning of a relationship
You also have the ability to join up to 50 groups. Groups on LinkedIn are usually created based on a single factor that the group members have in common. It could be an industry, a geographic location, a concept, an alumni group, or based on current or former employees of a company. You can leverage memberships in groups to identify and connect to prospects.
5. Identify Companies and Employees
Since introducing their Companies section LinkedIn has continued to make changes to add value. These profiles offer a great resource to identify potential prospects. You can learn a lot about a company reviewing their profile including seeing a list of employees that have LinkedIn profiles. This allows you to identify employees that you can connect to in order to network your way up the ladder to gain access to decision makers.
If your sales or business development people are not utilizing this resource they’re leaving a valuable tool in their toolbox.
Its also a great way to promote your company with the ability to feature products and jobs.
6. Communicate Your Message in a Cost Efficient Manner
Over 90% of the people on LinkedIn utilize a free account. With their account they can contact their direct connections or fellow members directly, they can communicate a message through the “Status Update” feature, they can poll their connections, engage in discussion conversations in groups, and post press releases or news articles in groups. All done at no cost.
You can build your community and communicate with it on a ongoing basis for the simple cost of the time to implement. Talk about a valuable resource in a time of financial constraints.
It all begins with creating an account on LinkedIn and learning the various features and functions. LinkedIn may have 90 million members but only 24% of members are considered active users. This gives you and your sales people an opportunity to establish a foothold while most of your competitors are looking the other way.
LinkedIn has built the community, they’ve provided tools to engage and interact, you simply need to take the first step and invest the time to make it productive. How are you putting LinkedIn to work for your business?
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