Linkedin is the best B2B online networking tool that I have seen or used. I have been using the site myself since 2005 and upgraded to a business account 3 years ago. Each time I use the site I find more and more value in it as a premiere Social Networking site for business. I thought I would pass along what I have learned, so that others might receive similar benefit.
When I first joined the site, it was more about it being the “new” way to network and I will admit I initially just stuck my profile up there and didn’t really think much more about it. At first, I was contacted by individuals I had worked with years ago and lost contact. It became a great way to get back in touch. Later on, when I went through a downsizing, it became a great tool for finding potential positions, networking with head hunters, and finding possible contacts within organizations that I had an interest. You will be shocked that once you have a reasonable network how connected you are to other individuals that could be influencers. I was then contacted by a head hunter who only used Linkedin for executive searches and I ended up landing the position.
As I used the tool more, I began to think of new ways to use the tool in my job. In my last position, I used Linkedin as a lead generation tool. I began profiling potential partners. By this time I upgraded my basic account to a business account which gave me access to InMails. This allows you to contact individuals that are not in your network. I began using the expanded Search to find and target the owner or decision maker at the potential partner and would contact them through an InMail. I have found that anyone I contacted utilizing InMails would respond to my mail which is about the highest response rate I received from any marketing or sales tool. I do find Linkedin does add greater credibility to blind contact. I signed several partners who I initially contacted blindly through Linkedin.
I was made aware of the company profile when I was asked by the CEO if I knew how to update the Linkedin profile at my last employer. I knew that company profiles existed, but I didn’t understand at the time that anyone who had a valid company email address could add or update a profile. In recent months the company profile has been expanded to include products and services, careers, and an analytic tool much like Google Analytics which will allow you to see the number of visitors who have visited your page. I currently have a company profile, but have not utilized the other sections, which I plan to take advantage of in the coming months. You will want to make sure when you add a company profile that much like your home page for your website informs the reader quickly of exactly what you do as a company and why they should do business with you.
When I started my own business a year ago, I began learning more and more what Linkedin can provide if used properly. Some people seem to compete to add anyone as a contact which I believe really negates the usefulness of networking. The contacts that I have are either people I know personally or through business or those that I have had direct contact with on Linkedin. This could be through a forum discussion, question and answers, or direct contact discussions. What is the use of your network if you cannot even remember how you connected with them? I have called upon people in my network often and likewise have provided help and guidance to those in my network.
Within your profile, it is important to portray yourself in a way that is clear and professional. You need to ask yourself what are the reasons you want to connect with individuals on Linkedin and if those individuals clicked on your profile, would they be able to articulate what you want to portray. Another important profile option is recommendations. Do not be afraid to ask people that you have worked with, worked for, or have had as a customer with to write a recommendation for you. This truly adds credibility to your profile and lets others know what you are like.
There are applications within Linkedin that are excellent to use as well, but which ones you use depends on what social media mediums you are currently using in your business. I have a company blog on WordPress, so I utilize the application on Linkedin which will add the last 4 blog articles to my profile. I also have accounts on SlideShare.Net. SlideShare.Net allows you to upload presentations and documents and then the Linkedin application allows you share them on your profile. The most helpful application/feature is being able to link Linkedin to Facebook and Twitter. Anyone that has started to use social media will at times find it exhaustive as it could become a full time job. Linkedin has resolved this for me. If I put something on either medium it will populate the other two without me having to log into another site. This issue was resolved by Linkedin and has truly saved me time. Likewise if I add something to Twitter, it will populate my Linkedin and tell the user where the information was posted originally.
I have joined several forums on Linkedin. Some are personal such as alumni groups, others are areas of interest, and others are business related. I use to enjoy them and learn from them. What I have found recently is that real discussions are not taking place in many of the forums. They have become a huge advertising area for companies to push their products and services and really defeats the purpose of a forum. I have seen too many where a person has asked a legitimate question hoping someone might help them and they receive 10 responses telling them if they contact their company they will help them. As a consultant this bothers me greatly. What they don’t realize is that by offering advice to someone they are developing themselves as trusted individual and expert and if that person actually needed a product or a service in the future, they most likely would come back to you or recommend you to someone else.
If you are considering using Linkedin, it is important that you provide both enough information on your personal profile and your company profile so that when you contact someone, they can quickly understand information about you and your company and see the value on the relationship even before reading through the message you sent them.
Linkedin is a valuable online networking tool. Nothing is the be all and end all and networking face to face is still very important, but it is a tool that you can definitely use to promote yourself, your business, your products, and aid you in finding new contacts, customers and partners for your business.
RK Fischer & Associates