This is a rewrite of an article that I wrote almost 7 years ago as the LinkedIn product has changed dramatically and has been since purchased by Microsoft. There are definitely some pros and cons that I have seen over the years, but LinkedIn still is the premiere and primarily only true B2B social networking platform.
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 years ago (which was grandfathered on) since Microsoft purchased LinkedIn. I have seen some extreme complaints and price changes from those on the newer Premium Packages. Since I have been using this platform for over a decade, I thought I would provide some of my experiences and findings to those who are not as familiar with the platform.
Finding a Job or Finding Employees
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 headhunters, 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 headhunter who only used Linkedin for executive searches and I ended up landing the position.
There is also a great job search capability within the platform and has become the premiere platform for finding a position. I find my daughter and her friends (millennials) have embraced the platform as one of the key places to look for positions within businesses.
From the employer side, this is an excellent platform to use to post positions to find the right candidates for your open positions. The applicants come into you and can save you money in having to hire headhunters for your open positions.
As I used the tool more years ago, I began to think of new ways to use the tool in my job. In my last position before I started our business, 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 a blind contact. I signed several partners who I initially contacted blindly through Linkedin. Prior to starting our business, I was looking for market information on start-up businesses and contacted several VC and Angel Investors to ask questions. Of the 15 that I contacted, I heard from 14. One even provided me his cell phone number to contact directly.
Some people seem to compete to add anyone as a connection 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. I will admit I have become less stringent in the last few years in adding people that are either in my industry (other consultants and coaches) or professionals that are relevant for our business such as accountants, corporate lawyers, financing companies, business brokers....etc. I also will add business owners of businesses in Canada.
I do find periodically I do go through and do a purge of contacts as well which is easy to do, you just need to go to your contacts and select those individuals that you believe are not worth keeping in your network. I recently did that as have over 700. As I went through each one, the question I asked was there a good reason for this individual to be a contact that would benefit either of us. Out of 719 contacts, I got rid of 12.
If you decide to request a connection, write a note to the individual telling them why you would like to connect, as just receiving a blind connection request will get you ignored. Tell the individual why you would like to connect. This is something Microsoft has gotten right. It used to exist in the "old LinkedIn" and some developer or marketing person decided this wasn't needed and took the functionality away. Microsoft has now added this back to the product.
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 and what you do. You have I believe 2000 characters to articulate information about yourself, as well as providing information about your career, experience, skills, and activities.
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.
Sharing Content and Blog Platform and Following People
LinkedIn is a Social Media platform, so you are able to share content both from your personal profile as well as your Company Page. They also have a blog platform where you are able to write articles. All of your articles and posts are attributed as well to your profile With LinkedIn, you are able to write articles which have a worldwide audience. Be sure to choose your tags wisely as well as the subject. This is important to gain credibility as a subject matter expert, especially if you do not not have your own blog.
On LinkedIn you are able to follow individuals even if you are not connected to them. It is important to follow people that you think are influencers and who write and share content relevant to your business. By doing this, their information will show up in your feed, thereby providing you with content you are able to share as well.
LinkedIn used to be the network with the best Company Page. This is no longer true as they have taken so much functionality away that all that remains is a basic posting site with analytics. As a B2B business, you should have a Company Page to put the basic information. If I were a betting person, I suspect that Microsoft will upgrade this portion of the product as Facebook has now taken on the features that LinkedIn started with. They are advertising their platform on Facebook which tells me they know they need to be the Facebook of B2B. There have been some cosmetic changes recently that have improved the Company Page.
You are also now easily able to add job postings to your company page as well.
I have joined several groups on Linkedin over the years. 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 is that real discussions are not taking place in many of the groups. They have become a huge advertising area for companies to push their products and services and really defeats the purpose of a group. 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 just providing a helpful answer. Do not be that person that spams groups. If you are going to join, participate. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does longer term with the groups to possibly make them useful again.
LinkedIn used to have the worst advertising platform among Social Media platforms, but recently since the purchase by Microsoft, if you look at the advertising platform it is starting to look more like Facebook. You are able to boost content you have shared much like you can on Facebook. They also have sponsored InMail as well which goes to your target's mailbox, as well as dynamic, display and text ads which are very targeted very much like Facebook Ads.
I look to try LinkedIn Advertising again soon, now that they have new options for advertising outside the small text ads that were not useful and have never spoken to anyone that saw great value in running campaigns.
If you are considering using Linkedin, it is important that you provide both enough information on your Personal Profile aso 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 (remember to send that message) .
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. I am excited to see what Microsoft will do next to add to the number one B2B social media platform for networking in North America at a minimum.
Now that there is Spam Legislation to guard against spam in your email, the spammers have now taken to LinkedIn. They assume that because you are in a Group with them, they can now send out thousands of emails through LinkedIn instead. I joined Groups to share and learn valuable information, not to hear from every "CON"sultant and sales person about products and services that have nothing to do with the Group. One may think that this is an odd comment coming from someone that is a consultant, but I get infuriated at what a bad name this gives the rest of us by those that continue to do this. You would think by now, that they would have figured out that this does not provide a sustainable way to gain clients. What I find worse, is that none of the emails are even targeted, they are just sent out in hopes that it might land on a relevant prospect.
In the last month I have received 5 emails from HR consultants from "pick a country" telling me they have a special offer or software platform that can help me get a job and improve my resume/CV. They have not even looked to see that I am self-employed and have been for almost 6 years, so my need for a resume or job is not likely. The best one yet was from a radio personality in Chicago who was providing an online scam. He would tell you that you were perfect for his show and would book an appointment with you. When I told him that I was in Canada and did not sell to the U.S. - he still proceeded to book the appointment so I played along as I smelt something funny. Come to find out what he fails to tell you that he is picking you for his show as long as you pay him money. At no time is this mentioned until you talk to his producer do you find out this is a scam.
All of this that used to come to my email and for the most part still does is now on LinkedIn as well.
This Starts at the Connection Level
I am not sure what has changed in the last couple of years, but there seems to be an influx of people who like to click the CONNECT button on every profile to add anyone as a connection. They do so whether there is a real reason to connect in the first place. Since I value my connections and their privacy, I will only connect with someone where there is some intrinsic value to both parties, otherwise - why would you connect?
Would you provide total strangers with your information and your contact list if it was not on a Social Media Platform? The answer is probably not. If someone just clicks the Connect button and cannot take 30 seconds to add a note of why they want to connect, they will get ignored or receive an email back asking why they would like to connect. The majority of those that just hit Connect- you will never hear from again, which tells you they are just looking to connect with anyone.
Most likely the real reason they connected with you is to have access to send you unsolicited mail, or go through your contact list and contact your personal contacts and eventually add them to their list. There are those that for some reason believe they should just connect to any live body. There needs to be a reason to connect with you and it needs to be of benefit to both parties. Relationships are two way.
I used to love Group, where you could go and have a conversation with like-minded professionals and gain and share a bit of wisdom. Instead this has become an advertising platform for consultants and sales people pushing their products and services. Even worse because they are in a Group with you, they can send you unsolicited emails as well without having any type of connection to you. This is how both the HR consultants and radio personality were able to fill my inbox on LinkedIn with SPAM.
Spam Does Not Make You Sales
For those that waste their time now sending SPAM through Social Media, ask yourself how many quality sales have you made this way? Have you thought about how many consumers and businesses that you have actually ticked off and sales you may have lost for you and your business by sending untargeted emails?
LinkedIn is about building relationships and provides you with tools to interact with potential partners and clients, but when used the wrong way can be more of a detriment to your sales efforts. Why not spend the time building relationships with others on LinkedIn or using the tools they have built like InMail to send targeted personal messages, instead of sending unsolicited SPAM. For the most part untargeted and unsolicited mail will get deleted or reported as SPAM.
There has been enough written lately on this topic that at some point continuing to do this will hurt you and your business reputation as this is not the right way to obtain clients. Instead you are ruining the use LinkedIn for those that join to build relationships and share and gain valuable information.
Spend the time instead to learn how to use LinkedIn and other Social Media platforms and make them work for your business instead of against it.
There is a ongoing debate on LinkedIn on whether you should link to individuals who you have never met or had interaction. Even among my business colleagues and partners there is a difference of opinion. For myself, I fall into the camp that does not link to individuals that I do not know, have met, interacted, or have a common interest for connecting. I view my LinkedIn as my true network of people that I could interact or count on and do not view just adding connections for the sake of increasing the number of connections to be important.
My thoughts center around what social is and should be just as networks that you have off the internet. I would never connect someone or give out information about or to someone that I did not know just as I would not refer business to someone if I truly could not vouch for them. I view my network is sacred and is one that is "worth" something versus a link to everyone on the internet. Ask yourself, why is it in your interest or someone else's to connect to you if there is not some common interest or reason. Would you then introduce people that you value to them without knowing anything about them?
Now you ask yourself, what am I going to do when I am contacted by someone to connect? Are you just going to hit the add button because it is easy and now have an extraneous person in your network that now has access to your close network and can use your name because you connected to them? Have you considered sending those individuals back a note letting them know that you appreciate the contact, but since you normally do not connect to people you have not had some level of interaction, could they let you know why they would like to connect? What you will find is that a lot of those individuals have sent out a mass connection to everyone in a group and do not even have a reason. They may have just decided to increase their number of connections. For most, you will never hear back. For the "right connections" you will hear back with a valid reason and find out something more about the person and why they are a good connection.
Live Example of a Good Connection
I had a financial equity lender contact me blindly and sent him a similar note. A couple days later I received a nice note back from him saying he knew we were small business consultants and thought there might be a way that we could help each other out. Since then, we have met him in person and had the chance to work on a potential deal and we share links between each other's websites. The truth is if I just added him and didn't say anything, I may or may not understood what the value of the connection actually was. Instead, we are now connections that interact and can use each other's services to help our clients and have become friends.
There are definitely two camps for this debate and you have to decide how important LinkedIn is in your marketing and sales strategy and how pure you want your connections to be. Think about it, the people you link to that you just click the add button could be anyone. They now are connected to you and can tell people they are connected to you and there is the implied understanding that this is true. Do you then want perfect strangers contacting your true connections that you know and have mutual trust using your name because they are a "connection" on LinkedIn when you know nothing about them?
To start, this article is not really just about Facebook, but it does seem to be Facebook and Twitter that makes people go nuts trying to increase the number of fans/followers they have. As someone that is a proponent of using Social Media in a business , fans and followers are important but only relevant ones that can either lead to business or help build awareness. It never ceases to amaze me seeing the companies out there that promise 20,000 Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers in a week. I am mystified why people spend money on this as in most cases they are not being liked or followed by relevant or "real" people. Many times you will find the fans and likes you get from these companies are not even people and the rest are people located in the Far East getting paid to hit Like or Follow buttons. I put people on LinkedIn that seem to want to connect to everyone no matter whether there is synergy in the same bucket. You wonder how many of those 5000 people they connected with they could truly reach out to if they wanted to help them - not many if any.
What Is Social Media About When It Comes To Business
Social Media, especially in business is about connecting, having a conversation, and sharing information with a network of people who could refer, buy , partner , or be some kind of influencer when it comes to your business. At the end of the day it is about engagement and hopefully increasing your business. In a lot of cases, I have been contacted by a visitor who may or may not have become a fan or follower which means they are still reading the content being shared.
We had a client that started a B2C business focused on children. When they started, it was obvious Facebook and Twitter were the right platforms for their business. They are a local business, so we told that that they really needed to build momentum prior to opening their business. This is a client that made Social Media pay off for his business. They had over 1000 fans and pent up demand for their business before the doors opened. They continue to communicate with their fans, clients, and prospects and they now have over 6000 "relevant" fans. If they had fans in Calgary, Alberta or Paris, France- who really cares, as the chances of that individual visiting their facility is slim to none. Most of their fans are in our local area which is where you want them to be. They also have done a great job with content, frequency, and engagement. They know how to make Social Media work for their business.
Though I like Social Media, it can be time consuming to do correctly, but at the end of the day I am looking to connect and create more clients, partnerships, and build awareness for our business. Though I would love to have Bryan Adams follow me on Twitter and would personally would make my day - it really wouldn't help my business as I doubt he would be endorsing our services. Having 20,000 irrelevant followers or fans in countries or regions outside your business area and outside your target market is not really going to help your business. You want to build your network organically and eventually it starts to take shape. I myself use all of the platforms for our business, as it is important if you are going to tell others they need to use Social Media in their business that you eat your own dog food. Though I use them all, LinkedIn and Twitter are the two that have helped provide me with true value for my business, though I have received one client through my Facebook page. Facebook is not really the platform for those looking for business consulting for their business. Understanding where your target market hangs out is the key to choosing the right platforms.
Since engaging in Social Media has a lot to do with helping increase traffic back to your website as well though developed content, the same is true. If you are doing business only in Canada, do you really care how many people in Australia or Poland visited your website. The goal is to bring in potential clients.
How to Get Relevant Followers and Fans for Your Business
There is no single magic pill that will reward you with followers and fans. You need to make sure you have a social media strategy that focuses on providing good content and interaction with your target market. Within your target market, you may even have different types of people or personas. For example, our target market is owner-operated businesses, but the platform and content that the home business owner, the high-tech or manufacturing business owner, and the retail store owner uses and wants can be very different. All are potential clients, but if provide the same content on all sites and do not provide the content that are interested in, interact, or provide some level of engagement , you will not attract the fans and followers you want.
It can sound discouraging to hear it takes time when they need more clients today, but this is not something that has a quick return on time as that is what your cost is - your time. Focus on sharing and developing relevant content on a regular basis and measuring your results. You have to engage and provide content that is of value to your target audiences/personas. If it is of value, they will reward you with following or liking you.
This is definitely a quality versus quantity situation. It is better to have a few loyal relevant followers who over time either become clients, influencers, or potential partners versus getting the 20,000 fake followers just to have this show on your page. There is no quick way to increase real engagement, it takes time.
RK Fischer & Associates