With all the attention being given to social media behemoths Twitter and Facebook lately, it’s easy to forget that LinkedIn also belongs in the same category. A large portion of the world’s media tuned in when Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, was given permission to virtually ring the NASDAQ bell.
That honour was for the world’s biggest social network being listed on the stock exchange for the first time, with an initial valuation of US $100 billion (AU $101 billion). Even more ink was spilled when the company’s share price tanked from its opening price of US $38 (AU $38.56) down to US $25.89 (AU $26.27).
It’s no surprise that Facebook garners so much attention, given that it’s easily the biggest network with over one billion users worldwide. Twitter makes quite a splash as well, as it’s the medium of choice for most celebrities, and is being integrated into traditional media such as television and radio. Pick any commercial channel and you will be bombarded by shiny hosts telling you to hashtag (an identifying marker that lets you search Twitter for tagged posts) everything, such as Channel 9’s ratings phenomenon #TheVoiceAU.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that Twitter has 140 million users worldwide at last headcount, while LinkedIn clocks in at 150 million. These user counts always rely on the social networks to be honest when reporting figures, but it paints an interesting picture of where they stand in terms of popularity. While Twitter might be on commercial television more often, there is a strong possibility your target market is actually discussing things more actively on LinkedIn.
Most websites that are using social media have a presence on all of the big three, with some even extending that to video and blogging. Yet, a few clicks will often reveal that the small business is doing really well on one of the mediums and only getting a lukewarm reception on others. This is because people will naturally gravitate to the network that most suits their needs, and the success they have there will reflect that.
LinkedIn is, by its very nature, a professional social network. You can make the same argument for Facebook brand pages, which have endless reams of success stories, and for the sheer explosiveness of Twitter, yet LinkedIn shines amongst professionals. First and foremost, the platform acts like a massive online database of résumés, and lets people see what your work history is and what you specialise in (assuming your privacy settings allow the public to view it).
For those in the recruiting business, it’s like a Christmas gift that never loses its shine – it suits that industry perfectly. Scratching beneath the surface, though, reveals an in-depth network of sharing going on amongst professionals that makes it unique.
Dario Paolini, a director at marketing agency Grand Brands, likes to think of it as the ‘safe and well-behaved social network.’ He believes that it can be of great value to small business owners if they are willing to put the time in.
“Small business owners whose main target is other businesses should take a serious look at LinkedIn,” he suggests. “Something to ask yourself is ‘what kind of industry does your core customer work in?’ You might find that your particular target customer doesn’t spend much time in front of a computer.
“That said, Linkedin is not just about winning new business, it is also about building networks of like-minded people in your industry, and certainly in other industries, that might add to your referral network,” he explains.
The first step is to speak to your customers and ask them if they are using the network. Then a quick scan of your competitors will show if they are on there and what they are doing, and will give you a little bit of insight into the current landscape. If it’s your first time on the network, there will no doubt be a period where you look up everyone you can think of to see what they are up to these days, and it’s actually a good way of building up your first contacts.
Once you are ready to get started, Dario recommends taking the time to make sure your profile is comprehensive by really fleshing it out.
“Add in all relevant skills and experience, and upload a profile picture that represents who you are as a businessperson – make sure the visual image you present of yourself in your photo matches the visual image you present of yourself in the business world,” he says. “There is nothing worse than a LinkedIn profile with a holiday picture or a wedding photo. Get serious about your business and use a photo that is appropriate.
“When you fill out your summary, treat it like the cover letter of your résumé. It’s your sales pitch about who you are and what you have to offer.”
Like everything, it’s best to have someone go over your profile when you are done. If you know someone who is a LinkedIn veteran, then it wouldn’t hurt to trouble him or her for some advice. Another option is to hire a social media consultant to help you out, but that will cost, so carefully consider whether it is really necessary.
Growing your network
Once you have your profile up, the first thing to do is to search for people who you want to connect with. Dario suggests looking for anyone you might have done business with, even if it was a long time ago. There is no harm in adding lots of people at once, particularly when you are starting out, but you may want to tread a little carefully with LinkedIn’s automated ‘scan your email’ feature.
This might seem innocent, but what it will do is (with your permission) sift through your Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo contacts and send everyone in them an invitation to connect. While this may seem like a great idea, you might find yourself sending connection requests to old romantic flames without realising it
and landing yourself in hot water.
One of the best things about LinkedIn is the groups feature. They act as a central place to post links to stories, discussions, and event notices for people interested in certain topics.
“You can learn so much about what is happening in your field of expertise by subscribing to groups that are related to your industry,” explains Dario. “People will share and discuss new developments and ideas, and if you subscribe to email updates, these topics will land right in your email inbox, keeping you constantly up to date.
“When looking for business partners, you can join groups in the industry you are interested in, and start your own discussion thread. This is a great way that I personally have made wonderful connections for joint-venture projects – it’s so easy. The added benefit of meeting these people on LinkedIn is that you can see their skills and experience immediately by viewing the profile.”
TOP 5 LINKEDIN TIPS
• Don’t wait. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will start seeing the benefits.
• Devote a small portion of time each day or week to interact. It can be very easy to spend more time on it than you should.
• Add a link to your profile to your email signature.
• When you start a project with a new client, add them to your LinkedIn network immediately.
• At the completion of a project, send a request to your client on LinkedIn for a recommendation.
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