I'm a huge fan of LinkedIn. In fact, I am constantly professing my love for LinkedIn. However, I still encounter a lot of naysayers who argue that they don't want to add another thing to their list of things. I completely understand. I took stock the other day of all the social networks that I participate in, and it totaled more than 20. I even use the social network capabilities of sites like Netflix (to see what movies my friends are watching) and Rhapsody (to share music with them).
But I put LinkedIn in a category all its own. LinkedIn is for business -- not for catching up with friends or planning family reunions. I use it solely for connecting with people I meet and interact with in business settings.
Of course, much has been written about the opportunities that LinkedIn presents to advertisers. And indeed, it is a social channel that offers plenty of opportunities for marketers looking to build their brands. But what about your own personal brand? What about you and your company's professional reputation within your industry? Whether you're on the brand, agency, or service side, marketing is all about building relationships. And in interactive marketing especially, the people you meet and do business with expect you to be wired into their community.
In an effort to do my part to keep LinkedIn legit and help out those who fear yet another social network, let me give you my tips on how to best utilize LinkedIn for you and your business.
Let me state this up front: I don't know anyone who works at LinkedIn, and I have no financial interest tied to LinkedIn becoming the next Google. I'm just a fan of the site and, more importantly, I'm a fan of the concept of a comprehensive business social network.
It all started for me several years ago when I began getting emails from business acquaintances with the subject line: "Invitation to connect on LinkedIn." For the most part, I ignored them. I spent five minutes creating a basic account and then every time someone sent me an invite, I just hit accept and never looked at it again. There was the initial wave where I got about 50 invitations over the course of a year, and then silence. For the next two years or so, I averaged maybe one a month.
But something happened in the spring of 2007. I started getting invitations more frequently. By July, I was getting several a day. LinkedIn was catching on and starting to become a standout property. It was beginning to cross the chasm that separates websites. There are plenty of trendy concepts that get a little love from the tech blogs, but only a few transcend into the mainstream. We've seen it happen with Google, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and, most recently, Twitter. LinkedIn is headed in that direction but hasn't completely become ubiquitous -- which is a good thing. (For the moment, the porn purveyors haven't mastered LinkedIn!)
In order to position yourself to leverage LinkedIn for you and your business, here are the four areas on which you need to focus.
First, understand what LinkedIn means to you personally. LinkedIn is the new resume. We all know how frustrating it can be to limit our accomplishments to two lines and hopefully keep that resume to one or two pages. If used properly, LinkedIn gives you the room and breadth to help bring your resume to life. I often say that LinkedIn allows you to tell your story and not just list bullet points of your accomplishments. After a resume has cleared my HR department and made its way to me, if I like what I see, my next step is to look at that person's LinkedIn page. LinkedIn is where I go when I want to know more about what they did at a particular company.
Second, put your photo on LinkedIn. What are you afraid of? You put your photo on your MySpace and Facebook pages. You probably have a Flickr account, and maybe you've even done some online dating. You put your photo there, so put it up on your LinkedIn page. I'm looking to see that you embrace new technology and that you are using all of its capabilities. I'm not going to judge you by that photo. I just want to know that you are a social person and not going to hide in the background.
Third, connections are important. I have a rule: Everyone that works for me needs to have at least 100 connections. Don't go and audit us, please -- I'm sure there are some delinquents. (And they know who they are!) Once again, I'm looking to see that the people at my company embrace the concept of social networking and have built up a list of contacts. It shows me experience in the workplace and the impact made on others. Yes, I run a digital engagement marketing agency that specializes in using social media. But if I were on the brand side, I'd be thrilled to see that my people have an army of contacts that might become frequent customers.
The fourth and final note pertains to the recommendations element of LinkedIn. This one is a personal beef with me. If I like you, I will recommend you. If I don't do it on my own, then ask me personally. Don't send out notes to 100 people asking for recommendations. It seems desperate and, frankly, I think it is rude. The result is that you either get a fake recommendation because the person feels obligated, or you don't get anything and you end up feeling slighted. Understand that if someone gives you a recommendation, they took time out of their busy day to think of something nice to say about you.
It goes the other way too. The recommendations you write are important. Each recommendation I write takes me about 20 minutes. I have to think about someone's best characteristics and try to say it in a way that I haven't said on other people's profiles. And it has to be good. Once it's up there, it is there for good, and people will see what I've written. They'll now not only be judging that person, but they'll be judging me. And please, for the sake of mankind, if someone writes a recommendation for you, write one back. I'm getting red in the face just thinking about the countless times I've been asked to write a recommendation without reciprocation.
If you do all these things, you are miles ahead of your competition. The world hasn't caught up yet, so do this now before everyone does.
Once you've got yourself a stellar profile, then it is time to market yourself and your company on LinkedIn. There are a number of ways to do this. If you run a business or a department, then it is critical that you embrace all the different methods available to you on LinkedIn. Here are some of my hints on how to tackle a few of them.
As a marketer, your network of contacts is a valuable source of ideas and feedback. Build up your contacts, and then communicate with them. Look, it doesn't do you any good to have 500 contacts and then ignore them. You need to communicate with them. And I mean communicate, not pester. One of the things that scare people away from LinkedIn is the thought of someone inviting them into their network and then harassing them for business or to make an introduction to a contact.
Use LinkedIn to engage and inspire. Let me give you an example: Last year I moderated a panel at the Bandwidth Conference in San Francisco, where I asked a group of young people how they consumed media (music, TV, movies, video games). I could have sat down and written out a handful of questions, but I thought to myself, "Why not crowd-source questions by asking my LinkedIn connections?" I picked out 500 people I knew would understand my topic and asked them what they would ask a young person. Within a week, 100 people fed me more than 200 questions. Yes, I just helped myself out tremendously. But more importantly, I communicated with my network.
Follow-up is equally important. In the case of the above example, I wrote every individual person a thank you note, and I promised to get them an answer to their question. After the panel, I wrote a guest blog post for Ypulse summarizing the panel. I sent a note to everyone telling them to take a look at that post. A week after that, I transcribed a recording of the panel, posted the entire document on my blog, and sent a note to all of my contacts to check it out. Add to that the countless emails that I answered as a result of this one particular event, and you can see how I maximized this opportunity to engage with my network. Plus, I did it in a non-intrusive manner with relevant and trusted content -- the best kind!
Start a group. Start a few. This is the best way to promote your company on a broad level versus the personal one that I've been explaining. If you have something to say, and you think people will want to listen, then create a group and communicate. Post your blogs, announce your press, create topics and discussions.
Make sure you invite a core group of people, including all of your employees and some of your close business associates, just to get the thing started. People will join. Trust me. Each day thousands of people search groups just looking for a source of inspiration that is relevant to them. For fun, start another group that interests you. Recently I noticed that people were starting alumni groups for their schools and their employers. So I started a group for the record company I worked at in the '90s. I have 55 members already, and I haven't done a thing to promote this yet.
Thought leadership is incredibly important to a business. What are your specialties and what knowledge can you impart on those willing to listen? Chances are someone is asking a question that you can answer every day. Start answering. After a while, you'll become recognized as an expert. More importantly, each time you answer a question, you get your name out there and increase what's known as your "search equity" -- the opportunity for your name or company's name to come up in a search engine.
As I was writing this, I popped my name into Google. No. 1, at the top of the queue, is my LinkedIn profile, which means that anyone who wants to know about me is going to check my LinkedIn page first, so it better be good. At the end of the day, LinkedIn is a PR tool for you and your business. It is only as good as you make it. If you take some of my suggestions and explore the hundreds of other opportunities that LinkedIn offers, you'll see what I mean. You can't rest with just LinkedIn -- you need to embrace Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, and other social networks as well. But if you have to focus on just one, LinkedIn is where you want to be.