Twitter generates more than 340 million tweets daily and Facebook continues to grow past the 1 billion active user mark, meaning the roots of social media are planted firmly in our lives and relationships. The challenge for businesses and particularly highly professional or business-to-business relationships is to find a way to use social media in a way that creates value without wasting time. For business purposes, I continue to be impressed with the boring, stuffy uncle of the social media family: LinkedIn.
Most people use LinkedIn as a kind of Rolodex to look up contact information or get a job. With more than 200 million members —
74 million in the United States —LinkedIn doesn’t offer the scope of some of its trendier relatives. But it’s different than the others for good reason. LinkedIn strives to offer a truly professional business networking tool. It’s not cool or hip. Nothing “goes viral” on LinkedIn. Instead, you’ll find a business conversation with industry folks about news articles, presentations and informative talks.
At its most basic level, LinkedIn is simply an online resume tool. It allows you to post all your roles, responsibilities, skills, expertise, honors, awards and activities along with a professional headshot. This format makes LinkedIn a temple for job seekers. The benefits to job seekers overshadow a more important use: LinkedIn offers a good way to build credibility with your peers and business customers. LinkedIn is a social media tool that can be used to increase awareness and build authority of yourself and your company.
Let’s say your company is accepting bids on a new website. To do a little reconnaissance on the person you’ve talked with, you Google the name of the web developer. You might find his or her website, but you’re also likely to find a LinkedIn profile high in the ranked list. LinkedIn profiles are optimized for search engine indexing so they tend to receive a fairly high page rank. This is great because it’s an easy way to build visibility. For the web developer, I hope to be delighted by an impressive LinkedIn profile with references that show off expertise and a track record with recommendations from clients. A LinkedIn profile that’s complete and done with care constitutes a strong selling point for your products or services.
One of the greatest strengths of LinkedIn is that its members trust the information found on the site. LinkedIn feels safe. As a result, it’s important you don’t use LinkedIn to push yourself or your business. Allow your business relationships to build naturally as you use LinkedIn to communicate with people in the same genuine, sincere way you would if you were networking in person.
To stand out on LinkedIn, strive to be genuine, smart and helpful. One of the best ways to start connecting is by being a resource to your connections: comment on people’s updates, answer questions and recommend people you know who do great work. Once you start this interaction (10 to 15 minutes per week), you’ll build over time a network that can serve you and your company.
Ready to get started? Here are three big steps and a series of smaller steps to help make LinkedIn your preferred professional network:
Build your personal profiles (you may have already done this) and complete as many relevant fields as possible. Additional information will make you more searchable and findable.
Add a professional headshot for your profile picture.
Generate a public profile and custom URL address.
Also build your company profile page so it includes important content about products, services, contact information and website address.
Build your connections by adding business friends, clients and colleagues who you actually know in real life. The more connections you have, the more ability you’ll have to get more information (insight) and make more connections.
If you see colleague in passing on the street or at lunch, take a minute when you get back to your desk to look them up using the people search function on LinkedIn and add them as a connection. Keep adding people, a few each week, and soon you’ll see your network build on itself.
Set aside a few minutes each week to participate on LinkedIn by posting information and interacting with people in your network. Keep in mind your updates should be concise, relevant, interesting and business-related.
LinkedIn has literally millions of “groups” to join. The groups form around all sorts of niche interests from aerospace to yoga, so find a professional topic you really like and join the group. Spend time listening to their communications so when you decide to participate, your message fits with the norms of the group. Joining and participating in groups is about gaining recognition and establishing real connections.
If you read this column and want to build your LinkedIn network, send me a connection request. I hope to see you on LinkedIn.