LinkedIn is the "professional" social media network. It is where business executives, small-business owners, professionals and creatives come to share ideas, argue techniques, ask questions, give answers and generally hobnob with colleagues along with potential customers, suppliers, clients and vendors. If your business sells to business, your social media strategy needs to put LinkedIn at the top.
Social media has become a vital part of marketing, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses with limited funds to spend on traditional marketing channels. The question many ask, however, is how do you sell on LinkedIn?
And if that's what you ask, you've already got it wrong.
Engagement on LinkedIn is primarily through discussion groups. The key maxim for LinkedIn Groups is: "Tell. Don't sell." If you try to directly pitch your products or services when you post to a group, the group moderator and other members will send you a stern warning to knock it off. Repeated attempts to make a pitch will get you banned.
Yet surveys show that businesses, particularly businesses that sell to other businesses, get more leads from LinkedIn than from any other social media platform.
The businesses that successfully garner leads are the ones that build a respected reputation in groups. But that's not all it takes. The respect that active participants in LinkedIn groups earn drives contacts to personal and company profile pages. It's the profile pages which show the participants' experience and expertise in specific markets. Profile pages that show enough in turn drive contacts to company websites. It's what's on the website that can turn a contact into an actual lead and eventually, a customer.
The strategy you need as a business on LinkedIn, then, is three-fold:
Score, the non-profit mentor program supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, stresses in a free online workshop that it "pays to be likeable" when working social media, and that's key when doing LinkedIn.
The workshop stresses seven common-sense practices you need to use when engaging in LinkedIn groups.
Too many people barge into a group, start bragging about what they've done with their business, and, even worse, begin claiming they can improve anyone's business in 14 easy steps without sharing even one of those steps. Such boorish behavior usually results in getting slammed big time by the next 14 posters, and the braggart loses all credibility.
The best approach when just joining a LinkedIn group is to lurk for a while, read the rules for the group, get a feel for the hot topics being discussed and get a sense of who's in the group. Recognize that a good percentage of the group may be your target market, but it's also likely that many are competitors, and others are potential vendors. Don't denigrate your competitors and don't ignore the vendors. Building a solid reputation among your colleagues can have long-term payoffs.
When someone asks a question in a group that you can answer, answer it freely. Be helpful in the group. While you don't want to make direct sales pitches, you don't have to hide what business you're in, either. A mention of your background when appropriate to show why you have the insight you share in discussions adds to your credibility. Don't hesitate to ask for help on some issue you're facing. If you're free in sharing advice, you'll quickly realize the benefits. Being grateful for the benefits you do receive cements relationships.
Being part of a team becomes obvious after you've been in a group for a while. A good LinkedIn discussion group becomes a community. Contentious debates may be part of that community, but so will valuable contacts and even friendships. Some of those contacts will become solid leads and customers, and other contacts will direct leads to you from outside the group.
If all these practices seem like what you should be doing anyway in your face-to-face engagements, it is.
Your engagement in group discussions can convince others in the group that what you have to say is valuable. Do enough of it and you become, in the parlance of LinkedIn discussions, a "thought leader," a somewhat Orwellian sounding term meaning someone whose posts provide answers, spur more discussion, and attract more followers.
But people who really want to discover if you know what you're talking about, if you're as credible as you sound, and to find out what business you're really in are going to click on your name to see your profile page. Your profile better be ready.
Your profile page is where you begin to sell yourself. Visitors can see what company you're working for and your experience. It should also have recommendations you've garnered from clients, customers or former bosses.
Many of your employees may also have LinkedIn profile pages. Giving them a list of the seven best practices listed earlier would be a good idea, but otherwise don't meddle with their online activity. But since they will likely identify your company as their employer, you also better have your company profile ready.
A company profile is similar to a personal profile in that it describes what the company is and the products and services it offers. The company page on LinkedIn is growing in importance as the place where real selling begins.
People who become really interested in you and your company will finally end up on your web page. The deal's done; you've got a bona fide lead and sure fire customer, right?
Not quite. It depends on what's on your website. Ok, you'd expect a blog from a website development company to get around to saying something like that. So let's be specific, here. Recent surveys find that visits to a site with a blog are more likely to generate leads than a visit to a strictly commercial site. By more likely, we mean a 7-1 advantage, and the 1 is being generous.
A blog appears to be what seals the deal, what provides the most insight into the kind of person you are and the kind of company you run. A blog can also be the basis for what you post on your own LinkedIn page (and Facebook timeline), and even a take off point for what you post in groups, provided it stays in the "tell, don't sell" mode.
Your website and blog, your profile and company page, and how you engage others in discussion groups are all part of an integrated, common-sense strategy for making contacts and attracting leads through LinkedIn. It's not a magic formula for success. It takes some work, and a willingness to be helpful, polite and patient for the leads to come to you.