The missing link? 12 tips for using LinkedIn to grow your business
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LinkedIn might primarily be a social media platform that’s about building professional relationships, but the platform is also about being of service to people, which is where the company use of the networking site comes in.
There are roughly 2.5 million LinkedIn company pages, but that’s only scratching the surface. Wayne Breitbarth, author of The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success, cites several reasons why more companies should use LinkedIn, starting with the fact that it’s still free in most cases and continuing with the likelihood that your company will show up on the first or second page of a Google search.
“Google loves social media,” says Breitbarth, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
There are occasions when professional and company use overlap; indeed, individual LinkedIn accounts are business tools for many sole proprietors who use the site to make connections and build their brands. But for the purposes of this article, IB will concentrate on LinkedIn company pages.
Instead of trying to sell a product, you can use a well-designed LinkedIn company page to provide relevant content that supports your followers' business mission, according to Cathy Yerges, founder and CEO of Peak Profits, LLC.
1. Strategy first. Before launching a company page, develop a strategy around understanding your goals and who you want to connect with (target audience), especially in the business-to-business space. LinkedIn has applications for the business-to-consumer realm, but it’s a no-brainer for B-2-B because its proper business use is content-based. Going into it blindly, without knowing what you want to communicate, is where a lot of people get frustrated with the results.
Cathy Yerges, founder and CEO of Peak Profits, LLC, says businesses that have a relevant message and know who they are trying to reach can make some inroads with LinkedIn, but it requires some patience. “Look at the strategy like you would any marketing campaign,” she counseled. “I advise clients to look at it with a four- to six-month time horizon. Then you can really drive your message, and you can create your content.”
2. Find a user. Brian Lee, president of Revelation PR, Advertising & Social Media, says company pages are launched after someone in the company opens an individual LinkedIn account.
“You have to be an individual on LinkedIn first, and then go ahead and create the company page,” Lee noted. “It exists as its own page, but not as a profile.”
Encouraging all your employees to have individual LinkedIn profiles and to attach them to your company page helps your page ranking and LinkedIn audience reach. One note of caution is that your LinkedIn “starting point” can be anyone who has an email address that is tied to the company domain (you cannot start a company page with a non-company email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). It does not have to be someone of influence or someone with an executive title, and that can cause problems.
“People start the company page, only to find that it was started three years ago by someone who does not work there anymore,” Breitbarth explained. “LinkedIn will help you with that, but it takes a few days to say ‘this is my company page, I’m locked out of it, and this person doesn’t work here anymore.’”
3. Strut your stuff. Breitbarth notes that a LinkedIn company page is another way to showcase your products and services, and send messages, also known as status updates, to “followers” who have granted permission to send them news on products, services, events, or special offers.
A full description of your products or services, or a category of them, with videos and links back to your website is an opportunity to proactively show your company’s capabilities. “Most companies are trying to get social media tools to work in a very linkage sort of way with their website, so it’s really good for that,” Breitbarth says.
Better yet, that showcase can be a global one. Ken Wasylik of E.M. Wasylik Associates is in the formative stages of developing his LinkedIn strategy, but he’s already used the technology to expand into new territories. When your company develops international business for both U.S. and foreign clients, you understand the importance of geographic reach.
“The social network is great because your page is immediately global, so I’ve been getting invites from every part of the world,” he says. “They are trying to connect with me, and for more corporate and business reasons, rather than personal.”
4. Demonstrate expertise. Content marketing through articles, blogs, videos, photo albums, and information graphics is an ideal way to use your company page. By demonstrating your expertise on industry topics, and linking the content back to your website, you provide value to followers, build your brand, and set the stage for an eventual sale.
This is especially true if the content is presented in digestible chunks — around 500 words or so. “Content marketing is good for pulling people in as opposed to general marketing and advertising, where you are pushing content to them,” Lee explained. “In this case, you are providing materials that are either informative and educational, entertaining, or engaging.”
While leading conversations, content marketing also aids search engine optimization and helps attract prospective customers and retain existing ones. “When I look at Xerox, Cisco, and other large businesses that have a B-2-B audience, this is a great place for them to be from a target-audience standpoint,” says Dana Arnold, PR and social media director for Hiebing. “They should be showcasing their thought leadership, and they should be doing all those things to connect with their actual target audience.”
5. Ditch the sales pitch. You don’t want to overdo the sales pitches on your company page. Too much selling, and not enough value, is a good way to ensure your company page will be ignored, especially in the business-to-business space. This is precisely why content marketing (see above) has evolved into an effective business strategy; ideally, it will lead to a sale, just not overtly.
“You should really never sell on social media,” Yerges counsels. “You want to be helpful. You want to help make introductions to people. You want to share information. As people want to engage with you, the goal is to drive traffic back to your website, and that’s where you start the sales process.”