The missing link? 12 tips for using LinkedIn to grow your business
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). 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.”
6. Guide employees. Since the LinkedIn company page is a place where organizations can, and should, control their message and branding, there must be some posting guidelines. Many companies are afraid to go on social media because they are unsure of what their employees will say or how they will represent the company. By having guidelines in place, a business can establish a company page, push approved content through the page, and distribute the content throughout its network.
“Teach them and encourage them to share that around your network to get your message out,” Yerges says. “Most companies, where they struggle is with content distribution — good, concise content.”
7. Offer testimony. With a LinkedIn company page, you can request, receive, and display customer recommendations of your products and services. These should be product- or service-specific, and they should be used as a way to drive people to your website. “It’s a way of differentiating your brand from you as an individual,” Yerges noted. “That’s sometimes hard for small businesses. I am my business, but sometimes you want to separate your brand from yourself. With a company page, you can do that, and then you can get specific on your recommendations for products and services.”
8. Hit the bull’s-eye. LinkedIn recently added sponsored updates as an advertising platform. Lee believes the updates are an effective way to improve on your marketing and sales funnel, so long as you push out content marketing. If you are going to post content on your LinkedIn company page and then push that content to a highly targeted group, selected by geography, gender, or job title, you can pay per 1,000 impressions and you can pay per click.
“Unlike Facebook ads, LinkedIn sponsored updates actually can help you target people within a company, such as a CEO or people in human resources, accounting, information technology, etc.,” Lee stated. “On the company page, the only people who are going to see the posts are people who follow your page, so that’s why with a sponsored update, you can send to people who don’t follow your page.”
Kay-Tee Franke, president of Engaging Results Communications, says one of the more inspired uses of LinkedIn involves companies that post in groups. “If you join a group on LinkedIn and there is already a common interest there with a qualified audience of people, that seems to make the most sense and gets the most views,” she stated.
9. Recruit recruits. Another use for the company page involves finding job candidates and posting job listings, and doing so with a network of LinkedIn professionals who in all likelihood have used the technology in their own job search, including the posting of digital résumés. Arnold notes that LinkedIn has launched a new app for recruiters in an attempt to help organizations fill job openings.
Added Breitbarth: “A lot of job seekers will follow every company they are interested in working for, so companies can basically send out job postings to people they know are interested in their company.”
Franke has used LinkedIn when recruiting job candidates. “People will find our business as they search for jobs on LinkedIn,” she says. “I’ve never once in the past three years interviewed someone who I have not looked up on LinkedIn because I think that will tell me more than a résumé would.”
Tara Ingalls, owner of Tingalls Graphic Design, has used LinkedIn to make connections that have resulted in sales presentations, especially when she thought a business might outsource some graphic design work. She also uses it to verify résumés after contacting the former employers of job candidates who were on the candidate’s LinkedIn page but weren’t necessarily listed as references on their résumé.
“LinkedIn provides you with people who are similar to the person with the account, and so you can use it as a recruiting tool, or for verification of résumés and to check credentials,” Ingalls says.
LinkedIn is a social media platform with a phone app, but most of the people IB interviewed noted there are limitations — related to screen size and functionality — to using it on a phone. While improvements are promised, the smart phone app does not yet have the full complement of features on it — it’s best for accepting LinkedIn requests and looking up people on the fly — so most users run LinkedIn through the Web browser on their iPad, laptop, or desktop.
However, the recruiting function is one reason why Arnold is among those who believe LinkedIn eventually will provide good service for mobile phone users. “There is no doubt that LinkedIn views its future as mobile, so they are making strides in making sure that their feature set is robust and is user-friendly for a mobile device,” she says.
10. Leverage the analytics. On your company page, there is a separate tab for LinkedIn analytics, where you can track how your posts are faring. For example, you can see how many impressions a particular post received, how many clicks it has, how many interactions occurred, how many people liked it, and how many people commented on it.
From there, you can try to improve your results, evaluate whether followers want particular subject matter, and determine what time of day they access it. The analytical data should help guide you in posting more relevant content at a time that makes sense for your followers. It will also show how you stack up to competitors.
“You get lots of demographics about the follower, but you also get demographics about which product-and-service pages they have clicked on,” Breitbarth noted. “Have they clicked on the promotions? Have they viewed your status updates? Have they shared those status updates with other people?”
11. Take it for a spin. Barbara Boustead has a LinkedIn to-do list for 2014. Part of the daily money management industry, she’s used the platform to explain the basic bill-paying services she provides to seniors and veterans through Mary’s Daughter, LLC. She also uses the connections she’s made to provide trusted financial referrals to her clients and the adult children who care for them, and she plans to use LinkedIn to educate people through blogs and videos.
Boustead, a licensed social worker, wants to educate prospective clients and their families about the situations they will encounter while aging, including unscrupulous sales pitches. Her life’s work has been centered on helping the elderly work through the various situations they encounter, and she also wants to use her LinkedIn company page to show people what she does to help. “That’s what I’d like to do — help people visualize what I do,” she says.
12. Don’t forget community service. Fran Puleo, community and public relations manager for Monona Terrace, uses her personal LinkedIn account to help Monona Terrace’s LinkedIn page educate meeting planners and promote conventions, meetings, and other events held at the facility. It’s also been an outreach tool, as Puleo uses her connections to promote Terrace Town, a program that recruits area architects to serve as mentors in Dane County schools, where they teach students how to design sustainable cities that eventually are put on public display. Thanks to the professional filters in LinkedIn, she can determine which of her contacts are architects or urban planners and solicit their support for Terrace Town.
“That’s a little bit different than our Monona Terrace page,” she says, “but we’re searching for them on behalf of Monona Terrace for a community purpose.”
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.