LinkedIn has become an invaluable asset to many professionals, regardless of the company or vertical they work within. It is an incredibly powerful networking tool and can also be useful from a marketing standpoint, since it now offers paid advertising.
For networking purposes, LinkedIn offers an unlimited rolodex for building your network. It resembles the theory of "six degrees of separation" by using the power of introductions and referrals to grow your inner circle. You will be amazed at how people will find you and how you will start to locate others.
Once you have established your profile, indicating former and current employers plus schools and affiliations, the interface will then help you find people you may know. The system will continuously offer people for you to connect with that have common associations to you (employers, schools, business interests, etc). Through the in-network mail you can reach out and invite individuals into your network. Once they are in your network, you will each be notified when there is a change in either profile (change in status, joins a group, answers a question, etc.).
Recruiters and Human Resource personnel are big users of this system to source job candidates for specific positions. They will send a note out to their "network" (people they have connected with) in hopes of virally spreading the word about an open position. This communication platform is available to all users and can go beyond recruiting, by spreading whatever important message you need/want to pass on. You could think of it as the foundation for a viral marketing campaign.
LinkedIn works on a referral basis and leverages people's expertise where they can add value. There are two ways you can establish yourself as an industry expert and provide input on subject matters related to your business. They are:
- Apply to join an existing Group or establish your own Group, if one does not exist for your niche expertise. By being active in a group, you can engage with others who have common interests and those who are looking to learn from industry experts.
- Participate in the Answers forum. This is a section which is categorized, where users can post questions and other users can weigh in with responses.
Users who contribute frequently within a certain category have a special notation and are called out in the section as having the most answers. Participation can be very valuable toward establishing yourself as a leader in a field, but be careful not to be perceived as self-promoting. By nature, your constant input and feedback will offer users a sense of who you are and what value you offer. Remember, it is very easy to contact someone through LinkedIn, as well as for people to quickly learn more about you (by going to your profile).
Within the answers section is the ability to hyperlink to URLs of value to the question, which could direct users to articles, blog posts or online tools that your company offers. Additionally, there is an opportunity to identify an Expert in your post – which is basically a public referral of someone you know.
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In addition, LinkedIn offers two paid advertising options; one direct and the other via Google Adwords (they are a partner of Google's syndication network). The Google ads are billed on a cost per click basis and are tied to your existing Google account and budget.
The direct ads offer a wide variety of targeting features, based on the individual profile information collected from users. This information is proving to be valuable for advertisers who can get as granular as they like in targeting their ads, to reach the right audience (i.e., users holding a director level or higher title, in a particular industry and in a certain geographic area). These options are beneficial for B-to-B advertisers who have a precise profile of their customer. LinkedIn charges advertisers on a CPM (cost per impression) basis, similar to a media buy, with incremental fees for each of the targeting options selected.
There are so many ways to use this powerful tool to enhance your business network and your pipeline. The concepts described in this article should help to get you started. With all of the LinkedIn applications now available (share PPT presentations, import blog postings, reputation monitoring), it is a tool that should be increasingly relied upon by business professionals.