According to a 2013 Jobvite survey, LinkedIn was the top social media tool used by recruiters to search for, investigate, and contact job seekers. LinkedIn might be a preferred way to find employees, but it can also be a way to market and promote your business. Experts argue that some business owners and their key staff are not taking full advantage of LinkedIn's features and benefits. Understanding how LinkedIn works and how to optimize your presence can help you and your business stand out among the site's more than 259 million members—and maybe even turn some of them into paying customers.
Prove your worth
An important step in putting together your LinkedIn page is to have a sound strategy for using keywords throughout your profile—the more specific, the better. Let's say that someone is looking for an accountant who specializes in tax law for small businesses in the Cleveland area. An accountant that includes those key words on their LinkedIn page would come up higher in a search over an accountant that did not go into such detail in their LinkedIn description.
A second step is to build your credibility. "If I land on your profile, I want to understand what you're doing, but I also want to know that you're good at it," says Wayne Breitbarth, author of The Power Formula For LinkedIn Success. Listing awards that you've won and recommendations from satisfied clients or other positive endorsements can also burnish your credentials.
Inviting people to join your network is a prime benefit of LinkedIn, but some members squander the opportunity, Breitbarth says. LinkedIn lets you craft 300-character targeted invitations—which many businesspeople overlook—that are much stronger than the typical generic invitation. "The protocol is to remind the person where you met them, tell them how you might be able to help them or how you might work together, and then ask them to join your network," Breitbarth says. "If you don't know the person really really well, you better make it clear to them why they should connect with you, because this is a privilege."
It's worse to have a weak or hastily concocted profile page than none at all, Breitbarth cautions. "Unless you're going to do this with a strategy and a purpose, you may not want to get started," he adds. "People will start passing on you if they can't tell what you do."
Put out relevant content
Having a profile page for an individual is one way to create an identity on LinkedIn, but putting up a customized company page for your business can complement and even strengthen your online presence. LinkedIn lets you link your company page to your individual page, allowing you to reach separate sets of connections.
"You can put in your company story, upload images, and post things that are happening in your business," says Alyssa Gregory, founder of Small Business Bonfire, an online community for entrepreneurs. "It becomes a really great way to give an idea of who you are and what you do as a business."
Gregory says that timely content that deeply engages your audience usually gets the biggest results. For example, taking a poll and then posting the results is an easy and quick way to get people to comment and draw them into a conversation aligned with your business. Sponsoring a group can attract people, too.
"If your business were to create a group for the purpose of sharing information about specific topics that are relevant to the group, that's really a great way to promote your business without selling," Gregory explains. "You can be posting information for that group, link to your blog about products you created, and then ask people in the group to engage with the content. It makes it a lot more interactive and a lot less informational."
To distinguish your company page from your individual profile or your website, Gregory suggests offering incentives on your company page, such as a special offer for people who find you on LinkedIn or information that is not available in your other marketing efforts. "There should be some reason why people would want to visit the company page. Of course, it should move people back to your website after they get there," Gregory says. "But you want to reward them for visiting in the first place."
Join relevant groups
In addition to starting their own groups, small business professionals who want to drive new relationships can engage with a wider audience by joining—or even moderating or managing—outside groups that complement their business interests.
"Groups let you connect with members that you're not necessarily connected to on LinkedIn," says Jasmine Sandler, CEO of Agent-cy Online Marketing, a New York-based social media marketing and public relations company. "But make sure you read the rules of the group first. Then, engage in the discussions. You want to be a thought leader or the go-to person when you're a business owner."
Sandler herself manages three groups. She also makes it a point to join the LinkedIn group of any offline association she is involved with. One overlooked category of groups that she is particularly fond of is based on hobbies, which can lead to passionate discussions among members because of their shared interests. "I am a member of The Hockey Players Doing Business Group on LinkedIn, a group of business owners like me that happen to play hockey," Sandler explains. "Since joining the group two years ago, I have developed business with members all around the U.S. and Canada. [Other members] refer people to me. You never know where it's going to lead."