LinkedIn or left out?

IT’s no secret that I spent a great deal of time working with social and digital media and yet, for my personal use, I have scaled back my social media activities considerably over the past year. I retain a private Facebook account, but really only use the platform for exchanging messages; Twitter I only use for company purposes and I do not feel the need to Pinterest or Instagram every scenic picture I come across, although I use both services for entertainment purposes.

There’s one platform, though, I haven’t decreased my personal or professional use of, but rather increased it in the past months: LinkedIn. The reason? Return on investment, plain and simple. Personally and professionally, no other social media site has generated close to the return on investment of my time and efforts than LinkedIn. My presence and my company’s presence on LinkedIn have, over the years, led to a multitude of – often very profitable – new connections, given me access to highly useful professional information, and opened doors as far away as Las Vegas and Tanzania.

Much has been written about the world’s largest professional online networking service and its use for people and companies from all industries, but I still come across senior professionals in my field without a LinkedIn presence or with only very basic, incomplete, profiles. Make no mistake – if you attend any kind of networking event, conference or trade fair a large number of people you meet will search for you on LinkedIn afterwards. Not showing up in their searches is like not attending the event. Showing up with an incomplete or outdated profile is like attending a real-life networking event in your pyjamas: you’d be a fool to do it.

With more than 170 million professionals using LinkedIn worldwide, the service really is fast becoming a “must-have” of your personal and professional social media presence. It’s easy enough to get started and LinkedIn provides a lot of useful guidance on its own website.

Some of my favourite, more advanced, LinkedIn strategies include using LinkedIn to follow up after other communications with people you meet at trade fairs, sales calls, or conferences, which creates longer lasting connections and opens the door for future business opportunities.

Also, if your business relies on physical sales calls to other business or industry professionals, use LinkedIn to get beyond the cold call and find out more about your prospects and customers. Spend a couple of minutes before meeting somebody to check out their LinkedIn profile and find things to talk about.

It’s a good idea to get your more senior employees trained on LinkedIn and assist them with creating and streamlining their profiles – this way, your company will present a more cohesive image to the wider public (and the ever important search engines!) and your employees will be able to act as an extension of your sales, public relations, and marketing efforts.

If you’re attending or organising large events, use LinkedIn’s company pages and showcase pages features to the maximum. Spend some time looking around the LinkedIn settings and options pages and you’ll soon find that the site offers and wealth of free services that can drive traffic to your website, increase your own, your employees’, or your company’s visibility, and lead to new business. Having a link to your LinkedIn profile in your email signature is good but having a QR code with a link to your company’s LinkedIn page on all your business cards is even better.

Although LinkedIn is a great tool, it requires a well-thought out strategy. It’s easy to waste time on the website or to build a large network too quickly and get inundated with spammy messages as a result. As with real-life networking, LinkedIn is better with a plan, i.e. you should spend a little time thinking who you want to connect with and why. Rather than simply continuously growing your network, also regularly take some time to analyse your current network and trying to find opportunities to assist existing connections. Remember, networking is about giving as well as taking!

I often hear people complain that marketing, branding, and public relations services cost a lot of money, yet many of these people haven’t fully (or not at all!) utilised LinkedIn’s free tools and services. Don’t be left out and get linked in today.

By Martin Kubler