The IT Consultant's Guide to Using LinkedIn for Business Development
The past year and one-half has proven to be a tough year for social media marketing and small businesses. Even prior to that time, Facebook began removing services, functionality, and unpaid exposure on business pages. This greatly hindered the effectiveness of many individuals’ and organizations’ social media strategies.
As a consultant or small business entrepreneur, the question is still often asked…
“How can I leverage social media to grow my business?”
LinkedIn may be the answer. Or at least, one answer.
LinkedIn Is a Business Social Network
The primary reason I mention LinkedIn is that it is a business network first and social network second. In fact, it isn’t really very social at all.
And while it has certainly added more Facebook-ish, social features, it still focuses on its core functionality - as a tool for business connections and conversations.
The real question is how to utilize it most effectively for business development.
Understand That It Takes Time and Effort
I give a presentation titled, “Don’t Waste Your Time: The Ugly Truth About Social Media.” In it, I point out that most businesses end up concluding that social media is a waste of time. And, in as much as they realize any effectiveness with it, they are correct.
It isn’t that I believe that social media in general, and LinkedIn, specifically, has no value. It can have tremendous value. The real challenge is that most entrepreneurs and small businesses misunderstand what makes social media compelling and therefore view it as an advertising medium.
Put the Work in Networking
LinkedIn is, first and foremost, a professional networking tool. It is no different than meeting with people at live, in-person, events. Like in-person events, networking with LinkedIn takes work.
It isn’t enough to simply make a connection, click a connect button, and then disappear. This is similar to handing people your business card or shaking their hand and then walking away without having a conversation. That seldom results in a meaningful or profitable connection.
Some Strategies to Make Your LinkedIn Experience More Profitable
The following strategies can help you turn LinkedIn into a powerful tool for business development.
Make Your Profile Interesting
I advise clients to keep their profiles short and interesting. Also, add something personal but not intimate. People like to make connections with real people and adding something humorous and interesting helps others see you as an individual.
Take a look at a few profiles and see what catches your attention.
Put Relationships in Context
I tell my clients all the time that numbers can lie. In social media, they are downright deceitful. Many people, when they start using LinkedIn and other social networks, become obsessed with numbers.
I had one client tell me, “I have more than 2,000 connections on LinkedIn.”
My response, “How often are you speaking with them?”
He said he rarely, if ever, communicated with any of them.
We took some time to go through his list and I asked him about each connection. I asked him how he made the introduction and if they had exchanged messages.
We stopped after about 100 connections. Of those, he knew 5 of them directly and had communicated with 2 of them in the past year. I explained that 95 of those 100 did not know he existed and certainly had no real idea what he did for a living.
Numbers are not the same thing as connections. And when I refer to connections, I am referring to meaningful connections. Connections where both parties are aware of the other, know something about the other person, and care at some level about the other person’s life and business.
To create this type of connection, you cannot simply connect and disappear. That is what most people do on social network. They click a connect button and send the default connection message. Or simply accept a connection request - or reject it - without any additional communication.
Instead, take the time to customize the connection message. Write a short personal note about why you are connecting with them. If you don’t know why you are connecting with them, you might want to consider whether there is any reason to connect at all.
When you accept a connection or your request is accepted, write them a personal note as well. I keep a boilerplate response as a Google document. (How geeky is that?)
Then I customize the boilerplate based on what I read on their profile. If there are personal facts they note or some experience that I can connect with and find interesting, I make sure to mention those.
My note includes the following:
- I thank them for connecting. If there is something that caught my attention in their profile, I may mention it here.
- I explain that I want to put the relationship in context by finding out more about them and letting them know more about me.
- I write one sentence about what I do.
- I write a couple sentences about my book and other writing.
- I write a couple sentences about my consulting.
- I ask them about what they do.
- I ask them if I can answer any questions or help them with anything.
- I ask them to write back.
I include my signature and links to my websites.
There is nothing earth-shattering but more than once in the past year I’ve received a note from people stating that I am the only person who has connected with them this way.
This is in contrast to the last five initial messages I’ve received from others. In those cases, each of those messages was a direct pitch for their services. Furthermore, it seemed apparent from the messages I received that the person had not taken the time to look at my profile.
Keep Dialogue Going
If warranted, keep the conversation going. In fact, see if you can set up a phone conversation with your new connection. This further separates you from the other people they connect with and know nothing about. A phone conversation is a step closer to getting a referral.
Add Value or Share Opportunity
Make sure, as you communicate with your LinkedIn connections, that you add value to their life or business or share an opportunity with them. Remember, in most cases, the other messages they receive on LinkedIn are trying to sell them services. You will be viewed much more favorably if you can provide an immediate benefit to their personal or professional life.
Using Tags on LinkedIn
LinkedIn provides some contact management features. Tags allow you to classify and categorize your contacts. Tag them if you have a phone conversation with them. Tag them as a lead or a key lead if warranted.
Notes and Other Contact Information
Besides tags, you have the ability to add and edits notes about your contacts, set a reminder - with a note about the reminder, write a note about how you met and who introduced you, and edit their contact information. This can provide you with valuable information to help you further enhance the context (or value) of the contact.
Important: Edits you make on someone’s profile are private. They can be seen only by you, not by the contact.
LinkedIn groups tend to be more powerful than Facebook groups. If properly moderated, they can be a valuable source of information and a way to spot insightful and engaging personalities.
Search for groups in areas that interest you. But take some time to check out the group. If most of the discussions are advertising or spam, avoid that group. Remember, your time is valuable and you need to engage with meaningful conversations if you want to create meaningful relationships.
Adding to a discussion or answering someone’s question opens the door to connect with them or someone else you notice in the discussion. You gain insight into how others think and get to showcase your insight on specific topics.
Beware entering highly charged discussions. I have no problem with disagreement and even strong dialogue. But I try to approach disagreements with a strong sense of humor and some self-deprecation. I never (NEVER) respond with angry rhetoric, ALL CAP YELLING, or insults. I can, however, be sarcastic but try to temper that with even more humor.
Use the System
Prior to last year, I did not use LinkedIn diligently or intentionally. I connected and I always sent a personal note to each connection. But I did not use the additional features, and I often failed to keep conversations going or push for actual phone calls.
Also, I upgraded to a Premium account. This has resulted in access to more tools and in greater exposure for my profile. Adding these other elements to the equation has paid off in both business and in deeper connections across the board.
My plan is to continue to use LinkedIn and use its Premium features like InMail and Lead Builder. Because of its focus as a business-first network, it appears to be primed to offer business development and sales benefits to the astute user.