Every small business owner has read an article on how to use social media to grow business. By now, it shouldn’t be a secret that building a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other networks extends the reach of your brand and generates sales leads without cutting too deeply into the budget. In fact, an online survey by Zoomerang found that of the SMB decision-makers who use social media, 86% use Facebook, 41% use LinkedIn, and 33% use Twitter.
LinkedIn has enjoyed rapid growth over the last few years and now has more than 150 million members. Its growth can credited to the desire of most members who prefer to keep their social online lives (Facebook) separate from their business lives (LinkedIn). In addition, LinkedIn started offering its first premium paid subscription service in 2005, which enabled members to better leverage their networks. Then, as LinkedIn continued to grow, it launched its first international office in London in 2008 and started making strategic partnerships with companies such as New York Times, Twitter, Blackberry, Microsoft, IBM, and Palm all helping to contribute to its growth.
As a small business owner, there is a lot you can accomplish for your company on LinkedIn.
Unlike other social networks, LinkedIn’s members have joined for one reason—to promote business. You don’t have to wade through birthday greetings, baby pictures, music videos, and inane tweets to have a business conversation; everyone is on the site to do exactly that. You can use LinkedIn to identify service providers and potential partners, as well as prospective clients.
Market Research Tool
Expanding your company’s network will generate more word-of-mouth referrals. You can also leverage LinkedIn as a market research tool. When compared with profiles on Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn provides more demographic data on members, so you can better understand the results of a survey or poll conducted through that network. That demographic data can also help you handpick and recruit a focus group of highly motivated users. Then use LinkedIn’s Q&A function to poll the group about your current products, branding, and suggested improvements. You can get relevant results without breaking the marketing budget.
Executive recruiters were quick to recognize LinkedIn’s value with respect to building out your team. The site helps HR professionals quickly find and recruit job candidates with skill sets and the experience companies seek. The site’s Advanced Search function offers a number of criteria, such as keyword, previous employers, tenure, distance, and more, by which the member database can be filtered.
If you’ve been lax in taking advantage of LinkedIn, don’t assume other companies have followed suit. The site offers an vehicle to tabs on your competitors. Learn who they’ve connected with and who they recommend. Competitors may refer to customers or projects in their status updates or to internal changes in their organizations, including new employees or open positions. You can learn a lot about their plans and focus in a very short amount of time.
The Scoop on Industry Trends
Often overlooked, the search function for Skills and Expertise can help keep you abreast of industry trends and direction. For example, it is interesting to simply search for a skill, such as “marketing,” to see who LinkedIn thinks is relevant to the topic. Additional demographic data is available in a graph on the right side of the page, including the number of professionals in the market, the profession’s growth rate, and average age in the profession as compared to other professions.
Finally, nothing assures a prospective client of your value proposition more than a personal recommendation from a satisfied customer. LinkedIn lets you display positive referrals from your network right in your profile. But don’t wait to receive those—go out and get testimonials. Contact your clients and ask if they will recommend you on LinkedIn. Share other recommendations you received with them and ask if they can also say something positive about you.
LinkedIn is a great personal networking tool and marketing resource dedicated to business. Using it to your advantage does not take a lot of work and results are easy to attain.