How to Use LinkedIn to Market Your Business

More and more professionals are using social networks to build relationships, meet new contacts, and market themselves and their businesses. But diving into the virtual meet-and-greet can be daunting. Where to begin?

The answer is LinkedIn, a social network for professionals who are looking to promote both themselves and their companies. Developed specifically for business, you don’t run the risk of blurring your professional life with your private one. LinkedIn offers an amazing opportunity to generate new leads — you can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals who can help you accomplish your goals and grow your business.

LinkedIn has great tools for connecting you to customers, prospects, and industry thought leaders alike, and many marketers are under-utilizing its functionality due to simple lack of awareness — joining LinkedIn is simple, but turning it into a powerful networking tool takes a bit of know-how.

Some LinkedIn facts

  • The site has over 60 million members
  • A new member joins approximately every second
  • Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are members

Benefits of a complete and well-developed LinkedIn presence

  • Increased visibility for your company and products
  • The ability to research your competition, customers, or partners
  • Easy collaboration with colleagues, customers, and industry thought leaders
  • Excellent source of SEO-friendly links: LinkedIn has great authority in Google; and you can can create unique anchor text for your Web site links, which are given the dofollow attribute (LinkedIn’s PageRank is 9).

How to get going with LinkedIn

If you don’t already have a personal profile on LinkedIn, here are some simple steps you can follow to set one up:

1. Create a complete personal profile

When you interact with others on LinkedIn, your profile is the first thing they see so it needs to be complete. Make sure you fill in all relevant information about yourself, your areas of expertise, and your experience — visit the site’s main page to get started.

  • Upload a professional photo of yourself. Profiles with photos are more credible, so people are more likely to engage with you.
  • The more optimized your profile is, the more relevant it will be in search results. Use some basic SEO techniques, including hyperlinking targeted keywords. When you post the URLs for your company and your blog, make sure you customize them — for example, instead of using the default anchor text for linking to your blog (“My Blog”), change it to your blog’s actual title (“Pamorama” in my case).

  • Use keywords in descriptions. Make your profile more search-friendly by including your keywords in your summary, specialties, and experience.
  • Create a vanity URL. Doing so will solidify your professional brand:

2. Get recommended

Your profile is not complete if you don’t have some recommendations. You can ask for a recommendation from previous employers, your current employer, or other business contacts. Getting recommended is important because it adds to your credibility — it demonstrates that your expertise is valued by people who have actually worked with you.

3. Build a strong network of contacts

Now you need to start adding connections. Make sure you connect to friends and colleagues — LinkedIn makes this easy for you by looking in your e-mail address book to find contacts who are already on the network. You can also use the search box on the top right to look for people you know:

Encourage every employee to have a LinkedIn profile and to link to each other. Extending your network in this way increases your exposure outside your company.

Once you’re connected to colleagues and friends, you can browse their networks, find potential prospects and ask your connections for an introduction, or simply contact the decision-makers in these businesses directly. You can also find people who are considered authorities in your industry and try to get in touch with them.

4. Use third-party applications to make the most of your profile and promote your company

There are many third-party applications on LinkedIn that can help you effectively promote yourself, your company, your Web site, and your blog. You can use SlideShare so visitors can see your business presentations, Company Buzz to monitor what’s being said about your company on Twitter, or to upload and manage files. And the aptly named Tweets displays your most recent Twitter updates.

With the WordPress application, you can synchronize your blog with your profile and display your most recent posts with summaries — updates are automatically sent to your network when you write new content:

5. Promote your personal profile

You can promote your profile on LinkedIn itself and via other means. On LinkedIn, users see a link to your profile wherever you participate (in groups, discussions, etc.), so the more you interact the more exposure you’ll receive. You can also post your profile URL on your Web site, your blog, your business card, in your e-mail signature, on any other social networking sites you use — anywhere you provide information about yourself.

6. Engage with other users

The more you actively engage and provide valuable contributions, the more you’ll be appreciated in the community. Make sure you participate in discussions, ask and answer questions, and update your status on a regular basis.

7. Keep your profile up to date

It seems obvious, but many people create a profile and then let it languish. Updating relevant information on a regular basis is essential for credibility.

Establish your company’s presence

Now that you’ve created your own presence on LinkedIn, it’s time to do the same for your company:

1. Create your company’s profile

  • To get started, go to the “Companies” menu on LinkedIn. From there, select “Add Company”.

  • Follow LinkedIn’s wizard and enter basic information about your company, like its description, number of employees, and industry it operates in — you’ll be able to add a logo, locations, and a feed for your company blog. As with your personal profile, make your company profile more search-friendly by including your keywords in its description.

In addition to showing off the basic information you provided, LinkedIn will pull in data about your company from around the site. So, for example, all of your job listings will automatically show up on your profile, along with links to the profiles of all current employees, former employees, new hires, and recent promotions. LinkedIn also does analysis of your company and the connections that your employees have on the network. For example, it will automatically calculate your employees’ median age, top schools, and determine other companies that they are well-connected to.

All of this aggregate data about your company gives potential customers, partners, and anyone else who’s interested in your company a lot of information to dive into and help determine if it might be a good fit for them. And for you, once it’s set up, it all happens automatically as you and your employees use LinkedIn. Make it a point to edit your company’s basic profile information as necessary to keep it up to date.

If you’re interested in leveraging the network for recruiting, LinkedIn offers a premium product called Custom Company Profiles that lets you add more features, like videos about your company and positions, interactive polls, and other recruiting-specific customizations. These are worth considering for larger companies (they’re pricey), but for small businesses, a basic LinkedIn company profile should be enough to create a brand on the site.

2. Promote your company’s profile

Use the same methods to promote your company’s profile as you do for your personal one — on LinkedIn, point people to your company profile link when you participate in discussions and ask questions. In other places, post your company profile URL on your Web site, your blog, your business card, in your e-mail signature, etc.

3. Develop relationships with key business partners or media contacts

When you search for someone on LinkedIn, you can be very precise about who you want to reach. So, for example, if you know that your business needs to expand into the smartphone market, you can start targeting and reaching out to companies like Apple, Research In Motion, and HTC. If you want to increase your visibility, start reaching out to media members who cover your industry.

4. Start a group

Demonstrate your willingness to share information about your industry or niche by creating a group:

Here are some suggestions to get it started right:

  • Choose a relevant name. The name of your group should contain keywords so it can be found by people interested in your industry.
  • Add a logo. In the same sense that a photo is important for your personal profile, a good logo helps with branding.
  • Use the available option to display your group in the Group Directory and on member’s profile.

5. Promote and manage your group

Creating a group and then abandoning it won’t help you — you need to promote it and manage it. In order to get members, you need to promote your group — start by inviting your connections who might be interested in your industry, but don’t limit the group to your connections. And keep members engaged by starting discussions and posting interesting news, sending announcements, importing your blog’s RSS feed, etc.

Group promotion tips:

  • Send e-mail to your customers to introduce them to your group and invite them to participate
  • Add the group’s logo to your Web site or blog and link it back to the group itself
  • Promote the group on other social social networking sites

Do you use LinkedIn to market your business? Please share your experience!

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