By: Brittany Sickler
Economic Development Specialist
North Dakota District Office
Even with ten years under its belt, LinkedIn remains a mystery to many small businesses looking to get involved in the social media scene. The world’s largest professional network is often mistaken for a job hunter’s tool. The truth is LinkedIn has a very influential and affluent membership; the businesses that pass it by end up missing out on tapping in to a valuable demographic.
Small businesses create a presence on LinkedIn with a Company Page. It’s possible to add your logo, product or service descriptions, showcase employees, share updates, join groups and use built-in analytics. The question often arises: “won’t it do the same thing as Facebook or Twitter?” The answer is clear; LinkedIn offers an interesting array of unique features that can painlessly take your business to the next level.
It shouldn’t take long to be convinced of the marketing powers of LinkedIn Company Pages. Below you’ll find a list of the top features to help you gain new business leads and maximize your marketing efforts.
The best way to network is to join one of the thousands of groups. They may range from smaller, specific niches to large numbers of individuals interested in the same thing. For example, the Social Media Today group has over 100,000 members and the On Start-ups Community for Entrepreneurs has over 340,000 members. Whether you join a group or start your own, you can share best practices, help out other members and meet like-minded businesses and individuals. The most important thing to remember is that this is NOT the place to sell your products or services. LinkedIn’s Mike Grishaver puts it this way: "Offer news, tips and other insightful, relevant information about your industry or business. Get your followers engaged and build relationships. Don’t just sell all the time or blast them with promotional messages. Become friends first! If you build it, the business results will come.”
Search Engine Optimization is basically the process of increasing a website’s visibility in search results. LinkedIn has gained significant authority on search engines such as Google and Bing, which index LinkedIn content. That means for those who optimize their profile with relevant keywords, their rank with be higher in online search results. They can “own” more positive results, displacing potential negative ones and overall benefit their online reputation. An example of a quick way to optimize: go to the section where your website links are shown; click edit, other, and then keyword phrase; instead of the web address showing up for your blog under My Blog, you can rename the link Social Media Marketing. Instead of the web address of your furniture business, the link can read Handmade Wood Furniture.
The LinkedIn Answers section fosters a collaborative effort among the over 200 million LinkedIn users. Small businesses can get answers to tough questions, drawing from the wisdom of their network and beyond. On the flipside, new business can be won by answering people’s questions based on your expertise.
The slightly varied old saying keep your friends close and your competitors closer still rings true. On LinkedIn you can find out what your business contacts are doing and get updates on others in your field. Since it is primarily a professional network (compared with the informal, more relaxed Facebook), you can easily network with others on an individual basis. For example, mortgage brokers can find and partner with real estate agents.
Need a website designer or photographer? If you’ve decided to outsource the things you’re not an expert in, you can search within your network and the networks of your connections to find reputable professionals to help with your small business needs. You can also try to establish a mutual referral system.
No matter what you do with internet marketing, you need to take the time to see how those efforts play out. Are they really worth your time? How should you be prioritizing your activities? LinkedIn has built in analytics to help you answer these questions and more.
Guy Kawasaki, a guest blogger for LinkedIn, strongly encourages small businesses: "Acquire new customers through online recommendations and word of mouth. Satisfied customers are the best source of new customers. Increase your word of mouth referrals by asking your happy clients to write you a recommendation, which will be published on your LinkedIn profile and will be broadcast to their entire LinkedIn network. "
Brittany Sickler was recently hired as an Economic Development Specialist for the North Dakota District Office. Prior to joining the SBA, Brittany served as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Sustainable Community Tourism in Guatemala. She has degrees in Business Administration and Spanish from Indiana Wesleyan University and a Master of Science in International Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University. Brittany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.