Without a doubt LinkedIn is one of the most important sites a professional service firm should focus on from the outset and YES you should be using it to the absolute limit of its potential.
However it is not the only site to really focus on: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other video upload sites,your blog, online Directories, relevant forums, article sites and social book marking sites, they all have an important part to play in your social media marketing strategy and whilst LinkedIn is very important you must develop a strategy and see it in the long term perspective.
Its easy to use, its free, it's well established and liked and it's powerful for both the individual and firm alike. Do not see LinkedIn, just in the personal context alone see it as a really powerful professional networking tool at the level of the firm itself.
LinkedIn, had an Alexia ranking, July 2010, of 29; this means it has the 29th highest combination of visitors and page views in the world.
LinkedIn has over 70 million users and is perfect because all those users solely focus on using the site for business purposes.
When you join, LinkedIn, you create a profile that summarizes your professional expertise and accomplishments. You can then form enduring connections by inviting trusted contacts to join LinkedIn and connect to you.
Your network consists of your connections, your connections' connections, and the people they know; all in all linking you to a vast number of qualified professionals and experts.
As is the case with any social network, it's important that you take a little time and get to know the culture and appreciate the accepted norms; take it steady.
LinkedIn, is the online version of offline business networking. As such it's the world's largest professional network and is growing rapidly as a marketing tool for professionals because of its power to find and share opportunities and to support to build relationships:
•It's a networking tool to find prospects and new clients, network partners industry experts, associates, vendors and business partners.
•It allows registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know and trust in business. • Many individuals openly promote relationships and deals that they are in the market for.
•You can use it to build a sense of occasion for specific happenings around your organization.
•LinkedIn, provides a perfect vehicle for getting feedback and undertaking research by simply asking questions.
Through your LinkedIn, network you can:
•manage the information that's publicly available about you and your firm;
•find, as well as get introduced to, potential clients, service providers, and subject experts, all of whom will come recommended; that's the glory of LinkedIn;
•create and collaborate on projects, gather data, share files and solve problems;
•be found for business opportunities and find potential partners;
•gain new insights from discussions with like- minded professionals; • discover inside connections that can help you to source contracts and close deals; and
•post and distribute job listings to find the best talent for your company.
LinkedIn is growing at one new member every second.and whilst many seeLinkedIn as a career development tool for professional firm business owners it's primary purpose will be all about making connections.
By the way your contacts in LinkedIn are called connections.
Never forget that first and foremost LinkedIn is a 'friend of friends' networking tool that enables you to make connections, build rapport and gain insights.
So, what are the keys to success when using LinkedIn?
As a starter all your key players within the firm need to have there own profile on LinkedIn
As ever the key is to set out your profile with the client in mind, and to get over the essence, in meaningful ways, from the prospects perspective, why & how you're special.
The key is to ensure that it's unmistakably clear:
•to whom you provide a service;
•what you can do for them, expressed in terms of benefits they can relate to;
•that you have a clear understanding of the problems/issues/concerns or needs they have and the results you'll be helping them to achieve; and most importantly; and
•why you're special in this context.
Make the most of your profile.
Use Your LinkedIn profile to best effect don't waste it; ensure that it is informative and well optimised for search.
Also make sure that you:
•Add your photo: this personalises like almost nothing else;
•Use links to your blog using Anchor text using the "other" tab;
•Use the "Summary" to tell your story or whatever else is compelling way;
•Use well focused keywords in the "specialty" section.
Keep your LinkedIn site active:
LinkedIn has a status update feature that you should update on a regular basis.
Place links to your LinkedIn,profile in your email signature and elsewhere online.
Make the most of the LinkedIn, Question & Answer facility by answering questions in substance and with style you can demonstrate your insights and expertise while potentially engaging contacts that are drawn to your knowledge. LinkedIn, has a rating system to reward people who give the best answers with some added exposure.
You can also ask thoughtful questions gaining insights and the basis for starting conversations, with like-minded connections.
Present information selectively. LinkedIn site was originally set up as a career development tool therefore you must be selective in how you use it in terms of the information you present under the headings offered. See the headings in a loose context and write as you see best given your business development and relationship development objectives for the use of the site. For example in the specialities section provide a list of your services and the benefits those services bring.
When using LinkedIn the first priority is to make quality connections. Then having made a connection the secondary goal is to get those connections [and in turn their connections] to go to your website, a blog or a video where you can really start to build meaningful rapport.
The primary purpose should not be to sell a service on LinkedIn site; there are many options elsewhere for this to be done; LinkedIn is for building relationships. Full stop. Only when you have built a relationship and established trust will it be time to sell.
Having established a new relationship then here is where the power of videos come into their own to establish a relationship and in this context its easy to see how important the development of a tactical plan of action is in terms of your 1st finding prospects; then connecting with them then getting them to take action and to view, say a video, or to visit your blog or sign up for your emails.
The key is to the most effective use of LinkedIn is to find connections using the search function and by using your contacts with whom you are connected.
Obviously the more direct connections you've established, the more opportunities you'll be afforded to make new contacts and build evermore connections; without the contacts and connections with them you'll be hard pressed to enjoy any benefits.
To effect a good mix of contacts use the LinkedIn toolbar for Outlook which you can use to invite your Outlook contacts and those on your email list to connect to you.
3 critically important maxims when using LinkedIN and the social media.
Firstly, 'go for quality' not quantity when building connections. Whilst the focus is on building a large network list, the priority is quality not quantity.
My advice is to use LinkedIn's "Trusted Partner Networking" and to avoid the "Open Networking" option where you can build thousands quite quickly but the quality of those people in terms of your service or your ability to communicate with them is low;
I prefer to use Trusted Partner Networking, because you only connect to people you already know and trust.
The second maxim is, as ever with the social media, to make commitment to what you're doing and to undertaking consistent activity over time.
This is where the third maxim comes in.
It will only be by dedicating significant time to working ON your business and not in it that you will achieve your objective of taking the firm to the next level using the social media and services such as LinkedIn and avoiding the feast and famine scenario experienced by so many firms.
So how do you use LinkedIn to find new clients & keep in touch with old ones?
For most professional firms their geographic target market is well defined as are the niches in which they work and the type of prospects they are wanting to get to know. LinkedIn is brilliant for professional firms, in this regard as it:
•allows your search to be highly targeted; especially when searching other people's listings of contacts; and
•you can follow up by asking the connection [contact] on whose list you found someone you'd like to get to know better if they will effect an initial contact on your behalf... et voila.
You should make maximum use of the testimonials facility.
It really is important that for each of the professional service areas where you offer a service that you present reputable and relevant testimonials in support, which should be complemented by video presentation testimonials.
This is really powerful if someone is in two minds as to whether they want to connect with you.
A great way to get client recommendations is to give them a testimonial first; reciprocation is then only natural.
This works great on LinkedIn as your client, the one to whom you're giving the testimonial, has the chance to vet what you've said before it goes live on their LinkedIn page and at the same time they're asked automatically if they'd like to reciprocate with a testimonial to you; which, normally they do.
You can build both rapport and status using LinkedIn Groups. If you're really up for building contacts then an idea is to join one of the many special interest Groups on LinkedIn. Here you can keep up to date on matters relating to your niche and contribute via postings in the very places where your prospects and clients hang out.
I suggest just going for one or two in the first instance as there are so many and it can become a little daunting if you want to play a meaningful role in each. The more you contribute the better.
This is where you really can add value; the more you contribute the stronger will be your reputation; although this said I caution whether you'll actually gain any new clients directly as a result of this; but, again, this said if as a result of your contribution you can then get people to go to a video series or to your website where other factors come into play then this is quite another matter.
You can also post questions and answers in the LinkedIn Q&A section; this is another useful way to build credibility.
Now to a few important specifics
Don't underestimate the importance of your professional headline: as this is the first thing people see when they find you after doing a search or a follow up after you've made contact. As such the professional headline is very important; aim to get it really well focused and absolutely spot-on.. What they see is a box with your name, photo, and this "headline.
If you're on the ball this doesn't just give your position but rather sets out what you offer. This heading is filled in by default unless you manually change it in the 'edit my profile' section. By using the right header this immediately indicates to a connection whether or not you might be of interest to them.
My headline, simple and to the point,, which is much better than just giving my job title, is: Helping professional service firm business owners to get more clients and build trust using social media and online video
Use Status Updates to keep in front of prospects
You should use Status Updates to open up and maintain a communication. This is an excellent way of simply keeping in front of people.
Everyone on LinkedIn receives update emails detailing the status of their contacts; they can also see these updates on their LinkedIn homepage.
The key is to ensure that your status updates have something interesting in them.
LinkedIn can also be used to enhance your profile by allowing you to add content. This is best done using the 'Blog link' app, which displays your latest blog posts on your profile.
Some other important should 'dos':
•You can ping other social networks when you add an update, such as Facebook & Twitter so as to have a broader impact;
•When you see a previously valued contact update their status, and with whom you haven't been in contact for some time, this is a good opportunity to get back in touch;anything to restart the conversation; a good ploy is to send them to a blog post that you know will be of interest or to a video, which links them into a further series of videos that they haven't yet seen;
•a great relationship builder is to put your connections into contact with each other; the key here is to be constantly looking for ways to add value in regard to all your connections, whether or not they are past or present clients because you just never know when a chance piece of support will lead to something transformational; and don't forget
•And whenever you've just met a prospect or a prospective partner for the first time check them out on LinkedIn; you'll be surprised at the extraordinary insights you'll gain.