Let’s start with the data: More than half of marketers surveyed say Facebook is the most important social network they use, according to the 2015 Social Media Marketing Industry Report by San Diego-based Social Media Examiner. LinkedIn came in second: 71 percent of marketers use it, but only 21 percent cite it as the most important social network. (Twitter ranked a distant third, at 12 percent.)
But here’s another interesting and perhaps more telling stat from the same report: While 66 percent of respondents want to improve their knowledge of how to use Facebook, a disproportionate 62 percent want to learn more about LinkedIn. And 66 percent of marketers plan on increasing their LinkedIn activities in the next 12 months.
“If your target audience is other businesses, our research clearly shows that marketers are doubling down on LinkedIn in the next year,” says Michael Stelzner, CEO of Social Media Examiner and author of the report.
It thrills me to see LinkedIn gaining ground. I’ve long held that it’s the dark horse of the social media platforms—and the workhorse of the bunch. If Twitter is where you go to meet people you don’t know, and Facebook is where you go to talk with friends, then LinkedIn is where you can meet up to get work done.
And everyone is there. I could trot out the oft-quoted stat that more than 300 million of us are on LinkedIn. Or you could rely on your own experience: Doesn’t every professional you know maintain some kind of LinkedIn profile? Put it this way: I’ve yet to meet a grown-up who isn’t on LinkedIn, but I’ve met plenty who aren’t on Twitter or Facebook.
You might think of LinkedIn as simply a kind of digital Rolodex—a place to park your résumé and perhaps network a bit. But it’s also a rich tool for generating business—increasingly so, in fact, because the network itself has developed ways to make this easier.
“The platform is designed with networking in mind for our members,” says Jason Miller, who leads global content marketing for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. “But it’s also an amazing tool for generating leads, and the key to that is the data LinkedIn has.”
So what’s the best way to start?
1. Nail the basics.
Get a few fundamentals solidly in place before you think about tapping into LinkedIn’s more robust capabilities. First, optimize your profile, considering: What keywords or terms do your customers use to describe you? The key to a successful LinkedIn profile isn’t to describe what you do as much as to describe what you do for others. It’s a subtle shift, but a significant one.
Also, remember that LinkedIn is a social network—the optimal word being social. To start, engage with prospects through sharing, commenting and liking. This is key to building trust and relationships and understanding the conversation on the platform—before you dive in with your own content.
Finally, establish your company’s page as the foundation of your content and social strategy, in addition to your profile. Miller recommends publishing and sharing relevant content on your company page on a daily basis.
2. Turbocharge your networking.
Consider using Sales Navigator, a premium LinkedIn tool, to make your networking muscles a little more ripped. Priced from $47 to $99 per month (with a 30-day free trial option), it allows you to harness the network’s data in a way that accelerates relationship-building with prospects.
For example, it will recommend sales leads you should be connecting with on the site; allow you to track updates and news related to people and companies important to you; and unearth mutual connections—including people at your own company—who can introduce you.
3. Drop the generic default messages.
LinkedIn prepopulates forms with messages you can use to follow up or network with prospects—“I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn.” There’s nothing wrong with them, per se. But relying on them doesn’t signal how much you might value a connection, nor does it say anything unique about you.
Noting that you can now (finally) send a custom connection request via mobile, Dave Delaney, author of New Business Networking, says, “Always send a customized message reminding the person where you met and what you talked about. Don’t forget the call to action: book a coffee or lunch, or schedule a phone call.”
4. Hypertarget your content.
The LinkedIn Marketing Solutions suite offers several premium tools to help companies reach specific audiences. These include Sponsored Updates (think of this as native advertising on the LinkedIn platform); Sponsored InMail, which sends targeted emails to prospects but (here’s the cool part) only when they’re active on LinkedIn; and LinkedIn Lead Accelerator, which helps move your nurturing beyond the email inbox to include site and social advertising aimed at engaging anonymous people who have visited your website but haven’t yet shared an email address.
How might that last one work? Workfront, a Lehi, Utah-based project-management software company, used LinkedIn Lead Accelerator to engage its website’s visitors after determining that more than 96 percent of them popped in and left. The company used Lead Accelerator to nurture those prospects with customized waves of LinkedIn Sponsored Updates and display ads. For instance, for several weeks after visiting and leaving the solutions page on Workfront’s website, IT professionals would see sequenced ads related to tech solutions. (Non-IT visitors would see a different set of ads.)
The results: Workfront generated more than 640 leads in three months at well below its typical cost per lead, according to Mike Ward, the company’s vice president of demand generation and marketing. “The goal of this multichannel nurturing approach is to get more qualified buyers into meaningful conversations with sales,” he says.
5. Publish long-form content on LinkedIn’s Pulse platform.
The Pulse publishing platform offers a valuable way to share your thoughts about issues that are most relevant to your business, because the audience is built in and because it allows you better and greater exposure than you might get on, say, your blog.
“When you publish a post on LinkedIn, it’s tied directly to your profile,” Miller says. “Having your insights and thought leadership showcased at the top of your LinkedIn profile can be incredibly beneficial to expanding the conversation when prospects visit your page.”
This is especially true for topical issues: In May, Katie Martell, co-founder and CMO of Boston-based marketing technology company Cintell, wrote a piece on Whole Foods Market’s attempts at targeting Millennials that garnered close to 300,000 views and 350 comments.
Author Delaney recommends using Pulse to repost some of your best content, as long as it fits with the professional LinkedIn audience.