Using LinkedIn to Grow Your Business

By Melody Craigmyle
Vice President of Marketing, Electrograph Systems

The hottest marketing trend these days is social media. It’s sort of like search engine optimization (SEO) was ten years ago – everyone knows they should be doing it but you may not be sure what it is or how to approach it. Join the crowd. There are so many different outlets to choose from – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. To get your feet wet in the wild rapids of social media, I suggest you start with LinkedIn, a network designed to connect business peers individually or through groups and associations. It’s dedicated to business so don’t expect to post pictures of your vacation to Graceland.

Before we get started, I have a confession to make. I used to be one of those people who were slightly annoyed with all those e-mails I received with the subject line “You’ve Been Invited to Join My LinkedIn Network”. I kept wonder what it was all about. Why am I joining a network? Why can’t they just send me an e-mail if they want something? There are dozens of good reasons to join LinkedIn such as finding a job or learning from others in your field, but this article is focusing on growing your business.

Do not read this article any further until you have read the section below completely.
Put down your #2 pencil.

Do not approach social media with the intent to promote. It’s not like traditional push marketing where you create an offer or program and blast it out there. You are joining a community, engaging in a conversation with others and offering helpful advice. When you give, you will receive. Subsequently, in a subtle and savvy way, you will promote your business.

(Now pick up your pencil.)

Here are some tips on how to use LinkedIn to grow your business network:

Create a rich company profile.
Creating a profile is easy. It’s sort of like a company directory listing but better. Include all the pertinent information so someone can find you, one of your sales reps, or offices. When setting up your profile, you can add keywords/labels to identify your specialty. This allows other LinkedIn-ers to use the search engine and find your business. Make sure you use the “Full View” option so all the information about your company is open to the public and not just users. This ensures that the search engines will find your content as well.

Create a customized URL.
Google gives LinkedIn profiles higher rankings which will help you with the search engines. So to drive traffic to your website or blog, use your company name in the URL. LinkedIn will generate some arbitrary URL so you must go in and customize it. (Remember to keep it professional! Don’t use http://www.linkedin.com/in/ur_cute_home_installer)

Join a group or start a group.
All the A/V trade associations have groups you can join which can help elevate your visibility. Think about which groups your customers would join. To find these groups, search for your largest customers and see which groups they have joined. Use these groups for informal market research projects by posting a question like, “What are your thoughts for using touch displays for digital signage?” and see what happens. The conversations can be very enlightening. Start a dialogue and make sure you are not pushing out marketing messages. This can totally backfire if you post something along the lines of “Cheap A/V Installs – Same Day Quote”.

Become an expert, earn a badge.
Badges? Like Boy Scouts? Like deputy sheriff? You can earn a virtual “expert” badge from LinkedIn for giving the best answer to a question posted. After joining some of those groups I just talked about, get out there and answer some of the questions that are posted. Questions remain open for 7 days. The person that asked that question can go in and rate the best answer. Based on this user feedback you gain points and an “Expert Badge”. This expert status lends credibility to your business and helps you gain a following.

Use it as a research tool for companies or individuals.
Instead of buying an expensive service like a Hoovers subscription or purchasing a list, use LinkedIn to find out about a prospect or company. Maybe you are bidding on a job and want to know as much as possible about the client. Go out and find out all kinds of information about the company or individual before the presentation. You can sometimes see their previous positions at other companies and you may find a connection. Enter the company name and find employee names, positions, information on the company etc.

Buy targeted ads.
Everything mentioned above is for free. With the incredible shrinking marketing budget in most companies right now, this is a no brainer. But LinkedIn also has some affordable targeted ads you can purchase through a service called Direct Ads. These can purchased based on industry, gender, geography and much more.

Finally, how do you measure whether or not it is working? One way is to look at your analytics from your own website and see how many referrals you are getting from LinkedIn. If you have a PDF of a whitepaper or presentation, you can embed tracking in the document to measure the downloads.

Business is tough out there and we all know it. If you’re not on LinkedIn or haven’t explored how to make it work for you, its time to give it a try.

Find me at http://www.linkedin.com/in/melodycraigmyle

Melody Craigmyle is the Vice President of Marketing for Electrograph Systems, a value-added distributor of professional and consumer audio/visual products.