LinkedIn is a social network with over 53 million users that enables you to better use your professional network and help the people you trust in return. It is no secret that LinkedIn is a great place to network professionally, post and find jobs, post and answer questions and build your thought leadership among hundreds of thousands of members.

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It is probably the most obvious way to identify people you may already be connected with either directly or through your connections. From my direct use of LinkedIn, I find it to a great tool to leverage my existing contacts to connect with people and find potential customers online. The purpose for writing this post is to introduce you to some of LinkedIn’s basic elements and what it can do for you to help build your brand, promote your website, and how to use LinkedIn to generate leads for your business.

I bet many of you may already use LinkedIn but are not taking advantage of its full value? Some of you may have probably stuck your toes in the water to make LinkedIn a part of your integrated online marketing strategy but are not aware of how to network among the Groups and thousands of members so as to introduce them to your thought leadership? This post is meant to introduce you to LinkedIn’s key elements so let’s get started by taking a look at this primer for all of the above.

What Is LinkedIn?

* LinkedIn is a B2B networking platform with the highest concentration of educated professionals of any social network.

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* It is a social medium that is not really very “social” at all but is 100% about connecting and interacting with other professionals.

* LinkedIn is a B2B search engine that helps professionals find other professionals and businesses.

Is LinkedIn Effective?

* 57% of companies surveyed said they’d acquired a customer through LinkedIn (HubSpot)

* 58% of small and medium-sized businesses are actively using LinkedIn to promote their business (Merchant Circle)

* LinkedIn, more than any other social media site, is driving referrals to B2B sites (Leadforce1).

Ultimately, that’s what we all want: more traffic directed to our site, which translates to more leads we convert to sales.

Here’s a brief overview of the basic elements you’ll use as you get started and familiar with LinkedIn:

1. Profile

  • The first thing many people do after meeting someone is to check-out their LinkedIn profile.
  • Setting up your profile is free and quick – think of it as your optimized online resume plus – which will become a powerful magnet to attract people to you.
  • People searching for contacts will make a decision to connect or not connect based on the information you provide in your profile.
  • Your profile should be 100% complete and accurately reflect all that you’ve done professionally, and the skills and experience you bring to the relationship.
  • It is important to upload a photo because people are more likely to connect with you if they recognize your face and they feel they are connecting with a real person. Be sure to ask for recommendations from friends, current and former colleagues, partners and clients.
  • Optimize your LinkedIn profile for SEO by optimizing keywords in your summary section, for example. This is a full text section, which is indexed by Google. Including your favorite keywords in your summary helps you rank higher in search engine results for these keyword searches.

2. Contacts

  • Connect with people whom you have worked with or done business, or generally people with similar interests or have worked in your industry.
  • Invite thought leaders in your industry to connect with you so that you establish a relationship with them and, eventually, gain access to their network.
  • LinkedIn compiles a list of all your contacts, which is viewable only by your contacts. These contacts get updates on activities you share on LinkedIn; blog posts you promote and events at which you’ll be speaking, for instance.
  • Start asking and answering questions on LinkedIn Answers that will enable you to interact and connect with other thought leaders, as well as establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Update your content often for your status to be current.
  • How many contacts should you have? There are some people on LinkedIn with 500+, but you can feel pretty confident if you have ~ 200 with the idea of increasing the number with quality contacts.

3. Company Page

  • A LinkedIn company page is just like your personal page, but showcases your company as a whole.
  • It’s a good place to highlight capabilities, services, and competitive advantages. (Learn how to get more traffic to your company page by reading white papers and viewing webinars, and other compelling content offered by HubSpot, the premier inbound marketing company.

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4. Groups

  • LinkedIn Groups give you a great opportunity to reach out to and engage prospective customers online.
  • The Groups function is where LinkedIn becomes a powerful networking tool. You can create a group for your industry or participate in as many as 50 groups that LinkedIn allows you to join.
  • You can join groups of peers or groups populated with potential clients. If you create a group, promote it on your website, blog, email newsletter and social media networks.
  • To get started, search for Groups with the greatest number of members and those that are similar to the Groups that match your ideal corporate profile for lead generation. You find these Groups by doing an Advanced Group search without entering any keywords in the search field. Click on the search icon and LinkedIn will list in descending order the Groups with the greatest number of members.
  • You can join as many as 50 groups. When in the group, you can do a search for the decision-makers title. The result will be a list of group members who match your search for CEO or CIO or CTO, for example.
  • LinkedIn enables you to send banner ad invitations to the groups you have joined. You can also send uploaded videos and presentations, which you will be able to track by users who open the content you provided. The goal is to establish your expertise among group members who request you to contact them that you will convert to leads.

5. Answers                                        

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  • LinkedIn also acts like a forum where you can ask a question or respond to relevant questions posted by others (a great way to demonstrate your expertise).
  • Make certain you do not sell your services, no spamming please, but, above all, feel free to drive people to relevant and valuable and compelling content on your LinkedIn profile, website or blog.

6. Search

  • Use LinkedIn’s Advanced Search for fine-tuning your way of searching for decision-makers by title and function in specific industries that are located in cities you have selected anywhere in the world to do business.
  • Refer to search methods (above) in Groups, which will help you identify the groups you should join that fit your company profile for lead generation and how you can upload content, which can be inmailed to group members. Here is a way to create a list of prospects who you can contact, qualify, and convert from lead status to a new customer.
  • The goal for all of this is simple: to engage an audience with compelling content, which will establish you as a thought leader as you build a network and a list of leads.

What Can LinkedIn Do For You?

1. Build Your Brand

  • It is impossible to attend every networking event out there. With LinkedIn, you will be able to get in front of everyone you want to – and they can find you too.
  • By being visible and a genius resource on the #1 professional networking platform, you will build your brand, if you do it right and do it consistently. Find a time each day to interact with your network.

2. Promote Your Website and Its Content

  • If you want people to find you when they’re looking for your niche like a law firm or a dentist or a contractor or whatever it is you can do for them, you need to draw them in like a magnet into your site by offering the audience valuable content in the form of: articles, demonstration videos, surveys, blogs – any compelling content that helps educate your prospect, and solves problems for customers so they buy what you offer to them.
  • LinkedIn is a great community to promote your site and your expertise to a targeted audience.
  • By sharing what you know with the prospect will lead to forming a trusted relationship, and will see how you can help solve their immediate challenges on the way to building your credibility for the long-term.

3. Using LinkedIn Applications

  • LinkedIn offers valuable applications that will help you to promote your content and your brand.
  • Connect your blog to your LinkedIn profile to continually share your content with your network. The Blog Link will automatically pull in the latest blog posts from around your network.
  • Share and collaborate on files with others in your LinkedIn network by using Box.net file.
  • Promote your content by sharing slides from current and past webinars or presentations when you use SlideShare.net.

4. Generate Leads

  • LinkedIn can be used to generate new leads for your business by engaging an audience and building a network. You do this by demonstrating your expertise and thought leadership. Refer (above) to Search and Groups.
  • Don’t sell your services but drive people to relevant and compelling content on your website and blog. You will learn to distribute content from RSS feeds via LinkedIn ads, newsletters and articles.
  • If you do all of the above – create compelling content, promote it on your website, blog, and social media sites, interact and engage with your audience, and showcase your expertise and thought leadership – you will generate leads.
  • You can also use LinkedIn’s DirectAds to push relevant ads to LinkedIn subscribers targeted by profile demographic information. This is very similar to ad targeting on Facebook and Google AdWords.
  • Make the best use of marketing tools like a landing page where you direct prospects to a compelling offer that will differentiate your product or service and result in the prospect identifying themselves as a lead when they enter their name and email address for you to contact.
  • As cited above, use LinkedIn’s Advanced Search to identify and join the largest membership Groups and those that are similar to the ones which match the ideal criteria for the companies where you will generate leads.
  • When you are a group member, you will be able to send uploaded ppt. presentations and videos, create RSS Feeds, send banner ad invitations to Group members, and follow User Engagement analytics with a list of leads who have opted-in.

Enjoy the experience as you become familiar with LinkedIn’s capabilities for lead generation. Happy hunting!