5. Use LinkedIn Answers to prospect -- but don't be obvious about it.
LinkedIn Answers lets members pose and answer questions on a variety of topics. A few recent examples included the following questions:
- What are alternatives to WebEx?
- Have you ever experienced being the subject of a print or broadcast media interview?
- How can small business owners improve their chance of success using deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and AmazonLocal to promote their businesses?
Answering questions posed by other LinkedIn members lets you serve as a helpful resource in your specialty area, Hester says, which may help you land a new customer. As with Groups, don't use LinkedIn Answers to blatantly sell or you run the risk of turning away prospects.
6. Frequently visit your LinkedIn contacts' pages to see what they're doing.
Whenever business slows, take time to review your contacts' status updates, and make it a point to directly contact those you haven't talked to in a while, Hester advises. Tell them what you've been up t, and find out what they're doing as well.
7. Don't worry about employees with LinkedIn profiles becoming recruiting targets.
Some small businesses fret that employees with great LinkedIn profiles are targets for prospective employers and recruiters, says Bill Romick, vice president of business development for DNA Group, Inc., a small business with a LinkedIn company page. "A professional profile on LinkedIn reflects well on the company of the profile owner, and in my opinion enhances the credibility of the organization for anyone doing their homework and thinking about entering a business relationship."
8. Use LinkedIn to find business services.
Many businesses start their search for professional services, such as a website designer, with keyword searches on LinkedIn. Search results include people or companies in your network first, followed by those who are connected to your connections and others with whom you share no connection. You can perform advanced keyword searches as well.
9. Don't get too hung-up about LinkedIn ROI.
Like any social media effort, the return on your investment in time on LinkedIn isn't always easily determined. If you're looking for short-term gains, no social media network is likely to produce them, notes Hester. Instead, think of LinkedIn as a long-term investment, he adds, and you're not likely to be disappointed.
"I can't put my finger on a specific piece of new business that we could not have gained without LinkedIn," admits Romick. "But I can point to dozens of high quality contacts that have been established via LinkedIn, and I believe that my company has benefited directly from the impressions our profiles made upon decision makers who also used LinkedIn."
10. Find skills and expertise that are in demand.
LinkedIn's new Skills & Expertise tool, currently in beta, lets you search for people who have the skills you need. In addition, LinkedIn displays a "relative growth" bar chart for each skill listed, which shows you graphically which skills are growing in demand. For example, a search for iPhone development tells you who among your connections has that skill; gives you a list of related job postings; and it shows you that demand for this particular skill is up 65 percent year over year.
Ultimately, consider LinkedIn an important online supplement to, and not a replacement for, the networking every business should do. As valuable as LinkedIn can be, nothing beats a face-to-face encounter or a quick phone call to cinch the deal.
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