When I was growing up, my mom had to buy me friends. It's okay, I've come to terms with it. Not only have I come to terms with it, but now that I'm adult and I have to buy my own friends, I wouldn't mind going back to the "good ol' days" when the cost of friendship didn't hit my wallet.
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Of course, I never had to spend $26 billion (that's right, B as in billion) for my friends the way Microsoft did for LinkedIn. Now, granted, LinkedIn has 400 million friends (and who couldn't want to be friends with one in every 20 people on the planet?). And, as long they don't all want to come couch surf for the summer, that's not too bad.
Microsoft is the new BFF for those 400 million friends, having recently announced its intentions to buy LinkedIn for $26 billion. Microsoft likely hopes that, through rich LinkedIn member data, it can surface insights that will help its own users be more productive. As an example, during the announcement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella mentioned the power of integrating LinkedIn and Microsoft Outlook. Imagine walking into a meeting and having Outlook notify you that one of your colleagues and one of the participants in the meeting attended the same college. Armed with that information, you might be able to strike up a conversation to build rapport.
How to Use LinkedIn
The intent of this article is not to assess whether the acquisition is a good or bad one. Rather, it provides an opportunity to re-visit whether LinkedIn is a tool you should be using in your marketing efforts. Based on your own experiences, your immediate answer might be an emphatic yes or no.
Either way, you need to remember that LinkedIn isn't just one tool. Some ways you can use LinkedIn should absolutely be part of your sales and marketing efforts; others are more challenging. As a result, it can be beneficial to view LinkedIn in two ways: as a research tool and as a communications vehicle. As a research tool, LinkedIn is invaluable. As a communications vehicle, LinkedIn is often lower on the marketing food chain than spam email.
This week's article will focus on the benefits of LinkedIn as a research tool and, in particular, on the "inbound" aspects of using LinkedIn. Next week, we will stick with the research side of things, but shift our focus to "outbound" efforts based on research. Finally, the week after that, we'll look at the dark side of LinkedIn—LinkedIn as a communications vehicle—and highlight things you can do to overcome some of LinkedIn's inherent disadvantages.
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No discussion of LinkedIn's research capabilities can take place without mention of the LinkedIn Graph. We're starting to hear more about "graphs" these days. Personally, I find the term to be nothing more than marketing gobbledygook (wait, as a marketer, I think that means I'm supposed to love it). Graphs are being tacked on to service names left and right—Office Graph, Facebook Graph, Google Graph (actually, it's called Knowledge Graph but you wouldn't have recognized it if I'd called it that), and so on. Generally speaking, graphs are insights that are generated by using semantic search. By trying to understand a searcher's intent and the contextual meaning of the search terms, graphs try to give more relevant search results using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning based on a large database of associated data.
The LinkedIn Database
In the case of LinkedIn or Facebook, the "database" is everything that the service's users input: profile information, location data, updates, posts, likes, and so on. In the case of Microsoft, the Office Graph leverages usage data from tools such as Office 365. Why these results are called "graphs" is a bit unclear to me, although sometimes the results are displayed graphically so, sure, they're graphs.
Whatever we call it, LinkedIn is a massive database of professionals, their history, their skills, and their activities. And you can mine that database to facilitate your sales and marketing. At a macro level, the LinkedIn Economic Graph can help you see trends in terms of geography, job type, and more. These might help your company when making product or marketing decisions.
It's at the micro level that things get really interesting. At the micro level, you've got inbound and outbound data. Just like an inbound sales team takes calls as they come into your business, so inbound data on LinkedIn relates to reactively seeing who is seeing your stuff: your profile, your posts, your company's page, and more.
First, you. People are viewing your profile (at least, I hope people are viewing your profile). Unless those people have made their views private, you can see who is visiting your profile, and then filter or sort by time (most recent views first), company, geographic area, job title, industry, and more. A couple of years back, one of our freelance developers generated all of his work simply by monitoring the "Who's Viewed Your Profile" page on LinkedIn periodically during the day. He then contacted anyone who had viewed his profile. Let me repeat: He generated all of his work from the "Who's Viewed Your Profile" page. You can get similar insights from people who have viewed your posts.
Next, your company. Does your company have a page? It should. And on that page, you should be posting company updates, posting job openings, recruiting followers, and more. LinkedIn actually does a great job of providing tips, tricks, and other guidance on how to use the company page, updates, and the like to increase engagement, so I don't delve into those here. But virtually every company could be doing more to drive engagement via its company page.
Next, your co-workers' profiles. Even if you have over 500 connections on LinkedIn, the reach you can generate for your company is limited if you only focus on your own profile. You need to take advantage of the multiplier effect. One way you do that on LinkedIn is through the profiles of all (or at least some) of your co-workers. Consider some of the following. You will have to decide how you will motivate these actions; decide if it will be through asking, through making it part of their job description, through small individual incentives, through larger team or company incentives, or through training:
- Get others to update their profile to a certain percentage.
- Get others to post a certain number of times per week or per month.
- Set an individual, team, or company goal to get a certain number of connections from employees in a specific company, geography, industry, or with a certain job title.
- Have employees send a certain number of InMails every month (note that this will require subscriptions so you will have to budget for this effort).
- Have everyone promote job posting or company updates to their networks.
- Have everyone create a certain number of recommendations each month (either for other company employees or, better yet, clients or potential clients).
- Have employees find and follow the Twitter or Instagram accounts of individuals in their LinkedIn networks.
Whatever you want your employees to accomplish, take a long-term view. What you can accomplish in month one is going to be different from what you can accomplish in 12 months. Envision what an ideal company LinkedIn strategy would be, and then work back from that utopia and identify what needs to happen to get there.
Before we stop our discussion of inbound efforts (and, as a reminder, we'll shift our focus to outbound next week), consider these best practices for you, your company, and your company's employees:
- Use industry standard titles for profiles.
- Include a summary. Let it appropriately convey your uniqueness, both professionally and personally.
- Everyone should use pictures on their profile. Consider hiring a photographer to come take a picture of everyone, or if you want to be more unique, consider having an artist come create illustrations or caricatures of your employees.
- Be sure your employees are associated with your company's page.
- Follow other companies and groups that could generate future prospects and clients.
- Assign someone to create regular updates for your company.
- In your individual posts and in your company updates, follow good content marketing best. practices. (see my former article on creating great content.
- Stick with it; success will take time.
Next week, we'll explore how to leverage LinkedIn's massive database to generate outbound marketing leads and grow sales.