5 Powerful Steps to Optimize Your Business with LinkedIn

Post originally published on www.agencyside.net http://bit.ly/b2IraA.

With more than 50 million professionals entrusting their personal brand and identities with LinkedIn, the social networking platform has evolved into the largest business networking platform.  While LinkedIn is still largely used by professionals to connect with other colleagues, LinkedIn has added powerful capabilities to extend personal and business brand, enhance SEO, and engage with a thriving community.  LinkedIn goes a step further on networking by allowing you to build a community to share information, educate, discuss, debate, and build thought leadership for your brand. LinkedIn not only presents great opportunities for businesses but agencies that are evolving with the demands of their clients to leverage crucial social networking channels to build brand awareness, connect with a thriving community, build thought leadership and ultimately drive traffic to blogs or websites in a cost effective manner.

Why LinkedIn? Agencies should take note – it’s critical for brands to be present, be heard, be engaged, and be connected in order to build and sustain success. The Internet, and advent of Web-based tools, has provided us with a powerful tool in being all those things, often in real time.

In this blog, “Harnessing the Power of LinkedIn for Businesses”, I will cover key steps to guide agencies on the proper use of LinkedIn to provide the most bang for your efforts. For more information, please check out A Practical Approach to Building Brand and SEO through LinkedIn, my Q&A blog with Chris Hewitt.

1. Personalize Your Brand by Building a Corporate Profile

Similar to what you do on a personal level, encourage your clients to build a dynamic, engaging presence by launching a corporate profile. Start building a community of professionals within your niche market. Companies can promote within your organization to get their trusted employees and their colleagues to join. Key things when building a company profile, make sure to integrate key foundational channels to LinkedIn – your corporate blog, Slideshare, Twitter, and other appropriate applications so that you’re not only building a community, but enriching them with real time information on your blog, events, Twitter, and Slideshare, etc. LinkedIn allows you to showcase a supportive, engaged corporate culture by connecting and fostering your community. Further, you’re elevating your thought leadership position through information sharing, presentations and video sharing, as well as Twitter dialogue.

  • You can write a blog attach it to your profile or promote via your status update
  • Upload Slideshare and share relevant documents and PowerPoints
  • Create polls and questions for your blog, byline article, whitepaper, etc.

2. Engage and Build Your Network via LinkedIn Groups

This is a great tool on LinkedIn to not only engage but to promote your brand, grow your network/community, build trust, and thought leadership. You can start by looking under LinkedIn Groups and doing search using key terms relevant to your market. You’ll find all the groups that you can join. Look at the total number of members before you decide to join all. Be strategic in your approach. Once you have completed this, you can use this for several reasons – for monitoring and engagement, job posting, and driving traffic to your blog or corporate website (or designated site), and increasing your community outreach.

3. Strengthen Your Media Outreach

Analysts and reporters are using the groups to monitor conversations, industry issues, trends, and user pain points. This is a great platform for agencies to monitor respective groups and their media/analysts contacts and flag any opportunities to their clients/spokespeople. Further, have the client or appropriate spokespeople respond directly on the LinkedIn discussion board to build on that relationship with the reporter.

4. Building Trust through Authentic Brand Engagement

You want to set your brand apart from the rest, right? This is where authentic engagement comes in. You can truly make an impact through listening and monitoring discussion and in return engaging providing insightful information or lessons learned relevant to your industry. If necessary, link back to useful information (whitepaper, blog, webinars, etc.). Focus on providing valuable insight and relevant information to help further the discussion. Also, monitor your discussions and when someone posts comments on your discussion, be sure to respond in a timely manner. It’s also helpful to add the following signature for every engagement on discussion boards, dedicated messages, comments, etc.

  • Name
  • Company
  • Blog link
  • Twitter link
  • Group/community link

This way when others in the network are viewing your comments/discussions, they can visit other resources (links) to learn more or follow you on Twitter.

5. Build Thought Leadership by Launching Your Own Community

This may the most powerful feature within LinkedIn. The LinkedIn community organically generates high quality and well-qualified audiences that we, as marketers, would love to reach with our messages. Additionally, there are enough explicit and implicit profiling attributes to segment various audiences (e.g. industry, company size, region, skills, etc.).  Companies can reach their target audience as well as build their brand by launching a dedicated community. Grow your community by promoting it on other groups’ discussion boards. To make your community compelling and interesting for others to join, start by sharing interesting industry related articles, debate topics, or even posing a question around your blog content along with a link. Be sure the content is educational/informative, not company or product specific. You can also send dedicated emails to promote events, whitepapers, ebooks, blogs, etc. You can also create subgroups if you want to target via geos or different niche markets.

 How are you using LinkedIn to build your brand, SEO, and thought leadership?

Advertisements

A Practical Approach to Building Brand and SEO through LinkedIn

LinkedIn has evolved into the largest online business networking platform – totaling 32 million users worldwide.  Prior to the social networking craze, LinkedIn was largely used to connect with past co-workers and trusted colleagues.  Now, however, LinkedIn has extended its capabilities to serve as a brand building platform for professionals looking to network, engage, and communicate with like-minded peers. The surge was accelerated during the recessionary period when laid off workers were looking to locate jobs and hopefully connect with others who could assist in the process.

 Today, LinkedIn continues to grow by adding key features that are essential to not just networking but building a community to share information, discuss and debate, and promote personal and business brand as well as network. However, harnessing the true power of LinkedIn not just to network with your “trusted” and “known” community of friends and colleagues but promoting your brand and thought leadership through LinkedIn.

To gain insight into the use of LinkedIn, build SEO for your profile and blog, as well as launching engaging and meaningful conversations, I spoke with my good friend and colleague Chris Hewitt. He’s not only my trusted friend but someone who truly understands the power of the platform.

In this blog Q&A, I looked at several components – how do you use LinkedIn to build personal brand and network, what are some innovative ways to use LinkedIn to build awareness and some tips and tricks to maximize using LinkedIn. Please read below.

Why is LinkedIn so important for professionals today in building network and personal brand?

Our professional success is largely determined by the recognition of that effort by our colleagues and peers.  Similarly, the growth of our career is supported by the generosity and investment of other professionals.  As a result, we need to nurture those relationships and reciprocate in the growth and development of others.

I believe that it is critical for professionals to be present, be heard, be engaged, and be connected in order to build and sustain success.  The Internet, and advent of Web-based tools, has provided us with a powerful tool in being all those things…often in real-time.  

Currently, LinkedIn is the most popular professional, Web-based social networking tool and, as a result, important.  I think it is important, though, that we are not complacent…another tool might be a better solution; either now (e.g. chi.mp or posterous.com) or in the future.

One important note about companies.  I think LinkedIn has done an excellent job in providing professionals with ability to build an individual brand while also personalizing an organization through the organic enrichment of ‘company’ profiles.  While many marketing/communications people actively monitor/manage their company profiles, any validated user (based on email domain) can contribute to that profile…a great tool for showcasing a supportive, engaged corporate culture.  

What are some innovative ways to use LinkedIn to build personal brand, promote events, and create awareness?

First and foremost, I believe we need to ground our expectations in a type of altruistic philosophy.  We should look at LinkedIn as a tool we can leverage to return real value by sharing our unique value proposition with other professionals (and aspiring professionals).  With this concept driving our actions, we are better positioned to reach our career/business/networking objectives while positively contributing to the larger community.

LinkedIn, itself, has a variety of tools that can be leveraged to create individual and organizational awareness.  

Certainly the ‘answers’ feature is a great way to share your knowledge with the community.  Additionally, where relevant, you can highlight the strengthen and solutions your company provides.  

LinkedIn AnswersHowever, in the last year or so, I have seen a troubling (and dramatic) increase in self-serving dialogue through LinkedIn Answers.  Users are clearly posting questions to draw attention to their message, company, etc and other users are answering to feed their ‘social competitiveness’ (my idea that a lot of our social networking is driven by our innate desire for higher social status).

So, to me, the innovative is not in the tools but leveraging those tools into concepts.  For example, use LinkedIn as a platform for showcasing your evolving professional concepts and keep your content fresh.  For example, let’s say you had a new marketing concept that you are excited about; one that really showcases your experience/creativity/innovation.  You could use LinkedIn as a platform to create a personal marketing campaign and share your thoughts:

  • Write a blog post and attach it to your profile.
  • Create a mini-series of LinkedIn status message that change on a scheduled basis.
  • Relevantly update your experience to showcase how you used (or could have used) this concept.
  • Create a presentation in Google (upload to Slideshare) and post on your profile.
  • Develop some type of ‘take away’ material that viewers of your profile can download (Box.net).

You could also create polls and questions (where relevant and valued-added) to drive your message.  The key to this concept is that you regularly (I know…easier typed than done) change out your LinkedIn ‘conceptual campaigns’.  Changing out these concepts once a month would be a powerful statement of your personal brand (not to mention your ability to execute).

SEO is very important today. What are some tips and tricks to make your LinkedIn profile more SEO friendly?

Your LinkedIn profile is likely not going to carry enough search engine equity to compete against other websites for general keyword concepts (e.g. ‘real estate professional’, ‘Experienced MSCE’, etc.).  So, you should rather focus your energy on personal characteristics combined with key concepts, skills, or experience.  For example, if you regularly speak on a particular topic and any special phrases (e.g. ‘Your Ness’  as seen in ‘You, Me, and Dupree’).  Also, if you have a branded product, service, or concept you should include the relevant text in your tagline, summary, specialties, and experience.

In order to generate greater search engine visibility for your LinkedIn profile, focus on ‘inbound links’ (links to your profile from other websites).  If you want to use your LinkedIn profile as your main online presence (versus a website, blog, etc.), take every opportunity to link to your ‘public profile URL’.  Some examples of linking opportunities are:

  • Part of your posted biography (events, speaking engagements, etc.)
  • Press releases
  • Social networking websites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Attached to your comments on blogs, articles, etc.

Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, is what actions you want visitors to take after finding your profile.  Focus on engaging visitors (especially search-generated visitors) to your profile and driving them to a particular action.

Examples:

Job Seeker (visibility/candidacy) 

  • Change your status to reflect a concept relevant to the organization you are seeking an interview or position (e.g. industry article, thought, etc.).
  • Create a relevant blog post that details a unique, differentiating strength/idea that would be too long for an interview or resume.
  • Post a copy of your resume or other supporting document (via LinkedIn Applications) that could be downloaded (note: make sure that document prominently displays your contact information)

Product/Solution Provider (awareness)

  • Customize your website link, use action-oriented hyperlink text and drive them to your website.
  • Post relevant documents using LinkedIn Applications.
  • Tie in relevant blog posts and links to your website.

Why should marketers today care about LinkedIn?

The LinkedIn community organically generates high quality and well-qualified audiences that we, as marketers, would love to reach with our messages.  Additionally, there are enough explicit and implicit profiling attributes to segment various audiences (e.g. industry, company size, region, skills, etc.).  As a result, LinkedIn presents the opportunity to engage highly targeted audiences.

While we wipe the dollar signs from our eyes, we have to be thoughtful in our approach to these LinkedIn audiences.  Our tendency is to ‘blast’ the rich LinkedIn community with our concept/message/offer.  However, we need to focus on content and actions that authentically create dialogue.  Share our knowledge and resources and allow opportunities to grow naturally from that dialog.

With the sophisticated SPAM filtering built into today’s email systems and software, I believe social media SPAM is going to be the next digit intrusion; just look at the number of multi-level marketers on Twitter generating empty content (and all following one another).

Key steps to getting started:

My advice is to build and grow your presence under the guidance of a personal brand strategy:

  • Who are you?
  • What have you accomplished?
  • Where are you going?
  • What’s your unique brand position?

Don’t start by building another resume…create a dynamic, engaging presence.  Your experience should be coupled to concepts not tasks, duties, and responsibilities.  In developing your personal brand strategy, ask others to help define your unique characteristics and provide guidance for your message. 

While it may be tempting, don’t count connections…build meaningful connections within your network.  You will want to be able to make connections to people within your network.  

My personal connection philosophy:
If you can’t happily and meaningfully introduce a person at a cocktail party or networking event, they should not be a connection.  

Also be authentic with your connections.  Did you work with someone previously but had issues with their work/performance/approach?  Do not connect with them…your personal brand equity is also tied to the people you trust to be within your network. 

One special consideration for job seekers…always preserve your brand, even when the search isn’t going well.  It is far too easy to type, post, and hurt what you have been building.  Your profile is a statement of your personal brand and needs to be carefully protected.

Should you promote your personal blog versus company website?

Your profile allows for the use of multiple links; use them to identify what it is your linking to and why:

  • Use your profile to promote yourself, your skills, and accomplishments.
  • User the descriptive sections of experience to highlight relevant experience as well as company objectives (e.g. 100 word company description).
  • Use a company profile to promote your brand, messaging, and positioning.
    • Encourage the members of the company to enrich the profile.

How should you integrate other social networking sites to LinkedIn and why?

Yes…however, where it is relevant (okay, you may now move the needle from my broken record of ‘relevance’) and where it is targeted.  The inclusive of Blogs and applications like Slideshare/Box.net/Google Docs is a great way to tie together various concepts to form a better picture of your professional profile.  Similarly, you can post your LinkedIn profile/badge across your other social networking properties to engage visitors.  For example, use your LinkedIn profile as your biography and focus your energy on maintaining that content (versus managing multiple biographies).

Lastly, don’t feel that you have to create a hyper socially networked profile that will be the envy of all your Twitter followers.  Be authentic.  If you are an active member and/or passionate about a group, display it on your profile.  If you like to socialize your reading list through LinkedIn, awesome.  The main point is not to make your LinkedIn profile a dizzying blur of social media NASCAR badging.  

To leave with a quote from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby ‘This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.’

PR Embargo: Dead or Alive? Or, Does it Matter?

Death to PR Embargo

In a recent post by Tech Crunch titled, “The Last has Fallen: The Embargo is Dead,” the tech publication announced that it is killing one of the most sacrosanct of journalism practices — the honoring of PR embargoes. And it’s not just Tech Crunch; it’s other high-profile publications like the Wall Street Journal. This comes after several publications have broken with the tradition of honoring the embargo and have published news prior to the set date/time.

According to Bay Newser, the reason why more publications are not upholding PR embargoes is PR agencies. As they face mounting pressures to show ROI, they’re spamming every news outlet on their target list to get as much coverage as they can. The problem is they’re doing this without a clear strategy.  Every PR professional should know by now that sending out a blind e-mail with the news announcement and the embargo date doesn’t really help earn you quality coverage or increase the volume of coverage.

 On the flip side, news publications are also facing pressure to publish the news first — especially when it comes to major announcements. As my colleague Stephanie Conner with Active Voice would say, the embargo was put in place to combat that so companies can get their news placements across more channels and keep reporters interested — you’re leveling the playing field.

My take is this: It’s really nobody’s fault. It’s just another sign of the times. Now companies are using other mediums, such as blogs and Twitter, to create momentum and buzz around their company or product announcement prior to releasing it via traditional news wires.

I’ve been in the technology space for quite some time and have witnessed firsthand how things have changed. Not only in terms of embargoes, but the types of news that capture a writer’s attention as well. In 2004 when I started at Lumension, then PatchLink, it was all about product news. Our news coverage relied on our products and their new capabilities and enhancements. Since 2007, I’ve seen a slow shift with fewer journalists covering product-specific news.

You also have to remember news is global, making embargoes seem a bit outdated. Don’t get me wrong – there are journalists who still honor the embargo – especially in the UK marketing. While they might honor this old tradition, the news will hit the U.S. first before it gets to the UK or other global markets.

Whether or not you like it, things are changing fast. I don’t believe embargoes are dead, but they are going by the wayside, slowly but surely. Whether you have an embargo in place or not, the quality of the content, strategy and, most importantly, the content, is what will get you maximum results. This is where I remind PR professionals that they need to adapt and evolve. A couple of things to keep in mind as you see more and more publications say NO to embargoes:

  • Determine your news and angle for the release
  • Identify your target audience, and prioritize your target list.
  • Communicate with journalists to gauge what their expectations of an embargo.
  • Never just pitch a product unless you’re Google or Apple. Whether you have an embargo or not, the chance of you getting coverage is greatly dependent on the angle of the news.
  • Get a customer or analyst to back up your story.
  • Get multi-media rich. Use video or written blogs, podcasts and whitepapers. This way, you have a multi-level message.
  • Drive a poll. Use a Twtpoll or LinkedIn poll to gauge the community’s take on the product/pain/challenges and create your own news hook prior to the launch.
  • Consider product slideshows. Do a five- to seven-slide PowerPoint slideshow with strong graphics that publications can run.

We recently launched our Lumension® Risk Manager. It’s a Compliance and IT Risk Management Solution to help simplify compliance complexities and help reduce overall total cost of ownership. The old-school thinking would have been to just write up a news release and send it out under an embargo to our target list. While we were focused on the product, I developed a strategy around creating content that showed how our product addresses issues that businesses face today. Here’s what we did:

  • Pre-buzz building exercise that included a blog series:
    • Blog Q&A with two leading industry analysts on key challenges and how the market demands were shifting
    • Blog Q&A with a customer who was testing the product.
    • Twtpoll – Run a poll on Twtpoll and LinkedIn and use the results as a news hook
    • Whitepaper – developed a whitepaper titled “5 Ways to Reduce Your Audit Tax Burden”
    • Video – interviewed our company experts on this topic about these issues

By having rich content available prior to the launch and an integrated approach with other marketing tactics, we created buzz around this product launch, and we included the multi-media links within the release. We earned 15 total pieces of standalone coverage and two pieces of product news coverage. A majority of our coverage centered on key issues and trends and how our product really helps solved those issues.

I leave you with this quote by Ted Levitt: “Just as energy is the basis of life itself, and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the vital spark of all human change, improvement and progress.”

Make a difference. Don’t be a sitting duck. Leverage innovative thinking and spark a new approach to driving coverage.