Balancing the 4 ways to use LinkedIn for Business
A blurring of the lines is taking place - where once there was clarity, confusion now reigns; uncertainty has replaced certainty and as we sit in front of our online devices, we pause, concerned that our next press of the key may present us with a problem, a problem that sees us potentially offending the very people we want to do business with!
LinkedIn is evolving and unless you evolve with it, you may well end up damaging your brand reputation and your business will suffer.
Ok, this may present a slightly over the top view of the challenge I want to talk about, but please hear me out.
With more than 300 million people registered as members of LinkedIn, it's unsurprising that some will, on occasions, get the etiquette wrong; they might experience the wrath of a fellow Group member for posting an irrelevant piece of content; they might invite someone to connect without explaining why; they might annoy another member by continuously viewing their profile (the stalking syndrome) and yet never establish direct contact; they might actually try and sell you something or even head hunt you!!
Is there a correct way to use LinkedIn?
Recently, I participated in a thought provoking discussion in our own LinkedIn Group , the crux of the debate was, is LinkedIn a sales tool? Two group members, in particular, had strong and opposing views concerning this topic and interestingly, both were in some level of agreement also.
The debate really ignited with one member suggested that:
'2015 will be the year of Social Selling not Content Marketing.', to which the other responded; 'LinkedIn is to be used to "keep front of mind" with people who already know you, like suspects, prospects, clients, lapsed clients and introducers, it is not a tool to get business from people that don't know you. LinkedIn is a relationship building tool and not a sales tool!'
As I watched this discussion unfold, I began to consider both sides of this debate and I got to thinking how, since 2009, I have successfully applied LinkedIn to building an International business from scratch - surely I do sell on LinkedIn? The reality is this, I have found that; LinkedIn is definitely a sales tool, it's also a marketing platform, as well as a conversational, relationship building centre and more. The only difference between these different uses, is the outcome, which will always be aligned to the users' personal reasons for being on LinkedIn in the first place.
- LinkedIn as a sales tool -
Yes, I do believe that LinkedIn is a sales tool. If we consider the verb 'to sell', its meaning can be defined as 1. 'to exchange (something) for money; 2. to make (something) available to be bought; 3. to be able to be bought for a particular price. My view is that LinkedIn deals with scenario 2, much more than 1 or 3. By making something available to be bought, such as professional services or another product of some kind, you first have to identify someone who might want that service or product. If your LinkedIn profile clearly demonstrates how your service will benefit that individual and you gently nurture the relationship, through good content marketing, they will, in time, come to know you like you and trust you - only then do you have the potential for Points 1 & 3 to happen. At this point, a warmly nurtured prospect is far more likely to be receptive to receiving a call or a piece of direct mail from you (the sale).
- LinkedIn is a marketing platform -
One definition of the term marketing is 'the activities that are involved in making people aware of a company's products, making sure that the products are available to be bought.' Once again, your LinkedIn profile needs to demonstrate the services and the expertise you have to offer. Then, through relevant, interesting and consistent content sharing, you, once more, build know, like and trust with your potential purchaser until the moment that they, themselves, are in the market to purchase your services.
- LinkedIn is a conversational, networking tool -
Not everyone is on LinkedIn to sell or market their services. For many, this is simply a platform to network, to debate ideas and to have conversations and share information that enriches relationships and furthers one's own personal development and learning. As a knowledge sharing platform, LinkedIn, through its Pulse News application, is one of the best online sources of information when it comes to sharing and obtaining the latest industry news from different sectors around the globe.
- LinkedIn is a recruitment tool-
I've lost track of the number of people I have spoken to, on and off LinkedIn, who have landed their current or previous jobs as a direct result of LinkedIn. Yes, LinkedIn is a recruiter's paradise - where else and for free, can they find 300 million professionals, from every imaginable industry sector, all publicly sharing their skills and career history and who are contactable at the click of a mouse? When you're searching for your next key team member, you could do much worse than search LinkedIn for the skills and the attitudes you desire for your next employee or company director.
3 + 1 golden rules
You see, when you add it all up, LinkedIn is not just one thing, it's all things to all men (and women of course). However, for it to work well for you, you must apply these 3 golden rules of communication:
- Connect with those who you can be of value to and who might be of value to you.
- Nurture your relationship with these connections by sharing relevant content regularly and by engaging with them in dialogue (on and offline).
- Know what your end goal is with these connections and have, in place, a strategy that leads to this goal.
Whatever LinkedIn is to you; a sales tool, a marketing platform, a recruitment option or a networking arena, remember one final golden rule - it's about building know, like and trust with those you connect with, only then can a profitable business outcome be achieved.