7 Ways to Leverage LinkedIn

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In some ways, LinkedIn is the red-headed step-child of the social networking world. There’s no chat feature? No way to post about the latest band you discovered or share funny pictures of your cat? But while some people might see this as evidence that the site is full of stuffy job-seekers, you – as a business owner – can use this unique environment to your advantage.

Here’s how to leverage the information shared via LinkedIn to boost sales, target new customers and expand the reach of your brand:

1 – Attract new customers with your business profile

Obviously, the first thing you’ll want to do after signing up with LinkedIn is to fill out your business profile with as much detail as you can. Don’t be modest here. Think of your profile as a dynamic billboard for your company, where you can share detailed information about your skill set and past projects you’ve completed successfully.

Once you have your profile up and running, one of the best things you can do to attract new business in this way is to request that your past clients “recommend” you and your company on LinkedIn. Attracting a number of recommendations provides great social proof that will increase your likelihood of gaining new business through this site.

2 – Target potential customers effectively

Of course, you don’t have to sit back and wait for customers to find your new profile – you can use the amount of detail provided on LinkedIn profiles to quickly search out customers that meet your target customer criteria.

For example, one of the best ways to use LinkedIn’s advanced targeting features is to seek out potential customers with whom you share at least a 2nd degree connection (meaning that you are linked by a single shared contact). To do this, click on the “Advanced” search link in the upper right-hand corner of your LinkedIn homepage, which will take you to the following screen:

From here, you can select different search parameters that allow you to target customers in different geographic locations, LinkedIn contacts within specific industries and LinkedIn users with whom you share mutual connections.

3 –Demonstrate your authority by sharing LinkedIn Answers

In addition to simply providing a place for businesses and professionals to share their credentials, LinkedIn offers a number of additional services that allow users to gain recognition in their industries. One such opportunity is LinkedIn Answers – a section of the site that allows users to post their questions and receive answers quickly from others on the site.

Certainly, if you have questions about some aspect of your business, this is a great place to go for help. It’s also a great option for market research, as you’re able to quickly consult with tons of other professionals who can provide you with feedback on your ideas.

But an even better way to use LinkedIn Answers is to be the one answering the questions yourself. The more questions you answer and the more helpful information you provide, the more people will see you as an expert in your industry. Over time, the clout you build up using this method could result in more business opportunities for your company.

To find questions to answer, navigate to www.linkedin.com/answers, click on “Answer Now” and then select the “Advanced Answers Search” from the search panel that appears. Use the options on this screen to search out unanswered questions in your industry, based on keywords that are specific to your business:

4 – Create a LinkedIn Group for networking

According to the Flyte marketing group, “Groups are a great way to network on a smaller scale with like-minded people. For example, you can find groups that are made up of local businesses, alumni associations or people who promote sustainable business practices. If you can’t find a group that suits your needs, you can create your own.”

As with the LinkedIn Answers techniques described above, LinkedIn Groups can be used to conduct market research or expand your authority within your field. However, because the Groups are more interactive than a simple back-and-forth question, they’re also a great way to build partnership, mentorships or mastermind groups from like-minded professionals.

To find a group or start your own, open your LinkedIn dashboard and select “Groups” from the top navigation menu. From here, you’ll have the option of browsing the LinkedIn Groups directory, seeing specific Groups that have been recommended for you based on the information shared in your profile or creating your own Group if neither of the previous options work out for your needs.

5 – Build backlinks back to your site

According to an October 2011 article on Mashable, LinkedIn can be a great way to identify blogs to contact in order to solicit links back to your site as part of your overall SEO strategy:

“Try targeting blogs as link resources. Not only do people trust blogs, they’re one of the most effective ways to both build your brand awareness and get high-quality content links that point back to your website.”

By searching LinkedIn for freelance writers or bloggers related to your site’s niche – and with whom you share at least a 2nd or 3rd degree connection – you’ll uncover a number of potential link partners. Once you have their names, you can message them through LinkedIn, contact them via email or seek them out on Twitter to discuss a potential link partnership.

6 – Identify potential partners and outsourced workers

At some point in their careers, most website owners will find that they need to take on an outsourced worker or partner in order to help with tasks outside their skill sets that are necessary for the business to grow. For example, most website owners are businesspeople – not web developers, graphic designers or SEO strategists. But since needs in these areas crop up from time to time, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for how you’ll find outsourced workers to handle them.

And while the standard industry advice is to post the project on freelancer portal sites like Guru or Elance, many site owners find the number and breadth of responses they receive overwhelming. So instead of doling out work to whichever fly-by-night company bids the lowest rate, why not use LinkedIn to seek out professionals who have been recommended by people you know and trust?

7 – Grow your audience

So far, we’ve covered how to use LinkedIn to find potential customers, link partners and outsourced workers, but you could also use these techniques to grow your audience by targeting potential readers for your site.

To do this, you’ll need to have a good understanding of your ideal customer types. For example, if you run a ladies swimwear website, you might want to target young women aged 18-35 who live in cities near the beach. LinkedIn allows you to filter users based on these criteria, and once you’ve identified a few potential site visitors, you can connect with them by offering a special promotion or other type of encouragement to visit your site.

LinkedIn does have something of a learning curve, as the ways people connect through this social portal aren’t always obvious or intuitive. However, if you’re willing to invest a little time in learning to use the site correctly, you could see tremendous growth for your business in terms of new customers and new brand awareness opportunities.

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