I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for years, and it’s become a basic part of my “doing business”, whether to tout my skills, or to check on the backgrounds of people I come in contact with, especially potential clients (yes, I do check).
It amazes me how many companies either don’t have a prominent presence on LinkedIn or simply don’t utilize it effectively. The compounded power of the network is mind boggling. For example, my network of almost 330 people gives me access to over 5.3 million users (the networks are set up to go 3 levels deep). Although not a direct sales tool, I think it’s a must in developing a presence, and for soft sales of services if done properly. It’s passive, non-intrusive, and very powerful.
The idea for individuals is pretty straight forward – a point of web presence and a network for providing services (or finding jobs). But for companies, the collective force of the networks of individuals can become even more powerful social media tool. Let’s say your company has 500 employees, and your marketing department is developing a webinar to discuss the changes in your market. Imagine if all your employees had a well developed network on LinkedIn, and each could bring 10 people to the webinar. Of course, a webinar with even 300 people is good enough for a company that size, so you get the idea. When each employee acts as a touch-point in a massive pool of professionals, the corporate image and messages can be exponentially magnified.
The problem becomes controlling that image. I know people who “tweak” their positions on LinkedIn for various reasons, or point blank lie. As a company, you have a little bit of control over your employees’ behavior on networking sites, but you have no way of changing their profile (unless LinkedIn changed their policies and forgot to announce it).
Given these drawbacks, I still think encouraging your employees to build a network on LinkedIn is a worthwhile effort. In fact, it’s best to proactively give them some guidelines to help them develop their image and their networks. Once they’re set up, make sure to use their collective networks in your social media. The results might surprise you.
Today I sent an email to a client’s sale/marketing teams and the executives with guidelines of how to develop their profiles and build up their LinkedIn networks. The idea is to roll it out to the rest of the company later. I’m repeating the guidelines here. The language is verbatim out of my email (except the company name and the markets it targets).
- Please develop a complete and professional profile on LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile acts as a public online professional bio for everyone to view, and it’s the first place a Google search of your name will land your potential contacts/clients.
- Include the title that shows up on your business cards, your work history, any special skills you may have, and any other appropriate information you can think of.
- Do not push XXX or YYY in your profile. We are positioning the company as a provider of ZZZ. It’s OK to talk about XXX/YYY but not as a main topic.
- Feel free to use keywords that are related to [company]’s business. People use them often in searches on LinkedIn, and you want to show up if they’re looking for experts in the field.
- Do NOT display or discuss confidential information about [company] in your profile. This includes ANY financial information (including revenues/profits/projections, etc), number of employees, plans for expansion, plans for partnerships, layoffs, new hiring, or anything of material importance.
- Start developing your network. Go through all your contacts, old colleagues, people you know from college, professional organizations, neighbors, relatives and friends who work in professional settings. The point is you want access to their network, even if they, themselves, don’t necessarily fit into a client profile. If you know people who have large networks, definitely connect to them. This will take time. Start soon.
- Do not hide your profile to limited groups (this is a LinkedIn option). Leave it open for everyone to see (except personal info like email, etc). You want everyone to be able to contact you if they’d like.
- Sign up with as many groups as is appropriate (max 50 allowed). This gives you access to a lot of discussions and newsboards in various industries.
- Feel free to participate in Q&As and group discussions. Show that you are an expert in the field and know what you’re talking about. Much of the time, people connect to you once they feel they trust you and enjoy your “conversations”.
- Do not spam the newsboards or the Q&A. You will be flagged and dropped from groups. And it’s unprofessional.
- Feel free to post a professional photo. People respond better to people with photos.
- Remember whatever you say/do on LinkedIn is public, and will reflect on you and [company]. Please keep it professional.
I don’t know if I’ve covered all the bases, but this is pretty comprehensive. Feel free to add other ideas of how to get your employees to build up their network, and especially on how to use their networks once they're built. I’m really interested to find out more about how companies use this forum.