May 2003 saw the launch of LinkedIn, the world’s first business-orientated social media site. This was before the concept of social media was really a thing (a time future generations will surely know as B.F. - Before Facebook). Over the years it has evolved: functionality has changed, user experience refined and features added, but its standing as the online business networking platform has never wavered.
It currently has over 400 million members, and yet many business owners don’t make the most of what is essentially the world’s largest networking group. With that in mind, we caught up with Bristol-based LinkedIn sage and all round top chap Greg Cooper, from Front of Mind Coaching, to give us the lowdown on why business owners should all be using it, common mistakes, best practice and much more besides.
FC: Hi Greg, why does a business owner need to be on LinkedIn?
GC: Well, there are two answers to that. One is about penetration: simply, the business audience is on LinkedIn. There are over 20 million people now on LinkedIn in the UK and in Bristol alone there are over 230,000 LinkedIn members.
That is not within a 10-mile radius of Bristol, that is people who have specified Bristol as their location on LinkedIn. Now, Bristol has a population of 400,000, that’s around 60% of the working population. Basically, if you’re in a B2B space then your audience is on LinkedIn. Not just on it but accessible, too.
Also, business is about networks and relationships; it always has been. Until LinkedIn came along, those networks were invisible. The real genius of LinkedIn is that it makes those connections visible.
For example, I don’t have a huge first degree network; just over 2,000 people. But in my secondary network I’ve got about three-quarters of a million, and then in my third-degree network, I’ve got over 18 million. So, in practice, I can find and message anybody in that 18-million-strong network..
FC: And, well, why would you? I mean, what is the benefit for business owners to have access to all those people?
GC: Well yes, you wouldn’t want to message all of them. But, for most businesses their target audience is people who look like their current customers, or people who are connected to their current customers. So, having identified who you want to talk to, LinkedIn gives you the door to contact those people you’ve identified - to have that conversation, to make that connection.
FC: I think there’s a misunderstanding from a lot of quarters that LinkedIn is simply for job hunting, but it’s very much more nuanced than that, isn’t it?
GC: Absolutely. We’re living in a social world, and LinkedIn is about building both a professional brand and a personal brand. And actually, most business opportunities through LinkedIn will come through the personal profile, not through the company page.
FC: We’ll get onto company pages in a bit. First though, what are the most common mistakes you see from business owners on LinkedIn?
GC: The classic mistake is having an entirely inappropriate profile photo. So, for example, last week I saw someone whose profile picture was a load of chickens. Just, chickens.
If they were a farmer, brilliant. But no, the person worked as an IT security infrastructure technician, a pretty sensitive service. So, you’re asking someone to trust you to look after the security of all their IT assets, which these days really is their business, and you’re representing yourself with a picture of chickens. You, hopefully, wouldn't go into a meeting dressed as a chicken, so why would that be on your professional profile?
What the cluck? Chickens: Not an appropriate LinkedIn profile pic
So yes, the photo is one element, but your whole profile needs to be completed in a way that is attractive to people that are reading it. This is a competitive environment, but people don’t spend time learning how to use LinkedIn. They go into it, they learn how to do a few basic things, they fill in a few simple details and leave it at that.
The fact is, if you’re going to visit a new potential customer it’s guaranteed they will - either before or after the meeting - check out your LinkedIn profile. If it’s inappropriate or it doesn’t tell a good story, if you don’t have any recommendations or endorsements on your profile compared to a competitor, then there’s a good chance you’re going to lose the business.
FC: What represents a good looking profile?
GC: LinkedIn will actually tell you how well developed your profile is. It’s a bit of a crude measurement admittedly, but there are five levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert and then allstar.
The thing that people tend to miss out, though, is the summary. Once visitors to your profile have looked at the photograph and the professional headline, the next slot is the summary which is the opportunity to tell your story and start building the trust and a relationship with the viewer. About 25-30% of people don’t even have a summary, usually because they’re not quite sure what to put in it.
FC: So, the obvious question, what should you put in it?
GC: Well, as I say, it’s your opportunity to gently sell yourself and to begin to build a bond with the viewer. So, if you are looking to promote the business as opposed to looking for a job then you really want to think of the summary as a kind of ‘what’ resource; what value do you add to the viewer? Then there should ideally be some customer testimonials, if you’ve got some video testimonials, even better.
Most people forget or don’t realise that you can make your summary media-rich which is a great opportunity to stand out from a competitor’s profile. You can add videos, you can add PDFs, you can add slideshows, you can add photos; all of which make the summary more engaging,
"The real power, the real value of LinkedIn, is in the personal profiles"
The last thing to add is a call to an action: contact me, call me, this is my number or write to me here. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the telephone number and email address in your contact information are only visible to your first degree connections. So you know, if you want to encourage people to contact you you need to make sure that there are contact options in the summary field as well.
FC: What main tips would you give people to increase engagement or to utilise LinkedIn properly?
Well, the profile is the first thing, absolutely. Secondly, talk to people, engage. If you have a profile on LinkedIn and don’t engage with anybody, it’s like going to a party and standing in the corner, silent.
People say, “Actually, I never get anything from LinkedIn. It doesn’t work for me.” Well, of course it doesn’t because you’re not engaging with people.
FC: On the engagement front, would you recommend joining groups or regular activity on your newsfeed, or both?
GC: Oh both, definitely. As much activity as you can manage. Unfortunately, LinkedIn has taken away some of the control from the newsfeed. It used to be much easier to determine what appeared, now it’s a bit more random. But sure, a newsfeed is an opportunity to engage with people. Groups can be very good too, and they’ve just been completely revamped which should make them more attractive environments for people to engage in.
You can add pictures now, you can mention people in group threads which is really useful. So, I think Groups have got to go through something of a revival because they did get a little bit spam-infested.
FC: Have you got any specific case studies or any instances where people have really made LinkedIn work for them, some tangible return on investment?
GC: Sure. I was talking to a guy in Bristol last week, he was employed by an app firm and he was in a LinkedIn group that was dedicated to app development. Someone in the group asked for a recommendation for an app developer. He responded to the question, they had a few conversations, it went offline, they continued the discussions and had some meetings, and he got £350,000 worth of business from it.
FC: Wow! Just from being in the right group?
GC: From being in the right group and also from answering someone’s question and engaging with them. You know, being there, yes. But also being active, keeping an eye on, and engaging with, what’s going on.
Quite often, rather like in offline network groups, it’s not necessarily who you meet and talk to in the groups themselves, it’s the people that they meet and talk to, and then refer back to you. On my last course, for example, I had someone come along that was really keen to be on the course and I’d never met her, I didn’t know her, she wasn’t in my network. Someone else that I knew had said to her, “you should do this course”.
And that’s how networking often works.
FC: Regarding groups, have you got any advice on getting the most out of them?
GC It’s very common for coaches to join all the coaches’ groups and finance directors join all the finance director groups and, of course, all you find is more people like yourself.
While there is a value in that - peer education, sharing and collaboration and the like - if you want to get the most out of any social media, you want to be hanging out where the customers are.
Towards the bottom of people’s LinkedIn profiles you’ll see which groups they’re in, so the first thing I’d say is to have a look through some of your core-customer profile pages and see what groups they’re in. If you start to find there are several groups that are recurring, or if there’s a particularly important customer you want to be following, then go and join some of their groups. There will be more people who look like your customers in those groups.
If you’re doing business locally, then things like the Chamber of Commerce group for a particular area will generally attract a good tranche of local businesses, so that’s a good generic sort of group to try.
FC: Let’s move on to publishing. The question we always get asked is how do I get featured on Pulse [LinkedIn’s publishing platform], what’s the key? What’s your response to that?
GC: Well, you won’t be featured like Richard Branson is featured, as an official influencer, unless you have a huge profile and you know, you’re a multi-millionnaire. For the rest of us, the key is trying to be featured on one of the channels.
There are about 45 channels which do change from time to time. There’s things like Green Business, there’s Best Advice, there’s a Marketing and Advertising channel. So, mostly, the posts are chosen by algorithm but there are a couple of filters now; they’ve recently changed it.
It used to be that all of your posts got notified to all of your connections by default but they’re trying to cut the amount of noise down so there’s a filter now. If your post is not doing very well in the first couple of days, say it’s only got double figure views, LinkedIn may not distribute it to all of your connections. Similarly, if LinkedIn feels it’s spammy, it won’t distribute it to all of your connections. So that’s the first thing is to get over: those two hurdles.
"Business is about networks and relationships; it always has been. Until LinkedIn came along, those networks were invisible. The real genius of LinkedIn is that it makes those connections visible"
To be featured on the channels, the post needs to get some popularity; it needs to get some initial attraction. And that needs to happen in the first 48 hours. So you need to get above, I would say, 250-300 views with some engagement: quite a few likes and a number of comments.
You can also drop a line directly to the LinkedIn editorial group, because there is a human editorial team as well. You can write to tips@LinkedInpulse. Tell them the post is getting some good engagement and then put a link to the post. The editorial team may then pick it up and agree that it is a useful post, and feature it.
So those are the two ways in which a post can get featured. Either if the editorial team picks it up or if the algorithm picks it up. Bear in mind, though, that there’s something like 40,000 posts a week now.
FC: Have you noticed any difference between short, snappy posts and longer, more investigative articles?
GC: I think it depends. Sometimes I’m surprised that some really short posts get a lot of views. Personally I try to aim for about 1,000 words because I reckon it takes about 5 minutes to read and most people can spare 5 minutes.
I have also seen much longer posts get really good traction. So, if the post is good quality I think the length is not a problem. What is a problem is if people’s language is too dense and difficult to read. I’ve seen some articles which are unnecessarily technical, and it’s the wrong audience. People read the first paragraph and give up.
And the other mistake that people make is to say, here’s an article about increasing your social media conversion, and then give a link to an external article. That’s not very satisfactory.
It tends not to work very well because mostly when people go onto the post they want to see, at the very least, an executive summary of the article, they don’t want to then have to click through to something else.
FC: Is there any issue around duplicate content from your own blog?
GC: Not really. Google is quite smart these days. If you are just reposting your own blog that’s a pretty normal thing to do and an expected thing to do. If you are littering posts all throughout the internet then you’re going to start running into duplicate content issues.
The ideal would be to post it on your website first, because you own that blog, and then post either the full version or a reduced version onto LinkedIn, but then also to put a reference back to the original post.
The main drawback of posting on LinkedIn rather than on your website is that you’re directing all your traffic to them rather than you, but it depends what you want. Posting on LinkedIn will get you a lot more engagement than any website for most people so doing both really is the ideal solution.
FC: We touched on this briefly earlier, but I wanted to talk more about company pages. How do you build them? The functionality always feels quite limited.
GC: The thing to remember with company pages is that your posts will only be shared in the newsfeeds of your followers, so your company page is not giving you an awful lot of visibility if you have a small number of followers.
I think a lot of people expect, because it’s a company page, for it to be a real lead generator, and it’s just not for small businesses. When you get to the size of Hewlett Packard and IBM where you’ve got nearly 2 million followers it's an absolute goldmine, because every time you publish a post it gets shared with that community that you’ve created.
One benefit of the company page is the promotions and advertising which you can’t do on your profile page, that’s the difference. You can do sponsored posts; essentially a post that is taken from your company page and converted into an advert which you can use to reach anybody outside your network.
Missing Links: LinkedIn is all about building personal and business brands, networking and starting conversations
So those are the values of the company page. For very small businesses I would say you should have a company page from the credibility point of view but it’s not something I think they should get too excited about. If you get up to 2,000-5,000 followers, then it starts to become a more helpful marketing asset.
FC: Is there any way to build that following organically?
GC: Yeah, there is a social icon on company pages now where you can share and invite people to follow. Obviously inviting all your employees and customers to follow helps. You can put a button on your website so people can click through to follow the company page. You can include the company page link in emails, emails that go out on your news page and stuff like that. It’s a long, slow process for most companies to build up the company page, and, to be honest, many of them lose heart.
So the real power, the real value of LinkedIn, is in the personal profiles.
FC: Great. One last question then. Are there any new developments? Is there anything going on at LinkedIn that we need to know about?
GC: Well the group pages are currently under transition. There are going to be two sorts of groups: the standard group and the unlisted group. The standard group is the equivalent of a public group so what’s interesting there is that any member can invite any of their first group connections to join. It used to be that the invitations would come from the group manager or if someone landed on the group and then applied themselves.
"Networking on LinkedIn or elsewhere is about creating trust and building a reputation so that people will recommend you"
The big change there is that now, members themselves can invite people in and approve them, which is not very popular with some of the bigger groups, with the Group Managers. The unlisted group will remain completely private, but the benefits of the public groups is that they will be searchable via the web: all groups at present are considered private.
That’s a significant change.
The messaging system has changed recently as well. with a more casual interface which means you can add patterns, icons and videos to your messages now. So they’re trying to cater for Generation Y and Z by being a more casual experience. Very un-LinkedIn like, but it’s an evolution.
FC: Wonderful. Any other points you think would be handy for a business owner?
GC: Yeah – two things really. I think that sometimes people think it has to take a lot of time to be able to manage your LinkedIn presence. If you have the mobile app, though, which I recommend, you can keep in touch on LinkedIn and maintain a presence in about 10 or 15 minutes a day. That’s not a lot of time: we’ve all got a bit of time during the day waiting for a meeting or waiting for a call or you know, just in between tasks.
It’s quite possible to do that, to maintain that. If you really want to use LinkedIn as a business development tool then you have to commit some more time to it, probably about an hour a day, and really start to think about it as a networking tool.
And secondly, the networking principles apply. You don’t go out selling to people, you go out and be helpful. You are aware that at the end of the day it’s not the people you are talking to directly, it’s the people they know that are probably going to be the most valuable to you. So networking on LinkedIn or elsewhere is about creating trust so that people will recommend you. Creating trust and building a reputation.
FC: Absolutely. Great advice, thanks Greg.
GC: You’re welcome
Huge thanks to Greg for taking the time to talk to us. If you’re inspired to finally do LinkedIn properly, you can find Greg on, well, LinkedIn. Come follow Future Content too, we could do with building our company page.
Chickens - By mazaletel (Flickr: the ladies) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons