That it surely does.
Yes, more of the emphasis is shifting online, where businesses have been notoriously able to look bigger, or have a nice presence, especially when in a niche market.
It's about the Community
Web sites and internet applications that combine content generated by users with communications and facilitate the relationships between individuals and groups are taking a bigger share of our time. I talked about SavvyAuntie.com at Marketing 2.0 a couple of weeks ago.
Why should businesses care? They should listen because peer to peer recommendations and community conversations are affecting how people make decisions and buy. If you think this trend affects only companies that work with consumers, think again.
Charlene Li, author of Groundswell, observed that B2B companies are, if anything, more vulnerable to these trends. Their customers have every reason to band together and rate the companies services, to join groups like ITtoolbox, to help each other out on LinkedIn Answers. Word of mouth is probably the most important factor in how we choose what to purchase, from which business.
It's about the Connections
We do that in out daily life, and we carry that intent into business. Small business owners have known that all along - you get business done through your connections, on social networks, and now through social media.
I have used LinkedIn for a number of years, growing my network very gradually in the same way I do everything - organically and through personal connections. There are many business represented on LinkedIn - from large enterprise to small businesses, to solopreneurs.
The good news is that most of those businesses and contacts you'd like to make are represented by people. We see it on Twitter and blogs, the fact that a real person is on the other side of the conversation makes it easier to reach out and find common ground or a reason to talk more.
If you have a business and are on LinkedIn, you have multiple ways of connecting with other businesses and with talent.
When you develop a presence in LinkedIn, make sure that your profile provides some basic, valuable information about you and your business. For example, are you certified in a specific methodology? Do you have an accreditation?
The profile is composed of several areas:
- The top portion of the page is your business card. You will notice that you have the opportunity to edit each line item, from the title, to the geographic location, your status and finally your photo. Do not leave anything to chance. This is prime real estate space. Make a good impression up front.
- Experience (profile) - pay special attention to the summary. This is an opportunity to relate what kind of problems you solve with your business. Craft an approachable and concise description. You will have the opportunity to be more specific in the specialty area.
- Expertise - the Q&A will establish your expertise. Look for opportunities to demonstrate how you think and what you know by contributing to answering questions posed by other professionals. You may also ask questions to uncover new information and make connections with other professionals.
- Recommendations - the equivalent of testimonials - learn how to write a business recommendation, and then go ahead and request recommendations for your business as well.
- Connections - these are the people who are linked to you. Having these links will be useful when you are researching a company for a business opportunity and would like an introduction. For this reason alone, I make sure I link with people I know and trust. How could you ever recommend someone otherwise? How would they be able to vouch for you?
- Context - if you look at any LinkedIn profile, you will see that there is more information on the right hand side of the screen. There is a "viewers of this profile also viewed..." area and a box that outlines the "groups you share with ___" the person you are checking out.
The use of specific keywords that indicate your experience will be a beacon to someone looking for those services.
To find professionals who can give you advice, or to solicit advice yourself you can turn to LinkedIn Answers. This option was introduced recently and has proven very useful for a couple of reasons.
- Your questions and answers are attached to your profile - and so are those of other members.
- You may earn and give a "best answer" score when you answer or ask a question. By and large members are very helpful and provide extensive responses and resources.
As an added bonus, you could end up being quoted in a publication for having provided useful and actionable content. And you could earn an appointment or even a job.
I have used questions when composing blog posts for research and to check in with the community. You can easily see how you'd be able to do some basic polling, and run some background research using this feature. If you do not have a blog, this could be a form of blogging.
How would you learn about and connect with your customers?
There are a number of tools a company would use:
- LinkedIn Polls - they can be set up to reach certain segments, let members answer only specific questions, and show results by profile-based criteria.
- LinkedIn Answers - to discover expertise and also what members are looking for and to provide answers to them. For example, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines asked: How can an airline make you more productive? And got 136 answers.
- LinkedIn Profiles - to find people based on geography, industry, profession, company size, and seniority.
Your customers could also be future employees. Or you could come across someone you pitched a story to a week ago. Yes, media types are people, too, and they are definitely on LinkedIn. And so are recruiters. Some of the best I met in years I found through this network.
When it comes to business, LinkedIn has developed a strong tool that is widely adopted by millions of people - more than 20 million. Many of those people visit frequently. The Q&A helped give a reason for people to come back often and propelled the network from less than 2,000 unique visitors to almost 8,000 - that is a growth of more than 300% (Nielsen Online). This is all fertile ground for community and connections.
Would you like to share a story of how LinkedIn has helped your business? The first three entries will be featured in the post.
[screen shot of the home page of my LinkedIn profile]