I received my first invitation to connect on LinkedIn about five years ago. I did what most of us do when we don’t understand the value or implication of such an offer, I ignored it. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the source of this invitation; it was just that I was busy and had better things to do with my time. Social Media and online networking just seemed like another thing to distract me.
In a paper released in May 2011, B2B Magazine reported that LinkedIn is now regarded as the most important social media platform for Business to Business marketing, well ahead of Facebook, Blogs, and Twitter. LinkedIn, launched in 2003 and often described as ‘Facebook for Business’, recently exceeded 100 million users. Considerable publicity was generated by the public offering of LinkedIn shares, launched on 20th May, with significant buyer interest. This is all well and good, and it’s nice to see someone getting a wage for their entrepreneurial vision, but what does this mean to you? It means that LinkedIn is here to stay.
As a reader of this blog you are most likely a professional with a network of colleagues and a portfolio of customers and suppliers, many of them professionals in their own right. We all know from experience to get and maintain our customers, we have to connect with them regularly to reaffirm our value and to strengthen our place in their purchasing decisions. Traditionally we would do this by attending events hosted by professional organisations, visit trade shows, and attend conferences or other occasions that our customers and suppliers frequent.
When we do meet someone that we consider to be of value, we perform the age-old ritual of exchanging business cards. Now ask yourself, what do you usually do with these cards? It is most likely they end up in a pile somewhere never to see the light of day again, or are occasionally searched through to rekindle a memory of a conversation had long ago. This is where LinkedIn has the most excellent and immediate benefit for you. LinkedIn does require some investment in time to get set up. What is basically an online CV of your professional experience; however, this small investment of time (think of it as free advertising) gives you access to the extreme “friend of a friend” network and a community of professional introductions, referrals and information sharing for free.
No tool is of any use unless it is used well; compare the value and potential of a hammer to a child and then to a master builder. The more it is used, and the more that is learnt about its function, the more valuable it becomes. LinkedIn, like the hammer, has some essential functions that will serve you well and, over time and with experience, many other features that can return an income. To begin with, get your profile as complete as possible, and connect with colleagues and peers. As a guide, if you would exchange a business card with the person, then they are a suitable LinkedIn connection.
Don’t get caught up in the numbers game. The size of your network is not essential. Genuine relationships developed over time will return the greatest value. Only by keeping your status updated and making occasional modifications to your profile, the well-constructed LinkedIn updates sent to your connections will subtly keep you visible and accessible.
In time, as your familiarity and confidence increases, you should participate in LinkedIn groups. These are either open or invite-only forums where a considerable amount of information exchange can take place. Like any form of networking, you have to attend to be seen, offer value to be appreciated, and commit time and energy to get a return on investment. Don’t wait like I did – it’s well worth your time.