I’ve run some interesting one-on-one coaching sessions for independent consultants and small business owners recently, with a particular focus on Linkedin. Here are some of my top tips for small business owners who have decided to leverage this social network to increase their notoriety and position themselves as specialists in their field.
1. Be strategic when building your profile
Think SEO (search engine optimisation) when describing yourself. Rather than « President, Michelle Sullivan Communications », for example, I’ve put myself in the shoes of LinkedIn users who will use the platform’s search tool to find a PR consultant with a social media background. For this reason, my profile reads « PR consultant, social media specialist, speaker, trainer. » This is how I’ve positioned myself in the market and these keywords speak to the kind of mandates I’m hoping to attract. This will evolve as my business priorities change and, luckily, LinkedIn provides the level of flexibility needed to ensure my profile is always up to date.
2. Don’t limit yourself: LinkedIn is much more than a place to post your resumé
I’d wager a good 80% of LinkedIn members miss the boat on the platform’s social networking potential. They limit themselves to building their profile, as if it were an online resumé. They fail to explore LinkedIn’s ability to connect them with people they already know, not to mention people they’d like to get to know: potential clients, mentors and professionals who could help open doors. Take the time to explore the network to see how it can help you make the kinds of connections that will grow your business. Become part of the community, so it can start to work for you.
3. Become an active member of a LinkedIn group One of the best ways to increase your notoriety and broaden your reputation through LinkedIn is by actively contributing to group discussions. As always, resist the tempation to join too many groups at first in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Your goal is quality, not quantity.
I recommend joining 3 types of groups at first:
a group of your immediate peers
a broader group of peers
a group consisting of your target market
By joining the group of first-degree peers, that is to say of professionals who practice in the same field, you enter into an exchange of ideas that will be beneficial to your professional development while increasing your notoriety within that group. As you contribute intelligently to discussions and begin to be perceived as a valuable resource, you’ll attract the attention of peers who, while they may more often than not be competitors, could also potentially be collaborators or refer you to clients when their workload doesn’t permit them to take on new mandates. Most importantly, you’ll engage in interesting conversations that will feed your professional soul.
Joining a broader group of peers, who practice in the same general field but who don’t offer exactly the same services as you puts you in an even better position to develop ties with people who could refer potential clients to you. As you make valuable contributions to group discussions and become known within this circle for your expertise and the niche service you provide, you increase the possibility that group members will allow you to tap into their network. They’ll be able to point potential clients in your direction when a mandate doesn’t interest them or doesn’t quite fit their specific service offering.
Finally, joining a group that includes members of your target market, and building a reputation for yourself as the go-to person in your niche area of expertise is a great way to drum up new business. You’ll be able to stand out from the crowd and grow your reputation as a specialist in your field, able to provide a valuable service to group members. A warning however: tread carefully, as you certainly don’t want to build a reputation as a spammer. Contribute only relevant content that will be valuable to the group. Shameless self-promotion is not the way to win respect or clients.
4. Write recommendations for others … and don’t be shy about soliciting some for yourself Social networks like LinkedIn work best when the principle of giving back is applied. Take the time to go further than the simple one-click endorsements LinkedIn promotes and leverage their recommendation tool to recognize the quality work of professionals you’re happy to refer to others. These short letters of recommendation will not only be appreciated by your contacts, they will increase the chances that they may return the favour. But your role shouldn’t be a passive one. Reach out to past clients and colleagues and ask them to take 5 minutes to recommend your services through LinkedIn. If you’re a speaker or trainer, grab the list of participants before you leave the venue and reach out to them on LinkedIn, following up with a new connection to ask for feedback on the workshop they attended. The platform does a nice job of making all of this easy, so take advantage of the opportunity to solidify connections and make them work for you.
Like a kid in a candy store, once you’ve committed to social media you’ll be tempted to grab a handful. Don’t. Resist jumping onboard the Facebook and Twitter (and LinkedIn, and Instagram, and Pinterest, and .. and … and) bandwagons just because those networks are getting good buzz in traditional media. Take a breath before succumbing to the pressure to be « where everyone else is ». Social networks are expensive. Yes, you heard me, expensive. Subscription (generally) doesn’t cost anything, but social networks are very resource greedy and before you know it you’ll be spread too thin, frustrated and wondering where the return on investment is.
And you want to feel like you’re getting a return on your investment of precious time and energy.
So what’s a small business owner or marketer to do?
Follow these 5 steps before deciding which social network is right for you:
1. Identify your target audience. Who is likely to purchase your product or service? Who is likely to identify with your content enough to share it with decision makers? Which social networks are they on? That’s a great place to consider starting. But you’re not done yet.
2. Benchmark. Identify competitors and colleagues with a presence on social networks. Where are they and what are they doing? Are they enjoying success through their social media initiatives? Do you think you can compete for attention with them there? If so, you might consider opening an account on the same social network. After all, laws of proximitythat apply to commercial bricks-and-mortar spaces can also apply to the online world and being where your target audience expects to find you is an important consideration. That said, have you also considered niche networks? After all, opening a presence on Facebook or Twitter can be the equivalent of opening a store in the Mall of America or West Edmonton Mall. You’re likely to get lost in the fray. Lesser known niche social networks might be just the thing to stand out from the crowd. You’ll have access to a smaller group, but if they’re more relevant to your area of interest, the return on investment could very well be higher. After all, if you sell purple-sparkly-unicorn-ribbons, you want to be among purple-sparkly-unicorn-ribbon lovers. When it comes to choosing a social network, your strategy will depend upon your level of notoriety, your industry, your needs and your capacities.
3. Have you attached enough importance to your own web properties? Social networks are great for building links with your community and driving traffic to your website. This, after all, is home. Is your website up to snuff? Is a mobile version available? Are you blogging yet? Going off to play in Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey’s playgrounds is great, but before you do be sure your house is in order and you’re doing everything you can to build credibility through your own channels.
4. Check your ego at the door. Social media is not for the reluctant. If you’re going to join the party, you need to make sure you’re not on the defensive or fearful. Be open to different ideas and criticism. You need to begin to see negative comments as opportunities. Opportunities to thank for feedback, explain your position, clarify misconceptions and, where appropriate, offer an apology.
5. Be realistic about your bandwidth and abilities. Is communication your forte? Are you willing to set aside a considerable enough amount of time to market your products and services? The amount of time and pleasure you’re likely to give to and take from social media initiatives is going to be a determining factor in your success online. Rather than launching your brand presence on 10 social networks at once, begin with and get comfortable with one, moving onto the next when you’re ready. You’re more likely to stay the course if you pace yourself.
Follow these 5 important steps and you’ll be on your way to social networking bliss.
Before I let you go, a word to the wise and a hat tip to one of my previous blog posts : opening an account in a social network in order to squat in your brand or company’s name is good practice. It prevents others from claiming your brand name before you do. But there’s a difference between reserving your spot and moving forward with social media. I’m speaking in today’s post of initiatives that go beyond this basic point. Countless business owners and marketers embark upon the social network adventure only to give up quickly after a few tweets or posts on a branded Facebook page. Don’t be that guy.
How are you going about choosing the social network that’s right for your business?
Social media is like your exercise routine: the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Hitting the gym for a few hours a day and working with a personal trainer may get you the abs that are the envy of all your friends, but sometimes all you have time for (or even desire for) is a quick walk after dinner to get the blood pumping a little at least. As much as I encourage my clients to invest fully in their social media initiatives, I also want to be sure that if they’re not willing to do as much work as I’d like, that they’re still covering the basics.
What do you do in the social media space when all you want to do is the very minimum?
Make your web content visible. As attractive as that flash website may be, it won’t win you many points with most search engines. Your existing clients already know how great you are … your prospects are the ones that need convincing. But first they have to find you. Great website content is dynamic, relevant, informative, easy to digest and, most definitely, optimized for search. Keep keywords in mind when you review your content. And if you must use flash, be sure to be aware of its limitations.
Make your web content shareable. Even if you’re not willing to step up your social media game by investing in a blog, you should be making what web content you do have shareable. Visitors to your site will be able to spread the good word on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or any one of a number of social networks with one easy click. Plugins like ShareThis, AddThis, Digg Digg and Sociable are just some of the options available to you and your web developer. Give your website visitors the tools they need to become effective brand ambassadors.
EgoSurf. Social media is just as much about listening as it is about engaging with communities. Not all companies are willing or even able to put the time and effort into really getting the most out of social media, but no company can afford to neglect its online reputation. Ignoring client comments will not make them go away. You may not want or be able to engage with your customers online, but just hearing what they have to say about your company, its products and services and the quality of your customer service will provide you with valuable insight. In Mad Men days, agencies used to run focus groups. They occasionally still do. But more and more they’re showing their clients that in the age of social media, the real focus group is already out there and just begging to be listened to. So be sure to monitor what’s being said about your company and brands online. A number of free and premium tools are available to you, from something as basic as Google Alerts, to Social Mention, to platforms like Radian6, Sysomos and Nexalogy.
Squat. You may not want to tweet just yet, but you should consider staking your claim. Most social networks allow you to open accounts with your company or brand name. Pepsi’s Twitter account is @pepsi. Nike’s is @nike. Simple, clear and most of all obvious to anyone searching for the Pepsi or Nike presence on Twitter. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find you. You also want to prevent anyone else from hijacking your company or brand name. If Pepsi hadn’t staked their claim early, soft drink detractors could easily have opened a Twitter account using the brand name. As the obvious go-to Twitter identifier for anyone searching for Pepsi’s account, the detractors’ account would have been in a position to do some real damage to the brand. Just ask BP. You’ve invested time, money and energy into building your brand’s reputation. Now’s not the time to neglect it. Better an unused Twitter account reserved in your name than your brand’s social media presence in the hands of someone else. Protect your reputation and stake your company or brand’s social media claim before someone else does.
These four tips cover only the absolute basics. Effective social media requires an investment of time and energy. If you’re not willing to put much effort into social media, you can’t expect it to do miracles for you. But do the minimum, if nothing else. Doctor’s orders.
After being in the shadows of more flamboyant networks like Facebook and Twitter for years, LinkedIn, the social network for business is quietly making its way back into the spotlight this year. Nowhere have I been made as acutely aware of this reality as yesterday evening at the Irish Canada Chamber of Commerce event where I was an invited speaker. While my presentation aimed at small business and focused primarily on B2C communications, with a little B2B thrown in for good measure, my audience was obviously hungry for information on how to better leverage LinkedIn. Unfortunately, given time constraints, it was a network I had chosen to leave off the menu. Lesson learned!
Needless to say I’ve already started working on a LinkedIn presentation for the B2B market, which will be available soon. Here are some interesting resources for you, if you’re hungry for more right now:
LinkedIn Traffic Statistics and User Demographics 2013
Glen Cathey of Boolean Black Belt presents demographics compiled from Quantast, in video format. He notes a dramatic increase in daily uniques and mobile traffic between 2013 and 2011. LinkedIn has added 40 million monthly visitors since 2011. Canada round out the Top 5 countries using LinkedIn, and India has just passed Britain at number 2. Interesting fact for companies and entrepreneurs interested in this emerging market. Asians as a whole are strongly represented on the professional networking platform. And ladies, where are you? Men outrank women on LinkedIn at almost 2:1.
LinkedIn for Businesses and Brands Webinar
Our good friend Chris Penn at Shift Communications shares his insight via webinar, audio and pdf. He talks, among other things, about lead acquisition, strategic content sharing and competitive research. Chris is a sharp mind with years of experience in the social media space. Check him out.
New LinkedIn features for B2B marketing
Susanne Colwyn discusses two changes made by LinkedIn in July affecting B2B marketers. You can now sponsor updates, much as you do with promoted tweets. Colwyn also breaks down changes to LinkedIn analytics, including more detailed demographics.
I hope you’ll check out my upcoming presentation on B2B marketing and LinkedIn. Details to follow.
Canadian Chris Hadfield, who commanded the International space station for nearly five months, has made his mark in the social media space — no pun intended — as the first astronaut to fully leverage the power of social networks as a way to share his passion for science and space travel with the world. The Canadian Space Agency has literally never had an ambassador with as great a reach. Astronauts like Marc Garneau, Roberta Bondar, Julie Payette and Steve MacLean, though household names, had to rely on traditional media outlets to get their messages across. With the help of a team that includes his 28-year old son Evan, back on Earth, Chris Hadfield is able to communicate directly with Canadians and space enthusiasts around the world.
There are important lessons to be learned from Commander Hadfield — and I’m not just talking musically. Whether you’re the community manager for a startup, small business or huge business, take note:
1. Be creative: Hadfield’s science experiments and renditions of famous songs meant he was able to stand out from the crowd. Granted, he has the advantage of being able to show us what happens to water in zero-gravity, but you have a similar advantage as a niche expert. You just need to identify the opportunity and present it in a way that will capture the attention and imagination of your own target audience.
How does this apply back here on Earth?
Owens-Illinois is one of my favourite examples of how a B2B brand has managed to leverage social media in a creative way in order to position itself as an industry leader. Its Glass Is Life campaign captures the beauty of glass across a variety of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest). Proof that B2B social media marketing doesn’t need to be boring.
This is the first in a series of 7 ways social media types can draw inspiration from Chris Hadfield’s social media experiment. Seven — a lucky number for Commander Hadfield, wishing him a safe return to Earth. I suspect his feet won’t touch the ground for quite awhile after his spacecrafts lands!
Note: this post was written prior to … but for technical reasons published after … Commander Hadfield’s safe landing.