LinkedIn is a powerful way to connect with others and promote your business -- if you know how to use it correctly.
I consider myself savvy when it came to social media, and I thought I had relegated LinkedIn to its proper place: I viewed it only as a way to stay connected to individuals I had already met. In fact, until I started contributing to this column regularly, I had a rule that I wouldn't connect with anyone that I didn't "know."
All of this changed for me after a very helpful session with LinkedIn Expert--Alex Pirouz of Linkfluencer--whom I ironically met over LinkedIn after he had read a couple of my columns.
I learned six important lessons from Alex on how to use LinkedIn more effectively:
1) Take Advantage of Groups
Like any good contact management system, you can and should organize the individuals you connect with into groups. Then you can easily pull up a group of people who would be interested in content you decide to share.
For example, I have a weekly radio show that focuses on marketing techniques and I often need to speak with someone who can speak to a specific area. I use my LinkedIn group to narrow down my connections to marketers, and then I search their profiles for someone with the specific experience I need.
2) Become a Specialist
I took every endorsement under the sun without properly understanding the damage it was doing to my personal brand/profile. Alex recommends instead that you focus this down to the three or four that are really relevant to what you do and what you want to do.
When someone views your profile, if everything is important, then nothing is important. You want the visitor to understand that you are truly a specialist on a couple of topics.
3) Build Credibility
What you say about yourself does not hold one-tenth of the weight of what others say. As you know, people will not do business with you if they don't trust you and find you credible. Recommendations are an extremely powerful tool when it comes to strengthening your brand. As a rule of thumb, 15 to 20 recommendations are a good start to building credibility within your profile. Look at your top competitors and making sure the number of recommendations you have is greater than the number they have.
4) Connect With Purpose
I am in the process of promoting my book and had never considered reaching out to people over LinkedIn for an opportunity to connect and speak. Pirouz led me to a fundamental shift in thinking about who I would connect with and when. Those that are using LinkedIn to make connections see it very much like a virtual conference they are attending--but instead of being restricted by their own local geography, they have access to people all over the world.
That said, building connections for the sake of having a large following is not a sound strategy if you want to effectively grow your business and profit using LinkedIn. Every connection needs to be linked to your goals and objectives in business both now and in the future.
5) Segment Your Connections
Now you need to keep those connections straight. You can segment your connections into topic categories within LinkedIn, a process known as "tagging."
To be successful on LinkedIn you need to ensure all communication with your connections is as personal, specific and targeted as possible. Your connections need to be segmented in their specific fields so that at any given time you are able to effectively communicate with any one of your contacts.
Back to my example about using the category of "marketing," I use tags like "social media"or "direct marketing" to further refine what my contacts know and care about.
6) Always Add Value First
Whether you are connecting with a potential partner or customer, you need to build value and rapport in order for them to have any interest in who you are and what you do. Just because they accepted your connection invite doesn't mean they are interested in what you have to say. Remember: to be interesting, you have to be interested.
Building relationships through LinkedIn is no different than dealing with people in a network function, through a friend or colleague, it's all about adding value first. To be successful on LinkedIn and in business overall you have to first think about WIIFT (What's In It For Them) rather then WIIFU (What's In It For You).
ERIC V. HOLTZCLAW is a serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple startup companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 list three years in a row. Eric advises clients on the “whys” of business – why customers buy, why teams work and the all-important “entrepreneurial why”. He is the author of Laddering and his weekly radio show, The 'Better You' Project, shines a spotlight on entrepreneurs' individual business journeys and successes. Learn more about Eric at www.ladderingworks.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. @eholtzclaw