All around us we see evidence that the world is becoming more transparent. People are sharing information about themselves, their knowledge, their businesses at a wondrous rate. As transparency proliferates, success becomes a little less about just access to information and resources, and a little more about how you use those resource and what you're using them to do.
Part of my goal in writing this column is to help along this information equalization - who knows how far it will go, but for now the shift is great for small business.
In this article in my series on LinkedIn for small business, I'm sharing the case studies of individual small businesses who took nothing but their time, their creativity and (mostly) free tools and turned them into successful marketing strategies on LinkedIn.
Each of these business owners has gracefully shared their knowledge, experience and prowess not just for a few moments in the spotlight, but because they know the transparency is coming, and they have much more to offer the world than just the ideas I'm sharing with you. I owe them thanks for their contributions to this article. I hope you too will reach out and send a quick note of thanks for sharing some of their secrets with all of us. And I hope to see your business here — sharing your story and your success so that the world can see that what else you have to offer us.
The most persistent theme in the LinkedIn strategies that I've used and encountered, is that people are seeing success when using LinkedIn as a very targeted, high-touch marketing tool. Not as a spam blaster. When people spend the time to craft targeted messages to targeted groups of people, they see fantastic results. But this isn't a big shocker -- this is marketing 101. The more specific your audience and the more targeted your message, the better your results. So if this is marketing 101 why doesn't this kind of targeting happen all the time?
Often the reason business don't target (outside of not knowing who to target!) is that typically targeting is hard or expensive or both. How do you find all those small businesses owners in Arkansas in the welding industry? In the past you had to buy a list, spend $$ for an ad that was mostly wasted or do a lot of cold calling. Now? Do a search on LinkedIn. LinkedIn makes it much FASTER, CHEAPER and EASIER to find and communicate with exactly the right people.
And we can all understand the value of fast, cheap and easy when it comes to marketing.
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While a lot of marketing can be just a numbers game, that's not really the point on LinkedIn. I mean, it still gets down to numbers, but not in the anonymous, send-a-million-spam-messages-because-at-least-one-of-them-will-get-suckered-in kind of way. In fact that same search that allows you to find exactly the people you know you want, can even help you figure out who you want by simply looking for the commonalities and/or the points of difference in your search results.
The "killer app" for LinkedIn, is its particularly effectiveness for maintaining your weak ties with a purpose. That purpose is what I called "building your team" and what Seth Godin calls building your "tribe".
Building Your Tribe on LinkedIn
Building a tribe is good advice for any business. Who is that group of 1,000 people who will be ecstatic about what you're doing? For a lot of industries, I'll bet you can find a good number of them on LinkedIn.
Once you have an understanding of:
And the most important question:
You can build a tribe that even your networking-iest friend would be envious of.
The List of LinkedIn Strategies for Small Business
While we cannot possibly cover every LinkedIn strategy in a single article, and I unfortunately could not include every example I received, I've chosen some of the most widely used strategic goals and provided great examples of what small businesses have done to make LinkedIn work for them. They include:
Building a Face-to-Face Community
LinkedIn can be an excellent tool for pulling people offline to congregate in the real world. Anyone looking to build a very targeted community of people who share a common and specific interest can use LinkedIn extremely successfully to find and build that community. Whether building a community that congregates online or in person, there are 3 tools that can put your group on the map quickly:
Using LinkedIn Search
Daniel Tunkelang who is the Chief Scientist at Endeca is a great example of how a very well thought out search for exactly the right people can turn into a huge win. He was helping to organize an event called the Workshop on Human Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval and wanted to let people who had a strong interest in these topics. After conducting a search on LinkedIn for everyone who matched "human computer interaction" and "information retrieval" and chose just 100 people to send a personalized connection request.
His results? More than 50% of the 100 people he contacted accepted the connection. Only 1 person responded with LinkedIn's "I don't know this person" field which is the equivalent of invite spam. This is an excellent return. He adds
"Some will submit papers to the workshop, one ended up volunteering to review my new book. And I got very positive feedback from the people I targeted--they clearly didn't feel spammed, but rather were happy to receive information so carefully targeted to their interests. Some even commented that they'd never been as happy to receive unsolicited email via LinkedIn."
Create a LinkedIn Group
Groups offer an easy way to enable your community members to congregate, an easy way for you to invite people to participate and an easy way for you to communicate with those who are already participating through group emails. This is a great option if you have a specific topic or idea around which people can freely congregate. Not such a great idea if you just want them to be "fans" of your business.
Use LinkedIn Events within a Group to build Offline Community
It's debatable whether the free LinkedIn Events are effective for promoting an event outside of an existing LinkedIn group. There is a paid option that allows you to promote your event to the top of the events list. But using them to promote an event within an existing group can be very successful. A great example of this is what Larry Moffet, who is an e-strategy business consultant in Brussels, did. Over several years, Larry's business partner had built a group of "expats" in Brussels. His goal was to use LinkedIn to launch a series of events that would enable expats to congregate and network professionally once a month, but at a time of the evening that was unusual for that community. And so, Larry and his partner created the "Expats Networking in Brussels" group on LinkedIn, began inviting their Brussels based connections to join it, and then began inviting group members to events.
Within 2 months they had about 117 members in their LinkedIn group, and as of May that number had doubled to 232. They estimate it took them about 3 hours per month to manage this process on LinkedIn.
Also of note, the LinkedIn group not only served as an administrative and marketing tool to build his offline community, it also made the community and the events themselves better!
"Group members can sign up for the event on LinkedIn, view the profiles of other members, decide whom among the other attendees they would like to meet and connect via LinkedIn before or after the event. This ensures that the face-to-face meetings aren't just random encounters but can be prepared in advance in order to make the most productive use of the event'� Inevitably, people who meet face-to-face and hit it off will subsequently connect on LinkedIn, which ensures continuity between the monthly events."
Tune in next week...
I've received so many wonderful submissions that I'm going to split this coverage so as not to overwhelm everyone with too much of a good thing.
I look forward to hearing more about your LinkedIn strategies in the comments below and to hearing from you the next time I'm looking for businesses to feature!
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