With over 380 million users (over 107 million of them in the U.S.), it's certain that LinkedIn would be chock full of business opportunities. Yet, only about a quarter of its users log in monthly, and even fewer have complete or real profiles. What's worse is that the average user spends only 17 minutes a month on the B2B social media network. Personally, I'd rather spend time building relationships on LinkedIn than cold-calling or attending stuffy networking meetings, but that’s just me.

So why aren't people leveraging LinkedIn? Social media expert, LinkedIn trainer, and author of It's Not About You, It's About Bacon! Relationship Marketing in a Social Media World Brian Basilico is faced with complaints and resistance from nearly everyone he teaches. They claim that they don't get it and are frustrated by the connection requests from people they don't even know. "Those unwanted connection requests are a small price to pay," says Basilico. "Amidst all the misunderstanding and complacency is one of the most feature-rich business search engines on the planet."

Basilico reminds us that it begins with the understanding that on the other side of the screen and keyboard is a person. Try to find out where that person hangs out, and how can you be of service to that person, so that he or she begins to know, like, and trust you. Here's how.

1. Make quality contacts and keep them well organized.

Some people try to accumulate connections like each one is a badge of honor or something. It's not about the numbers; it's about the quality of the relationship.

Before connecting with people on LinkedIn, create your strategy, deciding whom you want to connect with and why. Don't be so focused on new business that you forget about the big three that have gotten you to where you are today: the current customer, the past customer, and the power partner or vendor. Start there. Search them out, see what groups they belong to, and make sure you tag them. Tags allow you to categorize each contact as client, potential client, past client, power partner, or whatever you decide is important to your strategy.

2. Choose groups for learning and new business.

Most people tend to gravitate to groups of their peers, rather than groups that include their potential customers. It's comfortable to talk to people who speak your language, but they will generally never buy from you. You may get a referral or two but those are rare.

Hopefully you know what your avatar (or ideal customer) looks like. The first thing you have to do is search them out. Maybe they are purchasing agents, small business owners or CEOs. Using the LinkedIn search engine, you can find these people and see what groups they belong to. You don't have to be a first or second connection to see these groups. Some are private so you may not be able to see all the members, but most will let you view members to see if there are other potential avatars in that group. If you see an abundance of desirable connections, try to join.

Start to interact by commenting on other people's posts, especially those where your ideal connections post and interact. Try to avoid controversial stances if possible. Once you have established yourself as an active participant in the group, the owners and moderators will be more open to your posting original content as long as it benefits its members.

3. Find and generate great content.

Content is king and queen. Many people have been trained to connect and sell--we all know that person who sends a connection request shortly followed by a sales message that you didn't want to receive. Don't make this mistake. The people who are on LinkedIn for the right reasons understand that it takes time and a plan to grow prospects into customers. That's who you want to be.

People equate you and your brand with the context of what you offer them. If you hit them upside the head with a sales message, you are perceived as just more senseless noise. Once you add quality contacts and find them in the right groups, feed them great content. There are two types of content, one that brands you and your business. Use other people's content (OPC) to build your expertise by association--curating great articles from Inc. or other industry experts demonstrates your awareness of the industry. (Always credit the author and the publication.)

Also use your own content to showcase your knowledge and brand, and link them back to your website, blog, or podcast for more. A mix of both is best, but nothing is more powerful than driving people back to your messages and branding at your own website.

Relationships and sales take time. Invest in others and the right people will invest in you!

Published on: Sep 28, 2015