Facebook and Twitter have long been the darlings of the social media world. Pinterest is starting to gain traction, while sharing sites like Tumblr, About.me and others have carved out a specific niche of users. One of the sites that's often left off the list, but shouldn't be, is LinkedIn. That's because for the most part LinkedIn has been looked at as a networking site for consultants and job seekers only. And to some extent, that's true. But did you know that LinkedIn has 135 million members and is adding an average of two new accounts per second?
The site has rolled out a number of new functions over the past few years, all with the aim of providing valuable resources for members to learn from but also connect with - including it's update stream, skills and expertise section and LinkedIn Today news section. I recently spoke to Krista Canfield from LinkedIn who gave some insight on how small businesses find value in the site and the best ways to use it. Here are three key reasons every small business should consider having a presence on the site.
1. Company Pages
Similar to Facebook, LinkedIn has embraced the concept of the "company page" which allows a business to set up or claim a page and fill in the appropriate information about the owners, employees (who also may be on LinkedIn) as well as a link to their site and a list of their skills and services. As an added benefit, companies can list open positions that it is currently hiring for. Customers can also follow a business on LinkedIn to see its updates, while companies can follow clients to get updates on what they are doing, potentially giving insight into new opportunities.
But, when setting up the page, make sure you do it well, including filling out all of the fields. "The worst thing you can do as a small business owner is set up a LinkedIn Company Page without a robust description or overview of what your company does, then wonder why nothing is happening for you," said Canfield. "Companies should also take advantage of the products and services tab on LinkedIn Company Pages, and try to get recommendations."
While the sharing and conversation functions are not as robust or interactive as a Facebook - for instance there's no "wall" on LinkedIn - that's not really the point. A company page can ultimately act as another outlet for customers to find out what you're all about. Which leads us to reason number two why LinkedIn makes sense for small businesses...
If you haven't typed in your own name to Google to see what comes up, you're letting the best in life pass you by. But as social media has taken off, so has its prominence in search rankings. Companies can now have a multitude of results pop up under a branded (or name) search, including their website, Facebook page, Twitter account and blog. LinkedIn is no different, as it is routinely coming up as a relevant search result in the major search engines. The more times you can pop up in searches for your business as well as search terms geared toward your business, the greater the chances you get a phone call or email from a prospective customer. LinkedIn gives businesses another property that can be crawled and indexed by the search engines that are driving so many eyeballs nowadays.
3. The World's Largest Networking Event
Ultimately this is LinkedIn's bread and butter and to their credit, it embraces this. Groups, connections, recommendations, messages and sharing all encourage users to not only see what others are doing, but reach out to one another and connect. But unlike Facebook, this is usually done with business intentions. For example, if someone wanted to open up a pastry business and get some insight from someone on how best to do it, you're encouraged to do so on LinkedIn. Search for relevant terms, skills, education and even location to find a few people to reach out to. From there, it's all about being personal. The site gives the opportunity to message others in a targeted way.
"It's a great way to find other small business owners who may be facing the same problems you are" Canfield continued. "Members shouldn't be afraid to reach out, but you should be personal and do your research to make sure you've got the right person. Reference things that can demonstrate you looked them up and make you stand out. The worst thing that can happen is someone doesn't get back to you."
But unlike an actual in-person networking event, there's no "true" rejection. All it takes is an in-site message to potentially break the ice. If someone doesn't get back to you, it's not like you're left standing on the outside of the cool group while holding your drink and staring at the ceiling. LinkedIn also gives the opportunity to join various groups of professionals, based on interests, skills and other criteria. It's another easy way to engage with people you might not meet otherwise.
Finally, what's one killer tip on how to get found on LinkedIn? "If you add a photo, you're seven times more likely to get pinged or contacted on our site, so that's something everyone should definitely have," said Canfield.
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Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.