GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

Two comments in the past week got me thinking about one of the most under-utilized and frequently forgotten social networking sites: LinkedIn.

“Isn’t LinkedIn just a site for people who are looking for jobs?”

“LinkedIn is the stuffy, suit-wearing, MBA, always-on-his-Blackberry of social media sites.”

The fact is, as of March more than 100 million people have a LinkedIn account. Mashable recently posted an interesting article outlining how individuals are using the site. Some of the findings were expected (24% of entry-level employees are looking for jobs), while others might be somewhat surprising (67% access the site “a few times a week” or more). The underlying point is that LinkedIn really does provide opportunities for you and your business that the Facebooks and YouTubes of the world can’t. Here are a few to consider:

Small businesses: When the big guys have a problem, they’ve typically got money to throw at it. But for those of us who work at or own a small business, how do you quickly find cost-effective ideas for cloud services? How do you get recommendations on the best project management tools? What if you need a template for a social media response policy? LinkedIn provides opportunities through discussions, groups and even one-on-one connections to help small businesses get information in a fairly quick and inexpensive way.

Business to business marketing: There are a lot of good case studies out there and even thorough tutorials from LinkedIn itself for your company page. But many businesses are using LinkedIn to obtain organic information about their clients and prospects. Pay attention to your prospects and their employees. Are they asking questions you can help with? Are they providing information that might be useful for your sales cycle? And do some research on the many LinkedIn apps out there like TripIt, which tracks when users are planning an upcoming trip to your city, or who is in the city you’ll be visiting next week.

Cross-promoting social media platforms: You probably repurpose, link back to and promote select content between Twitter and Facebook. How can you utilize your company page or even your own profile to highlight your latest blog post or new product offering? LinkedIn is an effective way to diversify who is reading about you or your company – not to mention a fairly effective way to boost your SEO efforts.

Reconnecting: If you’re like me, there are probably a few Outlook contacts you haven’t caught up with since finishing that project in 2008, and you’d really like to know where they are now to help you out with your latest project. Facebook might be a little too personal, and maybe they’re nowhere to be found via a Google search. Connections are valuable, and LinkedIn is a professional way to reconnect with long-lost co-workers, project partners, vendors, and even former clients. Connect with them now so they can help you on your next project, and then recommend them. That’s truly the social aspect of LinkedIn.

It might not be the perfect tool for all of your HR/sales/networking needs, but just like any other social networking site, you have to put yourself out there in an intelligent, authentic way to realize the benefits. Don’t just ask questions for your own benefit all of the time. Take some time to answer others’ questions and position yourself as a thought leader. Don’t merely focus on connecting with potential sales leads; seek out that vendor that helped you in a pinch and reconnect with her.

LinkedIn might look like your briefcase-toting neighbor, but there’s a reason he’s so successful.

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