The Press, May 2012

If Facebook is the ‘Sonny-Bill Williams’ of the social media world: fast, flashy and loved by the teeny-boppers; there is a “Conrad Smith” lurking in the background.

A quiet achiever in this new online world, LinkedIn is solid, smart and dependable, and is fast becoming a credible tool for business to business (b2b) marketing.

Before you fear another breathless endorsement of LinkedIn and all things social media, as a technology marketer I am naturally sceptical about the claims made of new innovations.

People tend to overestimate the value of new technology as it emerges, and social media is no different. Self-appointed gurus keep telling us that nothing will ever be the same and all traditional methods of promoting your products are fast becoming obsolete.

I still see lots of advertisements on TV and other media. I am still getting lots of emails. My letterbox is still stuffed with junk mail. The kid with a sandwich board is still standing out on the street outside the pizza shop when I drive past.

Social media is really just another layer in the way we communicate. It adds certain dimensions, and helps the marketing process in specific ways, but it is not a panacea.

New technologies typically go through a hype cycle, where the predictions of their use and value is wildly overblown, and over time they find their place and become useful.

Social media is going through that in a marketing sense, and LinkedIn is now starting to become a useful, but not revolutionary, tool for business use.

Started in the social media stone age of 2003, LinkedIn is basically a Facebook-type website for business people (as my son describes it, “Facebook – but much more boring”), where you can build networks of people you interact with in your daily work.

As of February 2012, it had around 150 million users across most countries in the world, and is heavily trafficked on a daily basis.

LinkedIn works well for B2B marketing relative to other social media channels. Marketing technology provider HubSpot did a study of over 3000 of their B2B clients use of social media throughout 2011. They measured how many visits to their website each company received from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; and then what proportion of those visitors turned into sales leads.

2.6% of LinkedIn visitors turned into leads, against .67% from Twitter and .39% from Facebook. From what is solid sample, albeit mostly US companies, LinkedIn appears four times better than Twitter and seven times Facebook for companies selling to other firms.

In terms of promoting your business with LinkedIn, there is endless advice available online, but I’ve found the following “Ls” to be important.

“Length” of your profile: you need a LinkedIn profile of reasonable length to give other people sufficient information about who you are and what you and your company can offer. Even your picture is important, with tracking studies showing people spend up to 90% of their time looking at your image, and can consider the absence of one an indication of your technical incompetence or your physical appearance!

“Link” to as many people, organisations and groups as possible: after all, this is what it’s all about. You need to work at adding as many people as you know. The larger and wider your network, the more powerful it as a tool for finding, promoting, selling etc. Increasingly people are using LinkedIn as a replacement for their business card collection, even connecting it automatically to their CRM system, as it contains an up to date record of your contacts.

Be “Loud”: be loud with a consistent level of activity, posting relevant and useful information (such as white papers, case studies, surveys etc) from your company or other credible sources.

LinkedIn can deliver straight sales leads, but also acts as the magnified version of your own business network. Just as you would with the people you bump into during the normal course of a business day, you can ‘ask’ a broader group of people you know about some relevant issues.

You can use your network on LinkedIn to find and evaluate new staff, to identify people from target industries to do market research with; discover potential partners across different industry segments and countries, and interact with other people in your profession or area of interest.

Before you dismiss LinkedIn as frippery, give it careful evaluation and assess whether your target market is typically connected and active on LinkedIn, and then take an active but measured approach to participating.

For B2B marketers there can be value in LinkedIn with a smart and proactive approach. It’s doesn’t have the glamour or excitement of the Sonny-Bill like Facebook, but it can be a safe pair of hands amongst all the social media noise, a bit like Conrad Smith in the white heat of a test match.

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