Top 10 LinkedIn Tips for Small Business

Among social media networks, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ get the most attention by far. If you own or run a small business whose customers are primarily consumers, having a presence on these social networks makes a lot of sense. But there’s another social network worth considering — LinkedIn — especially for business-to-business (B2B) organizations.

LinkedIn is billed as “the world’s largest professional network.” To some degree, it’s like Facebook. But instead of finding out how many cows your niece has purchased in FarmVille, you can keep tabs on what your business contacts are doing, search for providers of professional services and products, participate in groups, buy targeted ads, get recommendations from customers and colleagues, and more.

Along with having a free personal profile on LinkedIn, businesses can also create company pages at no charge. Launched in November 2010, there are more than 2 million company pages on LinkedIn thus far. A company page can include your logo; descriptions of your products and services; showcase employees, new hires and promotions; and provide analytics about your page’s followers. Customers can follow your LinkedIn status updates, too, as they would on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Here are 10 tips to help you get the most out of LinkedIn for small businesses.

1. Use LinkedIn for search engine optimization (SEO)

“LinkedIn is a great small business SEO tool,” says Chuck Hester, a PR consultant and social media expert who speaks about LinkedIn nationally and provides LinkedIn training.

That’s because Google and Bing, the two main search engines, index LinkedIn content. When you optimize your LinkedIn profile and page with relevant keywords that your customers use, your business gets another opportunity to rank highly for those terms in search results, Hester notes.

In addition, your business’s LinkedIn page is likely to rank in the top 10 search results for your business’ name. This gives you another chance to “own” your company’s top search results. And the more of those results you own or influence, the easier it will be to push down any negative content that might find its way into the top search results. (For more on this subject, please read Online Reputation Management: Top 10 Tips for Small Business.)

2. Don’t write yet another company profile or create more product descriptions.

Your website most likely has plenty of information about your company: what you do, what you sell, and how you differ. You don’t have to completely rewrite this content for a LinkedIn company page, Hester notes. “You can cut and paste a large amount of it; what you have on Facebook can also go on your LinkedIn page,” he explains.

You should pay attention to the intended audience for each social networking site, however. For instance, on Facebook, a company’s tone should be relaxed, informal and personable, whereas on LinkedIn, your content should sound more professional.

3. No need to write status updates just for LinkedIn, either.

Many businesses connect their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts so that their LinkedIn updates automatically flow to their twitter account and vice versa. Alternatively, tools like HootSuite (free for most services) and (free) let you write one status update that simultaneously posts to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.

“I get more hits from my LinkedIn updates than I do from my tweets,” Hester notes. Tweets can get lost in the vast ‘twittersphere,’ he explains. But LinkedIn is a smaller network and followers often pay more attention to updates from people and businesses they follow.

4. Use LinkedIn Groups for networking.

LinkedIn Groups, which are online forums on specific topics, are an ideal way to raise your company’s profile among colleagues and target customers, according to Hester. He recommends joining and participating in relevant groups and to consider developing your own group as well. But don’t use the opportunity to “sell” your stuff, Hester cautions. Instead, use the forum to share best practices, help out other group members, and virtually meet others with like-minded interests.

“If you join a LinkedIn Group and use it to obviously promote your services, you can get kicked out of the group,” Hester warns. “Just be a part of the community. Start by following the discussions so you can get a feel for the rhythm and language and see how people interact with each other.”

Keep in mind that participating in groups requires time. Be judicious and only join a few groups, and make sure you set aside time to participate in them. If you’re a group owner or manager, you can save time by creating a custom RSS or Atom news feed from your blog. That way, your blog posts automatically become discussion topics within your LinkedIn group, Hester says.

5. Use LinkedIn Answers to prospect — but don’t be obvious about it.

LinkedIn Answers lets members pose and answer questions on a variety of topics. A few recent examples included the following questions:

  • What are alternatives to WebEx?
  • Have you ever experienced being the subject of a print or broadcast media interview?
  • How can small business owners improve their chance of success using deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and AmazonLocal to promote their businesses?

Answering questions posed by other LinkedIn members lets you serve as a helpful resource in your specialty area, Hester says, which may help you land a new customer. As with Groups, don’t use LinkedIn Answers to blatantly sell or you run the risk of turning away prospects.

6. Frequently visit your LinkedIn contacts’ pages to see what they’re doing.

Haven’t heard from a former colleague in a while? He or she may be in a new job at a company that might want to do business with you. But you might not know that unless you saw your colleague’s new position listed in their LinkedIn profile.

Whenever business slows, take time to review your contacts’ status updates, and make it a point to directly contact those you haven’t talked to in a while, Hester advises. Tell them what you’ve been up t, and find out what they’re doing as well.

7. Don’t worry about employees with LinkedIn profiles becoming recruiting targets.

Some small businesses fret that employees with great LinkedIn profiles are targets for prospective employers and recruiters, says Bill Romick, vice president of business development for DNA Group, Inc., a small business with a LinkedIn company page. “A professional profile on LinkedIn reflects well on the company of the profile owner, and in my opinion enhances the credibility of the organization for anyone doing their homework and thinking about entering a business relationship.”

8. Use LinkedIn to find business services.

Many businesses start their search for professional services, such as a website designer, with keyword searches on LinkedIn. Search results include people or companies in your network first, followed by those who are connected to your connections and others with whom you share no connection. You can perform advanced keyword searches as well.

9. Don’t get too hung-up about LinkedIn ROI.

Like any social media effort, the return on your investment in time on LinkedIn isn’t always easily determined. If you’re looking for short-term gains, no social media network is likely to produce them, notes Hester. Instead, think of LinkedIn as a long-term investment, he adds, and you’re not likely to be disappointed.

“I can’t put my finger on a specific piece of new business that we could not have gained without LinkedIn,” admits Romick. “But I can point to dozens of high quality contacts that have been established via LinkedIn, and I believe that my company has benefited directly from the impressions our profiles made upon decision makers who also used LinkedIn.”

10. Find skills and expertise that are in demand.

LinkedIn’s new Skills & Expertise tool, currently in beta, lets you search for people who have the skills you need. In addition, LinkedIn displays a “relative growth” bar chart for each skill listed, which shows you graphically which skills are growing in demand. For example, a search for iPhone development tells you who among your connections has that skill; gives you a list of related job postings; and it shows you that demand for this particular skill is up 65 percent year over year.

Ultimately, consider LinkedIn an important online supplement to, and not a replacement for, the networking every business should do. As valuable as LinkedIn can be, nothing beats a face-to-face encounter or a quick phone call to cinch the deal.