Five steps for local businesses to participate in this online professional network.
Think of LinkedIn as a Facebook for professionals -- over 42 million of them! They use LinkedIn to find and network with others interested and involved in their niche, to control their online professional identity, to find those who can help them meet their goals, to share knowledge with like-minded people, and to keep up with news and events in their town or city. This easy-to-use online networking tool helps you to find and be found by potential customers, vendors, employees, business partners, and other experts in your field.
Register for a free account and create your profile on LinkedIn. Expect it to take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to set up, depending upon how thorough you are. Think of it as your online business Web page that contains many of the same elements as a résumé, like job history, education, certifications, and similar factual professional information about you. Include links to your Web site and blog or to other online places where people can go for more insight into who you are, where you are, and what you do.
Make yourself and your business as searchable as possible on LinkedIn, so create a profile for your company, too, and tag it with appropriate keywords. Use important terms that describe what you do and where you do it in both your personal and company profiles. It's an added benefit that your LinkedIn pages will likely rank well for your name and your business's name in the SERPs (define) within a few months.
Connect with people you already know by sending them invitations. You may send an invitation to connect to anyone whose e-mail address you have. LinkedIn makes it easy for you to search for members who are already in your e-mail contact list, those you have worked with in the past, classmates you may have lost touch with, and those located nearby you. Expand your network by looking at the connections of people you already know and asking them to introduce you to those you want to know.
Browse industries to find companies and service providers of interest to you and modify your searches to uncover those within a specific radius of your Zip code. You can search for people at particular companies or people in certain types of positions and ask them to connect with you. By upgrading to a paid subscription, you may also send invitations to connect to members outside of your network.
Don't get on LinkedIn with the idea that you will be selling to your network. Instead, be friendly and helpful within your area of expertise. Make recommendations for those you know and appreciate and ask for recommendations from your colleagues, vendors, and happy clients.
Find and Join Groups
The Group Directory lets you browse through existing groups to find those with similar interests. You can also search for groups to join using keywords. If you can't find a group that meets your needs, then consider creating one and inviting those within your network to join you.
If you're a local business, your best approach is to search for locally focused groups to join. Groups may be industry specific, like Linked to Denver. You may join as many groups as you wish, although sometimes, there is a screening process or membership requirements.
Consider joining groups likely to contain potential customers. For example, if you have a day care center, working mom groups in your area may be a logical place for you to answer questions, give advice, and address common concerns. Make friends and be genuinely helpful and you'll likely find referrals and new customers coming your way.
Let Others Know
Add your LinkedIn URL to your business card and e-mail signature and include a prominent LinkedIn button on your Web site and blog. When people can delve into your experience and expertise and see that you are connected to and recommended by others that they respect and trust, it adds to your professional credibility.
To get the most from LinkedIn, plan to spend at least 15 minutes a week interacting with others. Respond to invitations. Find new people to invite into your network. See what's new with the people you know. Ask and answer questions in the forums. Discover new groups to join. If you'd like to get more involved, LinkedIn also offers opportunities to post links to your articles and presentations, announce news and events, join group discussions, conduct and participate in polls, and be social in other ways. Set up e-mail alerts or RSS feeds to receive network updates and to remind you to join in those conversations.
While some local business owners will find it easier to make LinkedIn work for them than others, I encourage everyone to give it a try. You never know who may be searching in LinkedIn for your type of business in your geographic area. They can't find you if you aren't there.
Mary Bowling has been involved in all aspects of online marketing since 2003. She has a special interest in Web site usability and in search engine optimization, including optimizing all types of media for search engines. Mary has also developed specialized expertise in promoting brick-and-mortar businesses on the Internet through local search marketing. She is currently doing independent consulting and working with seOverflow and Maia Internet Consulting in Denver, CO, optimizing and marketing a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits online.
Her accomplishments include speaking at Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences on a variety of topics, conducting trainings and webinars for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Workshops, authoring popular white papers on local search and SEO for WordPress Blogs and speaking at SEMpx' s Searchfest.
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