LinkedIn is a free, business-focused networking platform that aims to replicate the real-life process of word-of-mouth introductions between trusted contacts. You can think of it a bit like Facebook, but solely for professional purposes.
LinkedIn has a global reach, with over 350 million members. It straddles nearly all industries and sectors. Because it emphasises trust and collects a lot of professional and personal details, LinkedIn is widely used as a recruitment tool
LinkedIn is the online professional network. No other network dedicated to business is as large or as comprehensive. You're likely to find many of your colleagues using it already, so it's wise to get signed up yourself, and to then establish a basic presence for your business.
Unlike other online networks, making a connection with someone on LinkedIn generally requires either an existing relationship or an introduction by a mutual contact. This reinforces trust, because LinkedIn reflects how business contacts tend to be formed.
There are two parts to using LinkedIn:
If you cover both these areas, you can see many benefits from using LinkedIn:
Because of its emphasis on business contacts and expertise, LinkedIn is not necessarily a place to sell.
It's best to regard it as a place establish and develop your own expertise, to draw on others' knowledge and to further connections that may open doors to sales in future.
It only takes a few minutes to create a personal account on LinkedIn, although you may want to spend a few hours adding information and tweaking it.
1. Sign up to LinkedIn
Go to LinkedIn and fill out the information required to sign up. You'll be asked some details about your location and work.
LinkedIn will try to identify the business you work for or own. If you can't find the exact details, don't worry – you can update them later, once you've taken ownership of your business' presence on LinkedIn.
You can also choose to import contact details from your email address book. This is a really good way to find all the people you know who are already on LinkedIn, but you might want to do it later, once you've finished working on your profile.
2. Enter some extra information
LinkedIn is a professional network, so make sure people can get a good idea of who you are when they view your profile.
When you first sign up to LinkedIn, the site will walk you through the main areas of your profile. If you have time, it's great to complete everything as you go. If not, you can always skip steps and go back to them later.
Once you have a LinkedIn profile for yourself, you can create a LinkedIn page for your business.
To do this, make sure you're signed in, then visit the create company page. (You can also select Interest > Companies, then choose Create on the right side of the page.)
Much like when you created your individual profile, LinkedIn will ask for some basic details about your company.
You can change everything later, so get the basics sorted first. Once you're ready, select the Publish button to see your page.
With a solid individual LinkedIn profile, plus a basic page for your business, you can link the two together and start building your LinkedIn network.
Connect your business and individual profiles
You can edit your LinkedIn profile to add your company. When you add or edit a job or position, you can start typing your company name. It should appear automatically for you to choose from a list.
Now, when people view your profile on LinkedIn, they'll be able to click through to view your business page.
Encourage your employees to do the same, to build up connections for your business.
You can also start making connections with other people you know. (There's nothing to stop you doing this sooner, if you like — but in an ideal world we'd recommend establishing a decent presence for you and your business first.)
If you're making connections with people you don't know well, send a short, personal message inviting them to connect and explaining why you'd like to connect with them.
Build connections to your business, too
You can encourage people to 'follow' your business on LinkedIn by posting interesting articles, updates and comments. For instance, you can add your latest company blog posts or publish links to provide discussion.
Once you've set up your account, sign in to LinkedIn at least a couple of times a week. Keep your personal and business information up to date — and aim to post some interesting updates.
Be selective about your connections
As your presence increases on LinkedIn, you'll receive connection requests from other people. Don't accept these without good reason. Try to keep your network relevant and don't accept unless you can see a mutual benefit.
If you are in regular contact with a connection or you have produced outstanding work, results or products for them, you can ask for a written testimonial on your profile. These recommendations are a vital currency on LinkedIn and establish credibility and trust.
Stay active and involved on LinkedIn
Set aside little amount time each week to update your profile, expand your network and engage with your contacts.
Target specific discussion groups and participate in them. This will help you establish groups of contacts with common interests and create opportunities to make connections with newcomers, as well as to share your business experience.
Being in a group raises your own profile and helps you find people to contact. Because you belong to the same group, the chances are you'll get a reply.
In short: if you are in the right places, you will be seen by people who share your goals.
Consider advertising on LinkedIn
You can advertise your business on LinkedIn, targeting your message at specific people: by job title and function; by industry and company size; by seniority and age; and by LinkedIn groups.
Like pay-per-click advertising, LinkedIn allows you to work within your own set budget. You can pay by clicks or impressions and you can stop your ads at any time. It's possible to get started on a relatively small budget, but it takes time to learn how to get the best returns.
Many companies also use LinkedIn to advertise job vacancies. This is a natural fit for the site, as many jobseekers visit to research companies and make sure their own profiles are up to date. LinkedIn also owns a massive amount of data to help match jobseekers with roles.
Although it's a stretch to say that LinkedIn has significantly disrupted the recruitment market, its impact is growing. You can advertise jobs from around £190, which is likely to compare favourably with traditional advertising and recruiters. It's certainly worth trialling.
Maintain a relevant, good quality network of contacts by connecting with people who share common goals and interests.