LinkedIn is a free, business-focused social 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 more than 575 million members and over 260 million active monthly users. It straddles all industries and sectors. Because it emphasises trust and collects a lot of professional and personal details, it is widely used as a recruitment tool and even a way to find new sales leads via the Sales Navigator platform.
Why should your business use LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is the online professional social 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:
- creating your profile as an individual enables you to build connections with colleagues, partners and contacts on an individual basis;
- establishing a presence for your business provides a hub through which you can attract followers, publish updates and advertise jobs.
If you cover both these areas, you can see many benefits from using LinkedIn:
- make connections with people who can further your business goals;
- get advice and information;
- attract and recruit new employees;
- promote your knowledge and expertise (individually and as a business);
- help others achieve their business goals.
Because of its emphasis on business contacts and expertise, this social network is not necessarily a place to sell.
It's best to regard it as a place to establish and develop your own expertise, to draw on others' knowledge and to further connections that may open doors to sales in future.
How to create a personal account on LinkedIn
It only takes a few minutes to create a personal account, 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 here.
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
Since LinkedIn is a professional network, make sure people can get a good idea of who you are when they view your profile.
- As you move through the sign up process, you will be offered a choice of free and premium packages, aimed at jobseekers and businesses looking to achieve various goals. These start from around £39.99 per month and may be worth considering in future - but get the basics right first.
- Include a suitable, decent photograph of yourself where you look professional and recognisable. You can also upload a background photo. This will appear when people view your full profile.
- Make sure you include a short summary of yourself. People who include a summary get up to ten times more views than people who don't. Provide concise information about your experience and skills, focusing on your professional achievements and objectives
- Include as much detail about your experience as you can. Treat this like your CV - so be completely honest.
- You will be provided with a URL for your profile, but you can change it to one that's simpler to remember. This makes it easier to share your LinkedIn contact details as part of an email signature, for example.
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.
Give your business a presence on LinkedIn
Once you have a 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, you will be asked for some basic details about your company.
- When you enter your company name, you may notice a page for your company has been created automatically. If so, you can complete a form to take control of this page.
- Provide as much detail about your company as possible. You can include the company name, a brief description (remember, this may be seen by customers, partners and jobseekers), plus key information like the business size, website address.
- You may wish to add some designated admins. These are people who are allowed to access and change your company's LinkedIn presence.
- Add details of your company address(es), phone number and other contact information.
- You can upload a number of images, including versions of your logo for use in different places on the site, and a main image to show on your business page.
- If you like, you can feature relevant LinkedIn groups on your business page. This can be a good way to start making new connections.
You can change everything later, so get the basics sorted first. Once you're ready, select the Publish button to see your page.
Bring everything together
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.)
- Search for people you know by name and make quick connections with existing colleagues and business contacts.
- Use Add Connections option to import contacts from your email address book. This is the quickest way to build connections with people you're already in contact with.
- You can increase the reach of your personal network by browsing your contacts' connections. LinkedIn will show your 'degrees of separation', allowing you to use common connections as a starting point for making new contacts. Don't be afraid to ask an existing connection to introduce you to someone new.
- As you use this networking site, it will recommend potential connections based on your activity on the site and who you're already connected with. This can be a good way to find relevant people.
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.
- Make sure your employees know that your business has a presence on LinkedIn. There's a good chance that many of them will already be signed up, so they just need to update their profiles to connect with your business details.
- You can link to your company profile from relevant places on your website. Many businesses include a set of social links (to places like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) in their website footers.
- Broaden the appeal of your company page by adding one or more Showcase Pages. These let you showcase specific elements of what you do, so interested people can follow these aspects of your company without having to follow your entire business. They're useful if you have different business units or departments.
How to use LinkedIn on an ongoing basis
Once you've set up your account, sign in 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
Set aside a 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, it 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. this social network 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.
If you only do one thing on LinkedIn
Maintain a relevant, good quality network of contacts by connecting with people who share common goals and interests.
Social media content produced in partnership with Luan Wise.