After being launched on May 5, 2003, LinkedIn climbed its way to becoming the top-rated social network for lead generation. LinkedIn connects employers, employees and potential candidates on one business-oriented social platform that has quickly thrust itself into the forefront of business owners' minds as a powerful tool for lead generation, talent identification, and community development.
Fast forward to March 2020, when – for the first time in my lifetime – the U.S. government began ordering the closure of brick-and-mortar businesses because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The ensuing months have resulted in a whirlwind of legislative changes – and legal battles – but more importantly for business owners, it's fundamentally shifted how consumers behave.
This means adapting our marketing, customer service and sales techniques to stay alive in a fast-moving and confusing environment are absolutely vital. Enter LinkedIn. Rising above the COVID-19 outbreak will solidify the bond among businesses and this powerful social tool. Below, we'll explore a few ways you can leverage LinkedIn to kickstart your lead generation efforts, even in unprecedented times like these.
How has COVID-19 changed businesses?
Businesses across the nation were already plagued with challenges before COVID-19. The marketplace is crowded and growing daily, as startups pop up across the country and hammer your feed with ads for their latest innovation, all while consumers are more educated, informed and selective than ever before. These challenges made it hard to thrive before the crisis, in an economy we recognized, but now, it's back to the drawing board for many brands. Finding a way to get customers to come back, bringing staff back on the payroll, rebuilding a brand, generating leads, and the newly added safety precautions required to reopen after the crisis are starting to overwhelm owners.
Using LinkedIn as a tool to combat some of these issues may be the answer to helping some business owners across the country regain their footing. So, if you're a small business owner looking for answers, where do you begin?
Creating a company page on LinkedIn
This may seem straightforward to many, but when working with new business owners, I am often asked about things as simple as setting up their LinkedIn company page. To help bring exposure to a business, owners can create a company page on LinkedIn. Some smaller and midsized businesses may not utilize LinkedIn to its full capacity. Creating a page on LinkedIn for your company may be one way to boost exposure and begin tapping into the power of this business networking giant, but it's certainly the first step to begin implementing the action steps I outline in the rest of this article.
Begin your LinkedIn company page journey by going to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions portal.
- Enter your business's information and choose your URL. Business owners need to make sure that they choose a URL that they are content with because this cannot be changed later on.
Add a cover photo and the logo of the business.
- The cover photo chosen should capture the essence of the business. Owners need to select an image that will catch the eye of anyone who happens upon their LinkedIn business page.
- The logo of the business should be added to the page. The owners of these businesses using the LinkedIn business pages want to identify their business with this page. Without a logo, it may be hard to identify the business outside LinkedIn.
Include a description of the business.
- LinkedIn gives businesses 2,000 characters to describe their business. Owners may want to give this task to their marketing team if they have one.
- The first 156 characters of the description are the most important. When the business gets looked up via Google, the preview of the company will consist of those initial characters.
- The fields underneath the description allow for up to 20 specialties. These specialties can be thought of like keywords for optimization. Business owners need to use strong keywords in the specialty section to identify their business.
List the company details.
- The website of the business should be put in the details. The addition of the website will help direct those who visit the company page on LinkedIn to find out more about the products and business.
- A dropdown menu is supplied for the business owner to list:
- Company size
- Company type
- Year founded
Once all of this information has been filled out, the only thing left to do is publish the LinkedIn business page. There are page administrators that can be added to help maintain the business page, and producing content to deploy on your page should also be a key focus to start driving engagement and inbound traffic. The page can be a large undertaking for one person to handle alone, so it is recommended that other administrators be added or you look to an agency or freelancer to help you along the way. However you decide to tackle it, one thing is for certain; quality over quantity is the key to meaningful growth.
Using LinkedIn to rebuild after a crisis
Much of the business world has been united throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Despite signs that state, "Temporarily closed due to COVID-19," posted on the doorways of businesses, schools and sports arenas across the nation, some have taken to digital channels to drive sales as businesses begin changing their structures to allow for continued growth and cash flow as they try to survive this pandemic.
Many brands have even worked toward developing new offerings targeted at online delivery to continue growing amidst the chaos. Take, for example, the Nascar iRacing Series, during which nearly 1 million viewers watched professional race car drivers take to the track in a video game, to keep fans engaged while tracks remained closed. This gives credence to the notion that innovation, adaptation and grit will be virtually required to grow during these times. LinkedIn can be an effective tool for business owners who want to begin building their business back to full capacity, leveraging digital tools to build relationships, and adapting their lead generation efforts – if it's done properly.
Sending sales messages and connection requests to everybody in your second- and third-level networks is not what I'm referring to. Many of you have probably received these messages and connection requests that are vague, random, and in many cases, not targeted very well. Typically, this does more harm than good as your purpose shouldn't be 10,000 likes. It should be meaningful, targeted relationships that deliver value to all parties involved. I am recommending that you adopt a laser-focused, systematic approach to digital network-building, leveraging the data, tools and audience available to you via LinkedIn.
Finding customers and making connections to build relationships
LinkedIn offers digital marketing that no other platform can match in the same way. Finding and filtering customers can quickly be done through LinkedIn, if approached correctly. Beginning with making connections, business owners can find potential customers and connect with them just by clicking a button. Using their premium features like Sales Navigator, users can quickly create lists of other LinkedIn users filtered by things like position, company size, industry, job function and virtually endless other variables.
Connections can be made easily on LinkedIn if you take a genuine, organic approach to relationship-building. Notice I didn't say sales. That's because my personal philosophy is that I don't try to sell anything on LinkedIn. I simply try to open dialogue and build relationships. The part of the connection that means the most is the relationship it can cultivate.
Hard sales need to be avoided when you are making a connection, because it makes forming a relationship with a potential customer difficult, and, frankly, it puts on display that you are simply after your own interests, not those of your new connection. Business owners should be cautious about pushing potential customers too hard and discerning when choosing whom they should pursue and whom they should not pursue further.
Opening dialogue with potential customers
Once the right customer is located, introductions can be made between the business owner and the potential customer quite simply. With the right amount of discussion and connection-making, relationships can be made and thrive into profitable partnerships. However, this doesn't mean you'll start sending messages and watching your sales go through the roof. Remember, you're relationship-building, not selling.
The approach I take for myself and when helping my clients embark on their LinkedIn marketing journey is one of discovery, research and value articulation. What does that mean? It means I spend the vast majority of my LinkedIn marketing time not actually marketing at all. I'm discovering new potential leads using the Sales Navigator tools, researching them, and their business individually, to establish if alignment could exist, and if so, how I may be able to provide value. From here, if I choose to engage, my messaging is targeted at communicating who I am, why I see value in getting to know each other and a friendly invitation to connect. No meeting request, no sales pitch no promotional offer.
My initial messages usually read something like, "Hi [insert name], I noticed you've been a CPG marketer for over 15 years and leveraged TV for that hilarious [insert details] campaign last year. I've been in the TV business for over 25 years, and I think we'd find value in getting to know each other. May we connect?" In a very brief message, I've articulated that I looked into them and their background, complimented their work, expressed why I feel we may have alignment, what value my experience might bring as well as issued a friendly and polite invitation to connect.
Obviously, this method takes time and can't be done in tremendous volumes. That's why the quality and "conversion" of requests to connections is of primary importance. Some will argue a less labor-intensive, high-volume approach is more effective – and perhaps for their business it is. However, in my experience, relationships built in the manner I've described last longer and deliver more value to both parties.
Investing in sponsored updates
Making money requires money to be spent in some situations. Sponsored updates on LinkedIn can help push a business's posts to the top of its customer's page. The business will be among the first things seen when someone in the target audience logs on, eliminating the white static type of posts that aren't relevant. Business owners may often hear sponsored updates referred to as "pay-per-click," which helps with targeting specific demographics.
Pay-per-click – or PPC – can be another tremendously powerful tool when it comes to growing your business online, but that's a discussion for another article. For now, understand that sponsored updates exist on LinkedIn, and that as you grow, they will likely become more relevant and powerful for you.
Content on LinkedIn does matter
Good quality content on LinkedIn matters. Businesses that put out good content should establish two things. First, the content should teach others how they can solve a problem or how to do a job better. Secondly, the content should identify you to your customer and illustrate that you are a leader in the industry. You can accomplish this not by telling them you're a leader; we see this a lot nowadays with so many so-called "gurus" popping up every other day. Rather, leverage the quality of your content to communicate that you're a subject matter expert.
What does that mean? In my opinion, that means delivering content that has actionable steps viewers can take to deliver tangible results, with no investment in you or your brand. Take this guide for example; my hope is that readers will be able to take this information, try it out themselves, and actually deliver new connections – and new sales – just by reading this article and putting it into action. I hope you can take this information, develop a strategy and skyrocket sales without ever calling me. If I can accomplish that, I've done my job, and I hope you'll all reach out to tell me about the success you've found.
Taking a customer-first approach to your content development is without a doubt one of the best choices you can make when it comes to your own digital marketing and will surely deliver fruitful relationships in the long run.
Use LinkedIn to give your employees recognition
No matter the size of the business that is on LinkedIn, gaining popularity can be done by promoting employees and linking to them. A business has employees that possibly have connections they didn't even know they had. Having employees set up LinkedIn accounts can benefit business owners. There are some rules that should be followed when asking or accepting employee links on LinkedIn.
- Business owners want their employees to represent their business. Part of representing a business on a professional site like LinkedIn means posting tasteful photographs. An employee should show who they are in the photograph, and this allows for customers to know who they are upon entering the business.
- Employees should fill in their profiles completely. A complete profile means filling out their job history. Their current business and any relevant job experience should be included that will appeal to the target audience.
- LinkedIn should be used for making professional connections. There are other social media platforms where different types of connections can be made. Employees should make sure they are linking and forming relationships with potential customers that can help the business.
- The part of the linking process that should not be forgotten is the business and the employee. Employees should promote the business's LinkedIn company profile by linking to it.
Join groups on LinkedIn and make your own
Part of the COVID-19 crisis has been promoting that everyone is still together, even while staying apart. A part of finding customers or learning from other businesses within a specified target is joining a group. LinkedIn groups make it possible to target specific demographics. Groups make it possible for business owners to learn what customers are looking for. Use these groups to make connections.
A business owner has the ability to create their own group on LinkedIn. These groups can make it easier for an owner to get customers, employees, and potential customers in the same place to discuss specific matters. Using a group with particular targeting can help a business learn where they need to grow.
I’ll get into more details on this in future articles, but for now, understand that Groups are powerful and start find groups where you can both provide and extract value on LinkedIn.
Reopening guidelines for businesses
Now that the country is on the brink of reopening, businesses are under more pressure now to change specific practices. LinkedIn can help business owners come together to build a community for sharing reopening plans. Each business needs to keep in mind that states have their own agenda for reopening, and anything they try should not conflict. Using LinkedIn to stimulate ideas on reopening strategies may make it easier for a business owner to remain in business.
General CDC guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control has kept the American people up to date every step of the COVID-19 outbreak. Their guidelines have been helpful and monumental in keeping many people safe. They recently released guides for how businesses should begin reopening. With a reopening plan, the goal is to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in small to midsized businesses.
- As businesses reopen, there should be a new standard set for employees regarding proper hand hygiene. Handwashing should be made a top priority among employees and should be done frequently. Business owners and managers should be monitoring this to ensure it is being complied with.
- Businesses will have to implement stricter cleaning procedures. Cleaning and sanitizing will have to be performed by employees and owners on a regular schedule to ensure COVID-19-free environments.
- Personal protective equipment should be provided for employees by management. Getting personal protective equipment has been challenging as of late, but opening up in LinkedIn groups may expose where some are located. Business owners cannot operate if they do not have the right protection for their employees. These items include clothing coverings (in certain industries), gloves, masks and eye coverings.
- The CDC, and most states, are recommending that all citizens should wear face masks while in public. These masks don't need to be anything more than a cloth covering over the nose and mouth. Some states are allowing stores to require their patrons to wear these masks. Policies such as this should be implemented and decided upon by management.
- Practicing social distancing is a requirement. People inside of a store or business should remain at least six feet away from one another. Business owners may have to come up with new store layouts in order to accommodate this procedure.
- As a part of social distancing, business owners may need to consider limiting the number of employees and customers inside the business. Taking terms swapping out customers and employees can make for less COVID-19 transmission potential.
- Business owners and their management team need to have a plan in place for a positive COVID-19 case. These plans need to be shared with employees so that they know and understand what happens if someone is in the business and tests positive.
- Reassurances need to be made to employees about sick leave and paid time off. Owners and management teams need to let employees know the risks of coming to work ill and strongly discourage employees from coming in to work if they have a fever and/or symptoms of COVID-19.
Be ready to change with society
The most unpredictable part of COVID-19 has been the impact it has had on society and business. Business owners and their employees are learning to adapt to the new reality of running a business. Thanks to platforms like LinkedIn, business owners have the ability to learn from others who are in the same situation and build relationships that last.
Before March 2020, there was no guide book for navigating the waters of COVID-19. Everyone has been rolling with the punches and adapting to their surroundings because of a virus crisis. Businesses have had to do the same thing. Luckily for owners, LinkedIn has the tools to help empower these businesses and get them back on the right path.