BY ROB MARVIN
Social media has essentially become the air we breathe online. It's where customers increasingly spend more of their time, with social applications challenging browsers as the entry point through which users interact with the web. Businesses need to know absolutely everything they can about each prevalent social networking app—from social ground rules and how customers are using the platform to all of the different features and data of which your organization can take advantage to engage its social audience.
LinkedIn is the social network that's most synonymous with business. According to the company, LinkedIn has more than 450 million members, including 40 million students and recent college graduates. Whether you're part of a small to midsize business (SMB) or a large enterprise, LinkedIn can be your Swiss Army Knife. Rolled into the website are a content publishing and sharing platform, messaging, and networking, as well as a human resources (HR) platform that combines a job board, recruiting, applicant tracking (AT) tools, and more.
LinkedIn also offers a social listening gold mine of customer and marketing data, not to mention all of the ways the platform will evolve now that it's under the Microsoft banner—from software and services integrations to building out a one-stop business communications and productivity platform. Microsoft didn't set a new social media acquisition record for no reason: the tech giant spent $26.2 billion to snatch up the "social network for professionals."
Content Creation and Sharing
On the laundry list of features and functionality in LinkedIn, creating and publishing LinkedIn-specific social content is the first things users see (but this is probably one of its least compelling features from a business perspective). That said, the way to make the most of the news feed and your company page updates is to follow the same golden rules of content creation as those for Facebook. LinkedIn gives you more flexibility of content types than do Twitter or Instagram, so your LinkedIn post queue should be a combination of short updates and long-form articles (LinkedIn has a "Write an Article" option when creating new posts). Attach images and videos whenever possible to make your posts more engaging.
The long-form article option—which opens an intuitive LinkedIn Publishing article creation interface that's similar to Medium—is also a good way to give company blog posts or promotional content published elsewhere a new life on social. Republishing a blog post or article excerpt on LinkedIn, with a link to the source material, makes a static blog post inherently more shareable; it can help kickstart some social buzz on a great piece of content your business has had trouble promoting. Don't sleep on SlideShare either, the web-based virtual presentation app that's similar to Microsoft PowerPoint which LinkedIn acquired in 2012. SlideShare is another easy, built-in way to diversify your content, particularly for online presentations and webinars.
More importantly, make sure that LinkedIn marketing content is tied directly to your company's sales goals and customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. Your company's social media team and salespeople should be in sync on key performance indicators (KPIs) for your brand and the type of engagement you're looking for from target audiences, and should keep an eye on daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Check out PCMag's social media marketing checklist for more information on this.
Groups and Networking
LinkedIn Groups have long been a favorite way for businesses and marketers to find and engage targeted audiences and prospective customers, be it through creating your own group or joining and becoming an active member and networking in other groups. If you already have an active community around your brand, then a LinkedIn Group can be a great place to start discussions and create a more engaged audience. A few tips: Use keywords in the group title to help it surface in LinkedIn's organic search, take advantage of the weekly email feature to keep group members up to date, and designate the group as a Featured Group that you can highlight on your company page.
We won't spend too much more time on groups, but it's worth going over the golden rule if you plan on joining other groups and using them as marketing outreach and promotion for your business. Particularly if it's an invite-only group, don't spam it. Start discussions and participate in conversations but add value as a member beyond just pushing your brand. If a targeted audience of LinkedIn users would benefit from the resources and services your business provides, then tell them. But be a brand ambassador, not a shill. There's also a standalone Groups mobile app (as part of LinkedIn's app bundle) available.
Groups are a great networking tool in that way but they're far from the only useful way to use LinkedIn to facilitate connections. Integrations with services such as Evernote allow you to use LinkedIn as the bridge between analog networking and digital connections. Using the Evernote Scannable app, business cards scanned with Evernote can pull data from LinkedIn's database, with a new note scanned for each card including contact information, a photo, and a link to their profile so you can follow up right away with a connection request.
Job Boards and Recruiting
Of all the LinkedIn tools for businesses, maybe none is more valuable than its role as an all-in-one HR and recruiting tool. LinkedIn's Job Board includes more than 6 million listings, but for businesses the LinkedIn Talent Solutions suite—which includes LinkedIn Recruiter—makes up the bulk of the company's revenue, and for good reason. LinkedIn Recruiter typically costs around $8,000 per seat depending on organization size, so it's not cheap. The value is in the unlimited access it gives recruiters to anyone in the LinkedIn database, plus advanced search filters and custom candidate profiles. Most importantly, it gives you a built-in AT pipeline if LinkedIn is your company's primary recruiting ground, including reporting and analytics on the your recruiting team.
LinkedIn also has a handful of other apps and services on the HR front. LinkedIn Referrals is also part of the AT pipeline; it allows employees in your organization to suggest LinkedIn connections for the right open roles, share jobs, and track the hiring process. The LinkedIn app bundle also includes Lynda.com, the online learning website acquired in 2014 for $1.5 billion. Lynda.com offers more than 4,000 online courses, a standalone Job Search app for job seekers, a Lookup app serving as a company's HR intranet to search for coworkers on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn Students, which helps companies tie recruiting more closely in with specific colleges. Soon-to-be grads can see suggested jobs based on their education, a list of companies that have hired from their school, and profiles of recent alumni with their major. For entry-level recruiting, businesses should factor the school-specific outreach facilitated by LinkedIn Students into their recruiting strategies.
Prospect and Lead Engagement
There's a lot you can do with LinkedIn when it comes to marketing and engagement. But the first thing your business needs to get a grasp on is how to research prospects and leads. LinkedIn's database pulls in every piece of identifiable information and content about a user, but tapping into the right information means you need to ask the right questions. At a macro level, you can use the LinkedIn Economic Graph to identify larger demographic trends such as geography and job type to tailor marketing campaigns. But at a micro level, it means everyone in your organization should be perpetuating an inbound marketing strategy by actively posting, updating, and engaging with other users. Make sure all of your employees have their accounts associated with your company page.
How do they go about performing inbound engagement on LinkedIn? Sending messages and InMail on LinkedIn without the feeling that you're spamming your prospect is a tricky proposition. But Brent Johnson, PCMag's modern marketing columnist, laid out seven steps to ensure you're not overpaying for InMails that don't get you anywhere. While response rates on marketing messages in LinkedIn will never be through the roof, taking the time to chat with a LinkedIn prospect and provide them some useful content before diving into a pitch can lead to more sales success.
Marketing Research and Database Mining
Beyond the base lead identification and targeted marketing efforts, LinkedIn also allows you to do much deeper dives and take full advantage of its marketing database gold mine. Johnson's aforementioned column goes into all of the means of data mining, customer research, and prospecting available through LinkedIn. The column starts with the most straightforward features: the "People Also Viewed" widget on the right-hand side of a user profile.
A marketing manager or salesperson who is combing through LinkedIn for leads should research your current customers and prospective clients through the "People Also Viewed" feature; this allows them to hone in on similar roles to target within different organizations. The LinkedIn Economic Graph can help here, too, but the true data mining value lies in LinkedIn's advanced search filters. Beyond "My Network" and "People You May Know," advanced searches allow marketers to add not only kewords but companies and job titles for a more complex query. If your organization has paid for a Premium membership, you can begin to build Boolean-level listening queries that incorporate function, company size, interests, associated groups, seniority level, years of experience, and other more granular metrics that tie in every other aspect of the platform into one, high-powered search tool.
The Microsoft Factor
Microsoft has begun to reveal some of its plans for LinkedIn, but there's a lot we still don't know about all of the software, services, and data possibilities of the acquisition. For starters, businesses and users should begin to see services such as Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Outlook, and Microsoft Skype integrated into the LinkedIn experience.
Beyond that, LinkedIn has the potential to become the front-facing social hub for Microsoft's converged vision of business and productivity. Microsoft's productivity suite could become natively available content creation and sharing tools within the social network. The company could tie all of the AT and HR functionality of LinkedIn Recruiter in with Microsoft Dynamics or make LinkedIn credentials as ubiquitous as Facebook for one-click login across Microsoft services. In the next year or two, we'll begin to see LinkedIn reshaped and enhanced in accordance with Microsoft's larger enterprise cloud strategy. If your organization is already invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, then that could be very good for business.