Although LinkedIn is usually referred to as a social networking site, it would be far better described as a business networking opportunity. LinkedIn is populated by over 50 million professional users, making it an excellent tool for engagement and interaction with industry leaders.

Internet marketing experts have claimed that LinkedIn is almost 300% more effective for generating leads than either Facebook or Twitter, but many businesses do not appear to be exploiting its full potential, possibly because they have not yet worked out how to.

LinkedIn works somewhat differently from other social networking sites. There is no way to directly approach an unlinked contact unless you are part of a LinkedIn Group. Those who are members of a Group can then use a feature called LinkedIn Announcements to introduce themselves.

Many businesses like to build their own Group, as well as adding staff to others.

The idea behind a LinkedIn Group is to make it an industry resource, not simply a form of advertising, or a ‘fan page’ for a specific company. Groups are usually named in an industry-specific way, often using popular and relevant search engine keywords.

Once the Group is set up and ready to operate, it can be added to the LinkedIn Group Directory and be displayed on the profiles of existing members to make it visible to all LinkedIn members. Begin by starting a discussion on a topical or even controversial subject, and then invite others to join in with the discussion and offer their points of view.

The next step is to promote the Group in other places and attract more members, which can be done in several ways. The easiest ones to target initially will most likely be colleagues and existing clients.

Some businesses create a page on their websites specifically for the Group, which creates another opportunity for engagement whilst others use their blogs, newsletters and other social networking sites to increase the Group’s visibility outside of LinkedIn.

There may be a point in the process where some patience is required, whilst members gradually find and join the Group.

Once the group is popular and well-populated, you should take the next step: inviting industry experts to engage with the Group.

A LinkedIn Group is not just another form of Internet marketing. Used correctly, it can forge relationships with important, and highly-regarded industry experts. This can only serve to increase your own authority and credibility over a period of time.

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About the author:

Alistair Harris is ClickThrough’s head of content. A double-award-winning senior journalist, Ali holds both the NCTJ and NCE qualifications and has more than ten years of experience in traditional press and PR. He has worked in digital marketing and SEO for the past three years and is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to quality.