For every person who is addicted to social media, there’s another person who has sworn it off for fear of getting “sucked into the void.” Because of this, there are hundreds of professionals who are missing out on opportunities to use social media outlets, especially LinkedIn, for specific business purposes.
The fear of wasting their effort keeps many people from investing time in engaging with their LinkedIn community. But the fear of just wasting time in general is an equally large obstacle for many people. They recognize that their behavior on Facebook or Pinterest tends to be an addictive response to boredom, and they don’t want to give themselves another platform to waste time on.
When they open LinkedIn, they may see a silly inspirational post that has become controversial for no clear reason, and their instinct is to immediately close the page before they get sucked in. I get it. It takes approximately five seconds to get a bad taste for a media outlet. That’s how I feel about watching TV most of the time.
But when you write off LinkedIn as “another social media time suck,” you miss a huge opportunity to develop new contacts and stay top of mind for your current contacts.
Last week I met a financial advisor at a conference in Boston who shared how he does almost all of his business development on LinkedIn. He finds potential clients, researches their background and interests, highlights their accomplishments, and then leaves the platform.
LinkedIn is a communication tool that can be used like email to connect with other professionals and grow your network. You don’t open your email and scroll through it because you’re bored. You open it because you need the communication platform to conduct business. You should approach LinkedIn the same way.
There’s a line between going on social media with a purpose and going on because you’re bored and want to be entertained. The key to using LinkedIn for business is to set clear intentions, follow a strategy, and stick to strict time limits.
Following are six tips to making sure you make the most of your efforts on social media.
1. Set a time limit and stick to it.
The key to staying productive on LinkedIn is to set a timer, and then try to accomplish as many of the following connection and sharing strategies as possible in that time. Whether it's 6 minutes, 20 minutes, or some other time allotment, it's important to associate this work as productive and meaningful, as opposed to a rabbit hole that wastes your time.
I recommend 10 minutes a day, because that should be long enough to do whatever you need, and it will motivate you to skip the news feed altogether. Once you’ve made the connection you wanted to make, done the research you needed to do or posted the content you wanted to share, get off the platform. Don’t allow yourself to stay and browse.
2. Focus on your target market.
Whether you’re in sales, searching for a job, or just looking to expand your professional network, you should know what your target market is. You should focus your activity on starting conversations with these targets, whether they’re vice presidents at a company you want to earn as a client or they’re thought leaders in your industry. Before you log in, make a list of the people you want to engage with.
If you’re not sure who should be in your target market, start with this strategy (it’s specific to sales, but you can customize it for other needs). Identify the top 20% of your current clients who are active on LinkedIn. Make sure you are connected with them. Once you are connected, look for prospects among your client’s first connections. When you have found connections who look like strong prospects, ask your current client for a referral. You should aim to spend your daily allotment of time looking for referral options from just one current client. That will keep the task manageable and keep you from wasting time.
3. Send personalized connection requests.
Stop scrolling and start searching. I like to use a “reverse referral” strategy to look up the top 10 contacts that I’d like to be connected to — big names in my industry or my region — and look for mutual connections in their networks who could give me a referral. But even if you can’t get a referral for a potential client or a highly networked person, it’s still worth trying to connect.
Many people are receptive to connection requests from strangers, as long as you explain why you want to connect. And that reason had better not be, “I want to sell you something,” or any variation of that phrase.
Try something like this: “I was reading your latest blog post and I loved your insight on X.” Or, “I saw this share on Twitter and I really liked it.”
One strategy I love to use allows me to take advantage of the data LinkedIn gives you about who has viewed your profile. With a non-premium account, you’ll see the five most recent profile viewers, unless those viewers have heightened privacy settings. If someone viewed my profile, but never asked to connect, I use LinkedIn InMail to send this message:
“I noticed you've checked out my profile here on LinkedIn. Typically, this happens for one of two reasons: (1) it’s an accident; or (2) there’s something I could possibly do for you. If it’s the latter, please don’t hesitate to let me know, okay?”
If you don’t have InMail through a premium account, you could look up the person’s email address on their website and email them directly, or try calling them directly, or send a personalized connection request.
If we’re already connected, I send a slight variation of that message to acknowledge that we know each other but (probably) haven’t spoken in a while. By asking if they looked at my profile by accident, I give them an out (even if they looked at me on purpose) if they’re not interested in my services. But simply inviting them to start a conversation after they look at my profile has led to many mutually beneficial relationships.
4. Engage with the content your targets are putting out.
Find their posts and their blogs and like, comment and share them to your network, even if you have to go to another website to find their content. (Not everyone embraces LinkedIn’s blogging platform yet, so they may share a lot of content elsewhere.) But don’t go overboard with this strategy. If you consistently like or share every item your client puts out, they’ll get annoyed or they’ll take you for granted. Spend the time to find content from one of your clients that’s really meaningful to you and that you can share with a comment your followers will find meaningful. Don’t make it the same client every week, but don’t follow a schedule for highlighting all of your clients. Keep it slightly random, and your clients will feel appreciated by the attention you’re showing them.
5. Tag people.
Before you click ‘post’ on a share of someone else’s content or a photo you’re uploading, think about who you can tag in the post. Tagging on LinkedIn works like it does on most platforms: Type an ‘@’ symbol before the person’s name, and LinkedIn will bring up a drop-down menu of connections and people you follow to confirm the tag. Click on the right person, and their name will appear in a blue hyperlink to their profile in your post. The people you tag will receive a notification of the tag and any interaction with your post, and some may even receive an email about the post, depending on their LinkedIn profile settings.
But I’ll include a serious caveat with this tip: Make sure the posts you tag people in are relevant. We’ve all been subject to someone misusing the tagging feature on Facebook to spread awareness about something we have no interest in. On LinkedIn, your tagging should be a way to give someone a heads up that you’ve said something nice about them and/or their work.
Here’s an example: When I was leaving a conference in Boston earlier this year, I noticed that Zoom, the video conferencing platform, had a billboard up in Logan International Airport. I thought it was cool to see a tech company investing in analog marketing, so I snapped a photo and tweeted it, making sure to tag the company. The founder of Zoom then retweeted it and my post got a high level of engagement.
6. Connect with your current customers.
Too many people take their current customers for granted. It’s not cool or sexy to go after your existing customers and show them love. But reactivating your current customers’ loyalty for your brand is just as important as developing awareness in new targets, and it’s so much easier. Start by simply connecting with the people you’ve worked with at all current and former clients. Then find ways to highlight their successes and share content that they will find meaningful. Social media gives you the tools to provide outstanding customer service to your current clients, which will encourage them to buy more stuff from you, or to buy the same stuff more frequently.
If you approach LinkedIn with this strategy, you’ll be able to reap demonstrable benefits from the time you invest, and you’ll avoid wasting time on another news feed.
Spencer X Smith is the founder of spencerXsmith.com, instructor at the University of Wisconsin, and Adjunct Faculty at Rutgers University. A former 401(k) wholesaler, he now teaches financial services professionals how to use social media for business development. Spencer may be reached at spencerXsmith.com.