When I teach Social Media classes to small businesses, I can always count on someone in the audience to ask a question that goes a little something like this:
"I've got limited time to invest in social media, but there seem to be a million sites out there. How do I know which one is worth my time? If I only have time for one, which one should it be?"
Well I generally try to weasel out of that question by telling them I'd use both LinkedIn AND Twitter
, the truth is if I had to pick just one, LinkedIn would win, hands down. Let me tell you why.
LinkedIn is one of those sites that tends to get brushed aside in the sexy, shiny world of social media
. It's not flashy, we rarely hear buzz about billion dollar valuations and you don't get a billion email reminders to visit because your contacts on LinkedIn are not encouraged to write on your wall, send zombies after you or take lengthy and inane quizzes.
Instead, LinkedIn tends to sit there quietly, waiting for you to realize that it's more than just another place to "add your friends." That it's actually one of the world's best networking tools
. That it's "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" translated into the business world. That it's your ticket to building your business.
When I first joined LinkedIn a few years back, I spent an hour or two adding all my friends from my contact list and exploring friend's contact lists to see if I'd missed anyone. I updated my profile, ran a quick search for past co-workers and then moved on my merry way. I'd get a handful of LinkedIn friend requests after conferences, but beyond that, I pretty much ignored it. Par for the course with most of the small business types I've spoken to.
But, forgetting to revisit and make use of LinkedIn is a big mistake if you run the type of business that relies on making contacts.
The Tipping Point
My love affair with LinkedIn started when I happened to login to add some contacts from the Search Engine Strategies conference and saw a notice that a contact of mine, Allison Clark, was now working as a PR consultant for a new small business community site. Turns out, the site was a pretty neat find. I emailed Allison to learn more, ended up connecting with their team.
Not bad for a boring little social networking site, right?
That's when it dawned on me that I was completely missing the boat with LinkedIn. LinkedIn's search feature wasn't about finding contacts I knew, it was about finding contacts I NEEDED to know.
The whole "degrees of contact" bubble weren't a fun way to see who knew who, it was invaluable insight into how to make contact with new companies.
(For those new to LinkedIn, the site will track the connections between you and every other member of the site and will tell you how many "degrees" apart you are from any one contact. 1st degree means you know them personally, 2nd degree means you know someone who knows them, 3rd degree means they're a friend of a friend of a friend...and so on.)
Using LinkedIn's Search Feature to Expand Your Business
So how exactly am I using LinkedIn these days? Well, I'm using it to daisy chain my contacts and meet new people
. Search Engine Guide and our network of sites has been growing like crazy and with the introduction of our Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference series, we need to expand our network of advertisers and sponsors accordingly. While I've been around long enough to be pretty well connected in the search realm, I've only just begun to get actively involved on the small business side of things. That means working my network to expand my network is essential.
Here's a quick example of what I mean.
For our last show, we'd been in touch with the team at Carbonite, a subscription based service company that backs up your hard drive online. This time around, we'd stumbled across Mozy
. Mozy offers up a very similar service, but with prices starting at around $5 a month, we knew they were perfectly targeted for the very small businesses that attend our show. Unfortunately, I didn't know anyone at Mozy. We all know cold calls don't tend to go over well, so I did what I now always do in these situations...I headed to LinkedIn and ran a search.
A simple search for the word "mozy" turned up a slew of Mozy employees.
As I scrolled through the list I quickly stumbled across Dave Robinson, the VP of Marketing for Mozy. The first thing I did was look to see how many degrees separated us. Unfortunately, it was three. That meant I didn't have any direct contacts who knew Dave. Now, I could have used the LinkedIn network to ask my contacts to introduce me to his contacts, but I'm not really comfortable going that route. That said, at least we had a name to work with, which made it much easier to call Mozy and seek out contact information for him.
A few days later, I decided I wanted to try and get in touch with Stamps.com
. I headed over to LinkedIn, ran a search and was greeted with a list of possibilities.
Once again, it took a matter of moments to find out Jim Bortnak was the Chief Marketing Officer over there and the person I needed to get in touch with. This time, I had better news: Jim was a second degree contact. That meant I already knew someone who knew him. Next step: click through to his profile page to find out who "someone" was. LinkedIn makes this part simple. On any member's profile page, you'll find a little box that looks something like this:
Quick as that, I could see I had two contacts who knew Jim. One was Ami Kassar, the contact I'd made via Allison Clark. The other was Chris Caputo, a friend of mine who heads up marketing for American Greetings here in Ohio. I knew Chris better than I knew Ami, so I decided to leverage that contact to see if I could reach out to Jim. I used the LinkedIn system to compose a message to Jim and then wrote a separate message that would be sent to Chris asking him to pass my message along.
It's a bit like asking your friend to pass a note to another friend two aisles over in study hall when you're in junior high.
Those are just two examples, but I've used LinkedIn in this way dozens of times over the past few months. Sometimes it pays off in spades. Sometimes you never hear anything back. Either way, it's far more effective than sending blind emails or making cold calls.
Even apart from the convenience factor, you get an added boost of credibility when you are introduced by someone who knows you
. I trust my contacts. If they emailed me to say I should speak with someone, I'd speak with them. In the meantime, as a business owner, I hope they say the same about me.
Don't Miss Out on LinkedIn's Potential
That's not the only reason to love LinkedIn of course. There are groups of like minded people for a wide range of topics you can join and make contact with and you can send out questions and survey's to get feedback from your personal contacts. There's great value in those things. But for me, the real value of LinkedIn is in using it to discover the hidden connections among my network and the rest of the world.
You never know who you almost
know. Why not find out?