Having discussed the benefits of using Twitter and Facebook to enhance your business, it seems fair that some time should be spent exploring another medium that can be invaluable to your organization: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is significantly different than traditional social media sites, although it shares a few common traits. Therefore, it is important to understand and approach LinkedIn from a different perspective. Since its primary purpose is dissimilar from other platforms, treating it like Twitter or Facebook is a grave mistake.

These few basic facts about LinkedIn help illustrate why it is important to use this social media network wisely:

  • Worldwide, over 65 million business professionals have LinkedIn accounts.
  • Almost half of the people with LinkedIn profiles have some degree of decision-making and spending authority within their organizations.
  • The average annual household income for people on LinkedIn is over $100,000.

What is LinkedIn?

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites are dedicated primarily to the sharing of information in one way or another. LinkedIn also facilitates information sharing, but its primary purpose is networking – connecting people with common interests, for personal and professional enhancement. There is an element of marketing involved, but it is much subtler and more focused than on other sites. There are two main approaches to engaging on LinkedIn, but it is generally better to focus on establishing a business presence and a solid reputation prior to beginning any sort of active marketing.

Establish a Profile

Profiles on LinkedIn can be personal or organizational. Generally, it is a good idea for small business owners and self-employed entrepreneurs to have personal profiles; key employees should have personal profiles, as well. A business profile also is advantageous for organizations that eventually want to actively market on LinkedIn.

When building your LinkedIn profile, you may want to consider dating site profiles as an example. You will likely not find a boring laundry list of facts on a Match.com profile; rather, you will discover inspiring, appealing, and attractive descriptions of what one individual person may offer another. Capture that individuality. You want people to see your profile as professional yet also unique – something they will remember when they think about you and your industry.

Build a Large Pool of Connections

When your profile is completed, take advantage of what LinkedIn has to offer, and become connected to as many people as possible, without engaging in anything remotely similar to spamming. Send connect requests to everyone with whom you are personally or professionally acquainted: friends,  business associates, former classmates, people who know you through work, school, church, or family. Remember: The primary purpose of LinkedIn is networking, so you want to be visible to as many people as possible. You also want to find people whom you can help (not just those who can help you), since the people you help are more likely to recommend you to others, thus expanding your network as broadly as possible.

Find and Participate in Groups with Similar Interests

Groups are a vital element of LinkedIn. They vary widely, and there are normally multiple groups that share similar interests or target your specific industry. They can be excellent sources of professional development, and they can provide insights that you would not ordinarily have on your own. Be careful not to dive in too quickly, however; avoid coming  across as arrogant and domineering. Some may get the impression that you are simply there to market. Take a little time to gauge the participants, and get used to how they converse with one another; then add your own input to existing conversations. Try to help and serve others prior to asking them to help and serve you.

Once you feel comfortable in your groups, introduce topics about which you would like feedback, and ask for the input and advice of others. Only at that point is it advisable to engage in anything resembling traditional marketing, and, even then, the best approach is to mention something you are planning on providing to the public, asking for suggestions and advice on how best to do so.

When you take the time to build quality  relationships with group participants, they will be much more likely to end up purchasing goods or services from your company – and the likelihood that they will recommend you to others in their own network will increase exponentially.

Create a Company Page on LinkedIn

A company page on LinkedIn is another important tool for many business owners. Small and large companies alike can benefit from a company page. It’s easy to create, provides a platform where you can deliver consistent branding and share content, and allows you to not only engage with your followers but provides deeper insights about who is paying attention to what you’re saying.

Actively Market on LinkedIn

Once you are ready to promote your work or business more actively, the following actions can help you do so effectively:

  • Post regular status updates on your personal and company pages. Focus your status updates on the professional and unique things you are doing. Educate others about what you are doing, without actively engaging in direct marketing approaches. Frame everything around how you are helping other people fulfill their needs. Avoid Facebook-style rants, personal photos, politically charged posts, and other potentially offensive commentary on LinkedIn.
  • Use messages and invitations sparingly. The worst thing you can do on LinkedIn is become seen as a spammer – or merely a marketer. Remember, the goal is to achieve mutual benefit, not just increase sales.
  • Try LinkedIn advertising. If you have a direct-marketing budget, LinkedIn’s paid advertising is relatively inexpensive, and it can be targeted at the most likely consumers and clients you have already identified.
  • Pay for an enhanced membership. LinkedIn offers various upgrade options with specific areas of focus. These include one for sales, as well as for HR  and employee acquisition.

LinkedIn is different than typical social media sites, but, if used properly, it can be just as effective for you and your organization. Simply  remember the difference in primary purpose, and tailor your approach accordingly.