by Dan Carins
LinkedIn is social networking with a work hat on.
Rather than sharing holiday snaps and music tips it’s about sharing landmarks in your career.
It’s also about linking with people to help open doors.
Walsall Council has carried out some groundbreaking work in the area and in the SOCITM Better Connected report back in 2010 was one of only two councils in the country to connect to LinkedIn
If it’s about getting more children along to a play scheme then LinkedIn probably isn’t the answer. However, if it’s connecting to business people or targeting the buyer from the largest company in your area then it’s spot on.
Here is why LinkedIn is worth using:
1 Why would you want to use LinkedIn?
The whole premise of LinkedIn is that it connects individuals rather than the organisations they work for. This means it works like a giant directory of the people you want to speak to directly, rather than having to negotiate the sentinels who pick up the phone or check emails.
Its other great feature is the profusion of discussion groups based around a wide range of topics. This allows broadcasting information to a selected target audience, as well as the ability to develop networks based around common geography or activity. For local authorities looking to support business clusters or key sectors in a local economy, this is immensely powerful.
2 Where would you get started?
Setting up a profile is straight forward – there may be issues around using personal data on your individual profile for work purposes, but if you’re looking to connect with people in a meaningful way, they’re going to want to know that you’re bona fide rather than spam or a nuisance.
It can work as a glorified online business-card holder, which could limit its reach if users don’t have many business cards; another benefit of setting up a group is that you can promote it via other means (email, Twitter etc) as each group has a unique url. For large organisations this may be particularly onerous for the individuals tasked with starting a group as you’re essentially asking them to be popular; nevertheless some people will have larger networks than others due to the job they do or their personalities. These are the people who should start up a group (although you can always export their contact lists if they steadfastly refuse).
3 Can you use LinkedIn as an organisation?
Organisations with more than one employee on LinkedIn get a presence, with the ability to edit essential information – but essentially it’s meant for employees rather than corporate identities. Again, the most useful way for an organisation to use LinkedIn is to establish groups and sub-groups around themes its interested in, in order to stimulate dialogue and engage with customers, partners and service users.
Use the LinkedIn group as support for other activity, not a replacement for activity – for example, promote events, use it as a platform for those who can’t make meetings, host information that was available and link to additional resources.
4 How much time does it take to look after a LinkedIn presence?
Setting up a profile and a group is simple. If you’re lucky, your group will be owned by lots of keen contributors, and useful discussion looks after itself. However, more likely is that you’re faced with radio silence when newcomers log on, look at a blank page and then leave without trace. It pays off to have content straight away, to tap reliable contacts for contributions, to promote a group or discussion elsewhere. If it’s a large organisation, it would probably need the presence of key individuals at that organisation to help convince doubters that there’s legitimacy to the group and that it’s part of a meaningful dialogue.
5 What’s the most common mistake to make on LinkedIn?
There is a lot of spurious ‘debate’, self-promotion and what can only be described as spam. There’s also a lot of useful networking, plenty of genuine opportunities and a lot of serendipity waiting to happen. The most common mistake is to log on, get deafened by the silence, and never come back. There’s nothing worse than finding someone on LinkedIn, and then noticing that he or she has no connections, no information on their company and no activity against their name. What a lost opportunity.
For an organisation, I think the most common mistake is to simply treat LinkedIn as “just another platform” to be seen to be approachable. It’s a forum for dialogue and virtual interaction. It needs people reading contributions, picking up and connecting leads and posting information. If no-one’s prepared to do this, then don’t set up a group. It’ll just end up in the great graveyard in the sky that is defunct social media content.
6 What’s the best piece of advice you can give?
Don’t be shy. People use LinkedIn to connect to other people. There’s value in that connection – social capital. Simply amassing connections for their own sake won’t get you anywhere. Reach out and allow others to come to your organisation. Construct those connections into a network centred around a shared interest – and use it: keep your ears open, connect people, make things happen. Use it to promote events where real people meet in real time in a real space; set up meetings; speak to contacts on the telephone. People generate opportunities, and you won’t know about them if you don’t keep in touch with those people.
Dan Carins is an economic development strategist with Walsall Council whose work has been recognised in SOCITM's Better Connected report.
Good LinkedIn links:
www.thestartupofyou.com – website about the book written by one of the co-founders of LinkedIn, with lots of information about using the LinkedIn
Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership LinkedIn group An example of how organisations can use LinkedIn to start a discussion with its users, customers and stakeholders etc.
The Carbon War Room LinkedIn group A vibrant discussion site set up as part of Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room initiative – it’s a useful repository of information following events and activities.