When a customer’s new BMW crashed into his flooring showroom, Ira Kirkley did the smart thing: he titled the security camera footage “Customers Can’t Wait to Buy” and sent it off to local television stations. The news departments couldn’t resist, and soon “Big Bob’s Flooring – #1 Flooring Retailer in DFW” was getting free publicity.
But Ira didn’t stop there. He posted the video on his Facebook account for all his friends to view. That’s where I saw it. And you know what? Seeing that 3-second video reminded me that my friend–whom I trust–is the Director of Operations for a flooring store. Guess where I’ll be shopping next time I need flooring? And guess which store I’ll recommend to others?
This is a simple–if uncommon–illustration of how social networking can aid in advertising. People who know you and trust you can be your best advertisers. You just have to remind them that you’re out there ready to serve them!
I recently talked with Rob Brown of RDB Consulting, Inc. about social networking tools. We talked about Facebook, Plaxo, and LinkedIn. Rob offered to write the following guest article explaining why he is investing time and effort in his LinkedIn account:
Using LinkedIn to Enhance Your Marketing
By Rob Brown, RDB Consulting, Inc.
I’ve just started using LinkedIn as a prospecting tool for my small business. While it’s too early yet to make a definitive statement, I have to say that I’m very impressed by its power and scope. Let me go out farther on a limb and say that I think this application could be a game-changer in terms of how people network and search for new clients or jobs.
While like everyone else I’ve been deluged with all of the hype about Web 2.0 and social networking, the light did not come on for me until I started using LinkedIn. LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) bills itself as the social networking tool for professionals. After years of steadily growing its users and maturing as an application, it has reached its “tipping point” in the last year or so. By that I mean that the number of business users registered has reached the level that it has become a powerful business networking tool. It now has eclipsed its rivals and become ubiquitous in the business community. It is now rare to meet a business associate who does not have a LinkedIn profile.
What LinkedIn Is
Ok, so just what is LinkedIn? Here is a good definition from Wikipedia: “LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site founded in December 2002 and launched in May 2003 mainly used for professional networking. As of February 2009, it had more than 35 million registered users, spanning 170 industries.”
Wow! That is a lot of users and a lot of different industries.
LinkedIn is similar to other social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace in that it is a huge site that allows registered users to maintain a list of contacts and to build their network of contacts. The key difference is that your LinkedIn contacts, called connections, are business associates that you know and trust.
How LinkedIn Works
Expanding your network of business connections is the key concept of LinkedIn. Everyone on your network is not only connected to you but to others, who in turn are connected to others, and so on. As you can imagine, the number of people you can potentially connect to grows exponentially at each level (levels are called degrees in LinkedIn).
For example, if I pull the network statistics for my own account, this is what I come up with. My account has 142 direct first-degree connections (people I know personally). When you add up all the network connections that each of these 142 people have, I have the potential to reach 51,100 second-degree connections. (Second degree connections are made up of people who know at least one of my first-degree connections.) If I go one step further and add in the third-degree members (people who know at least one of my second-degree network members) I could potentially have access to more than 4 million members!
Of course, these gigantic numbers represent only potential contacts, but they give an indication of how you can use LinkedIn to greatly expand the scope of your client prospecting efforts.
Powerful Search Engine
LinkedIn also has a very powerful search engine. You can search by name, company, industry, job title, and geographical location. For example, you could search for all the LinkedIn members with the job title of purchasing agent working for IT companies in Dallas, Texas. Once the list is returned, you can quickly scan the list to see which companies the members work for, and whether you have any first-, second-, or third-degree connections with any of these members. Even if you find a contact with whom you would like to be introduced but for whom you do not have any connection, you can do a second search on the company and find out if you are connected to any other employees in that company, who could then possibly introduce you to the person you are seeking.
This process is infinitely more efficient than calling each of your contacts individually and asking them if they know of someone in a particular company or industry to whom they could introduce you. It’s power networking taken to another level!
No More Cold Calling
If you are like me, you hate cold calling with every fiber of your being. LinkedIn eliminates almost all cold calling because in order to contact someone, you must first be introduced by a mutually trusted connection, so that when you do call the person, it is a warm call—the person already knows who you are and the intention of your call. Of course, not everyone will accept your request for an introduction, so your efforts will occasionally result in rejection, but since you are being introduced by a mutual associate, this should occur much less frequently. Anyway, how you would you prefer to be turned down? Over the phone by a stranger telling you in no uncertain terms never to call him or her again, or via a polite email from the LinkedIn system?
A final note about introductions and connections—the underlying ethos of LinkedIn is that your set of connections should only be comprised of people you know and trust. This way, when you seek an introduction to a new connection, that new connection should know and trust the person introducing you, and can probably assume that you are a trustworthy person yourself. If you start accepting invitations from persons you do not know well, your own and others’ networks will be compromised and the effectiveness of LinkedIn will degrade. In these difficult economic times it is tempting to try and build your network as rapidly as possible, but in order to preserve the integrity of LinkedIn, try to be politely circumspect regarding whom you include in your network. That way, when someone asks you to introduce them to another in your network, you are certain that you are introducing two trustworthy business professionals.
Don’t feel bad if at first you feel a little intimidated getting started with LinkedIn. Start by building your personal profile (tip: including a head shot photo helps people quickly recall who you are when viewing your profile). Feel free to visit my LinkedIn profile for ideas: http://www.linkedin.com/in/rdbconsulting. Feedback is also welcome.
When I started using LinkedIn, I did not find the LinkedIn documentation or online tutorials very helpful. After struggling for a bit, I finally went to Amazon.com and ordered “LinkedIn for Dummies” by Joe Elad, which I have found to be very useful in explaining the “whys” in addition to the “hows.” My friends tell me that another good book is “I’m on LinkedIn–Now What???” by Jason Alba, also available from Amazon.com or other booksellers.
After you’ve set up your profile, start importing your contacts. LinkedIn has several plug-in tools for this. I used the one for my Outlook list of contacts. It quickly identified which were LinkedIn members and added them to my list of connections. LinkedIn has similar plug-ins for other popular electronic address books. If you do not have your contacts stored electronically, you can use LinkedIn’s search feature to search for each of your contacts and determine if she or he is a LinkedIn member. If so, send him or her a request in LinkedIn to become connected. You can quickly build your network this way.
Once you’re up and running in LinkedIn, you’ll soon be on your way to increasing your marketing scope and penetration. Best of all, you can reduce or even eliminate the amount of time you spend cold-calling. No more cold calls. Life is good.
About Rob Brown
Rob founded RDB Consulting, Inc. in 2001 to focus on information design for technology startups. Several years as a journalist honed his reporting and writing skills and led to a successful career in training and communications for high-tech and engineering companies. Prior to founding RDB Consulting, Inc., Robert was an Accenture Consultant in their Change Management practice. He has also held positions with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the US Department of Energy Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory, and Texas Instruments.