By Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D.
If you are like most professional services executives you are strapped for time. And while the benefits of social media sound appealing, the process also sounds very time intensive (which it is). Does all of this activity justify the time devoted to it?
The answer, in my experience, is to start small and determine if it is a good match for your disposition and target client group. Here’s a plan to make that happen.
Step 1. Find your 10-minutes a day.
Consider substituting this “online networking” for a piece of your traditional “offline networking” — perhaps a networking event that isn’t producing results. Or you may want to carve out 10 minutes in the evening or morning.
Step 2. Aim low.
Don't expect too much at first. Consider LinkedIn as an investment in networking — one through which you may uncover new prospects, referral sources, business partners, or market information. Success may come from any direction. At this point don’t be too picky.
Step 3. Start with your profile.
Assuming you are already have a LinkedIn account (and who doesn’t these days?), sign in and click on your profile, then click on Edit. Spend your first 10 minutes adding past positions, descriptions, goals, etc. LinkedIn has a little bar in the upper right section of the page telling you how complete your profile is. It also provides suggestions to get you closer to completion. Keep at it until you are at 100% — it may take you a few days or weeks. Look at other people’s profiles (especially those with a lot of connections) to see what kinds of information you might include. You may find that the hardest part is asking for recommendations. Start with the list of people you would contact for a job search.
Step 4. Add connections.
Begin with your contacts and clients. Only invite folks you already know or have met. When you put together your invitation don’t just use the default invitation. Always personalize it in some way. If you just met a person, remind them where and when. If it’s a long-time acquaintance, you might want to say something like, “It’s about time we connected.” Just try to be yourself. An invitation is roughly equivalent to exchanging business cards. Be wary of connecting with complete strangers, though. Check out their profiles. If they have only a few connections, they could be just trolling for more or, worse, a spammer. Don’t be upset if someone you know doesn’t accept your invitation. Many people are still new to online networking and just not comfortable responding. I suggest you aim for over 200 connections. Why 200? That is enough to be credible. Still stuck at 43 connections? Then try to reach 100, for starters. This is an activity that will continue as long as you are making new online connections.
Step 5. Find relevant groups.
Begin searching for groups by keyword in the LinkedIn search bar. Try focusing on keywords that are relevant to your potential clients. Look at the profile for each group that LinkedIn suggests. If the group is very small (e.g., 250 or less) and not active it is probably a waste of your time. If it is very large (e.g., 100,000 members), you may have difficulty standing out. You may want to join a few groups to monitor what is being discussed and determine how active they are. You may want to look for groups related to trade associations you belong to or conferences you attend. Finally, look at the groups attended by people with whom you already network. Feel free to join just a few at a time. (But you can join up to 50 in total, so don’t be shy.) If you are worried about all the email these groups can generate, you can choose how frequently you get group updates (daily or weekly for example).
Step 6. Cull out groups.
Eliminate groups that don't interest you or that don't generate much activity. The goal is to find one to three groups that have enough activity by the right people to make it worth your while. Adding and culling groups will be an ongoing activity, but it should slow once you settle in.
Step 7. Start to comment.
After you have followed a few groups for a while, you will get a feel for what a good comment looks like. It’s polite, to the point, adds something of value, and is not too self-promotional. What is too self-promotional? If your comment is all about you and your service, it crosses the line. Your goal should be to establish relationships, not hawk your services. If you follow the rules, you will discover that people appreciate it when you comment on their discussions.
Step 8. Start discussions.
After a while you will recognize which discussions have ongoing interest and attract comments. At this point, you are ready to start discussions of your own. A great way to launch a discussion is to ask a question. Be polite to people who respond and encourage further interaction with additional questions. But don’t start a discussion and then go silent. It's through your active participation that people learn your name and learn to appreciate what you have to say.
Step 9. Share content.
Now it's time to share relevant content with the groups that you have been following. This content could be a blog post, article, white paper or slide presentation — anything you can link to. The secret is to make it relevant to an ongoing discussion or tie it directly to a question you asked to start a discussion. Don't just promote your latest blog post (unless it has relevance to a larger discussion). This is bad form and comes across as self-centered. In fact, the content doesn't even have to be your own. Your goal is to provide useful content, whatever the source.
Step 10. Deepen relationships.
By now, your 10-minute-a-day strategy should start to bear fruit. You will be engaging people who could be potential new clients, referral sources or business partners. Take the next step and initiate an email exchange (using the LinkedIn email), perhaps offering to meet for a cup of coffee or inquiring about a person's business. Most folks on LinkedIn are interested in developing new business relationships, especially if they already “know you” (even if it's a virtual relationship).
At this point, you should be having regular interactions with your target client group. It may have taken you several weeks or months to get here, but you are ready to decide if you want to hold where you are or take it to a higher level. We'll talk about this more in the next installment.
In the meantime, you can read the first two posts in the series here:
- LinkedIn Strategy For Professional Services Executives: 1
- LinkedIn Strategy for Professional Services Executives 2: Top Tools