“Should I be doing more on LinkedIn?”

We hear it all the time. As a marketing agency exclusively focused on professional services, Hinge has these types of conversations daily.

For good reason. In 2013, more than 70% of buyers reported turning to their personal network when they needed a new service provider. While referrals remain the top search method for professional services, less than 60% of today’s buyers ask for referrals — a 15% decrease.

Why has there been such a dramatic change?

Today’s professional services buyers have adopted digital techniques. With visibility levels decreasing across the marketplace, it’s becoming more important for firms to maintain a visible online presence.

LinkedIn has more than 830 million members world-wide, including more than 250 million in North America alone. It goes without saying, any professional who wants to develop, monitor, and nurture connections must have a presence on the go-to social media network for business.

But it’s really about more than just “being there.”

To get the greatest return on your (time) investment, there are certain factors that matter more than others. The ultimate goal, as always, is growth – personally and professionally.

1. Look the Part

Like all technology, LinkedIn, and social media as a whole, serve to replace or augment aspects of less-digital life. It’s generally accepted that with networking and business development, a positive first impression can make the difference.

Now consider this scenario – You’re walking into the event hall of the most important conference of the year. I’m guessing you don’t look like you were up till 4am at a client mixer (even if you were!) and you certainly aren’t wearing a tank-top. No, you’re suited-up, Barney Stinson style, with a pocket full of business cards and those all-important talking notes memorized. It’s go-time.

The same needs to be true for your LinkedIn profile—the digital version of your legendary first impression. Remember that buyer behavior statistic I mentioned above?

Nowadays, buyers rely on their own recognizance to make key decisions. A quick Google search of a question can land them on your blog (like this one) or social media profile. Then, it’s go-time and you need to be ready.

Here are a few key tips:

Use a professional photo. Excluding those making a living in the professional rodeo circuit, it’s unlikely you would attend a professional event wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. The same goes for a LinkedIn profile picture. Wear professional attire and have a professional take your photo. Use Instagram for snapshots of you and your dogs (I certainly do).

Create a disruptive headline. LinkedIn uses your current position at your organization as the default headline for your profile. That’s cool if your goal is to disappear into those nearly 600 million profiles. You can and should do better. Think of your headline as the words that follow an initial handshake. Keep it to 220 characters or less and make sure to describe what you do and how you are different.

Use the Summary section to tell a (short) story. Here is your next best chance to make an impression. The summary section should share your story and explain how you got where you are today. Write in the first person and explain how you help solve client’s key challenges, the kind that keep them up at night. It’s not enough to say that you are great at what you do. Everyone does that. Consider describing how you approach problems and what you do differently to solve them. If you’re not the next Charles Dickens, feel free to use bullet points to list strengths or specialties.

Complete your profile. It really does matter that you include previous experience and provide examples of expertise. Just like you would at a conference booth. Fill out anything that is relevant, including links to articles you’ve written and professional organizations you belong to. If you set up your profile a few years ago and haven’t touched it since, it’s long overdue for an update.

2. Make Connections

If you’re already on LinkedIn, it’s safe to assume you’ve already connected with some of your friends and colleagues. It’s time to take it to the next level and expand your online network of connections. Your network is what you make of it, whether it’s to keep in touch, generate leads, or even find a new job.

The best time to connect with people is shortly after meeting them in person or over the phone. Make this habit part of your typical follow up protocol. Find them on LinkedIn by searching their name and hitting “Connect.” But you’ll have much better results if you send the people you want to connect with a personalized note to remind them who you are and when you met.

Edit this message to explain your reason for connecting. Make sure to mention anything you may have spoken about to help jog their memory.

If there’s someone that you want to connect with but haven’t met personally, see if you have any connections in common. Then ask your mutual connection to introduce you. To make it easier on them, you could even craft a message for your connection to use.

3. “Engage!”

Sir Patrick Stewart made that phrase famous (shout out to the Trekkies), but I’d challenge that engage(ment) is even more relevant to social media.

As a best practice, we recommend taking just 15 minutes out of your day to engage and participate in relevant LinkedIn News Feed and Groups discussions. When done correctly, it can quickly help build your network and generate leads. Use these avenues as an opportunity to share your organization’s content and personal expertise.

Ask a question to get started. To start a discussion, use an open-ended question to ask how others have solved a specific problem. For example, instead of asking “Do you want to buy my digital lead generation product?” try a question that’s more likely to stimulate discussion, such as, “What social media tactics have helped your firm generate leads?”

Read the group rules and abide by them. Most LinkedIn Groups allow for discussion but frown upon spammy sales tactics. So that means no “Check out our new great digital lead gen product” posts. Blasting your services is a surefire turn off and can also get you banned from the group. Instead, try to make it educational. Have you just written a brilliant blog post on how to leverage LinkedIn networking in business development? Share it.

Post quality content. Make sure that everything you share is relevant to your audience. This means a healthy mix of your firm’s content as well as external content. You don’t want to come across as overly sales-y.

Don’t leave the event early. You wouldn’t make a connection at an event before exchanging business cards! So why start a discussion and then ignore the conversation that follows? LinkedIn actively promotes engagement, both good and bad, that generates discussion. Monitor your LinkedIn notifications for responses and continue the dialogue. Do you know someone who might be good to loop in to keep the ball rolling? Go ahead and @ them! Keep a discussion’s momentum going by ending your responses with another open-ended question. Also, make an effort to comment on other conversations and offer your expert opinion or shared experience.

Haters are going to hate. Remember that LinkedIn is a professional network. If someone posts a snarky comment, most people will recognize it for what it is. Avoid the temptation to respond in kind. A simple, polite response is usually sufficient and equally satisfying.

You now have a better idea of how to look the part, increase your LinkedIn connections, engage in groups, and grow your influence online. The time is now to make LinkedIn a key part of your professional networking strategy and remember, always be closing.

Joe Pope

How Hinge Can Help

A successful digital networking strategy builds visibility and connects with audiences. Hinge’s Visible Firm® is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. Based on more than 10 years of research into high-growth firms, this program gives organizations the practical tools and approach used by industry leaders. Give us a shout today.

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