Do you view LinkedIn as the ultimate networking tool or a waste of time? If you find yourself confused about using LinkedIn for marketing, you are not alone. Many people believe they need to be on there, but find that once they’ve joined, little of value actually happens.

“Most people join LinkedIn because they have been told to or from a fear of missing out,” says business networking strategist, . “In my experience, only a small proportion of users actually have a strategy for realising the huge potential that the site offers if you use it well.”

Mark Williams[ii], an independent LinkedIn trainer and coach, agrees. “LinkedIn, like many things, is only effective if you actively use it. You could take out a gym membership, never actually go and then complain that you’re not getting fitter!”

As with any social network, it’s worth considering the outcomes you want to achieve by joining, Lopata advises. “If you start thinking in advance about how you want LinkedIn to help you, then your use of it is going to be more effective.”

LinkedIn tips for businesses

Using LinkedIn essentially boils down to two main purposes; you are either aiming to grow your business or enhance your career. “You can use it as a marketing tool, as a recruiting tool, as a job-seeking resource and as a social selling tool,” Williams says. “But the most effective use of LinkedIn is relationship building – finding, engaging with and building trust with other like-minded professionals, where you can help each other succeed in what you are trying to do.”

Although you may have no intention of moving job or ceasing your business activities, external networking also acts as an important insurance policy. “Using LinkedIn is a way of constantly investing in your social capital,” Williams says. “If you ever do have to look for work, you have a network already pre-built.”

How to create an effective LinkedIn profile

As mentioned above, if you’re looking to boost your small businesses approach to digital marketing, LinkedIn is a great place to start. Getting your profile up to scratch is the first step, follow the steps below to create a professional LinkedIn profile that works for your business.

  • Use a good photo

Ensure you have a good, close up, professional photo. “There are too many profiles with poor photos, and that instantly creates a bad impression,” Williams says. “A good picture will help you stand out from the start.”

  • Statement with impact

Convert your headline from a ‘job title and company’ into a statement with impact. “You have 120 characters to use,” Williams says. “What people are going to see is a picture, a name and a headline. The picture gets their eye; the name may not mean anything, and the headline needs to say who you are and what you can offer. Use keywords or phrases that show what you specialise in.”

  • Create intrigue

Make the first two lines of your summary a “teaser” to ensure the reader clicks on “See more”, advises Williams. “The summary field is 2,000 characters, but normally you will only see about 220 characters. Get their attention to give them a reason to click.”

  • Include website links

“It amazes me the amount of times you go to someone’s profile, want to see their website, and there is no link,” Williams says. “You then have to search in Google, which is ridiculous. There are three links, so these could be links to different sections of your site or different sites that you have.”

  • Use free before premium

A very common question people ask is whether they should have a premium account. “Competent and experienced users will almost always upgrade,” says Williams. “But it makes no sense to upgrade until you really understand the tool.”

How to build relationships on LinkedIn

Once you’ve got your profile set up and looking professional there’s no point in sitting back and expecting your LinkedIn marketing campaign to take off without any further input from you. As with a lot of things, you get out what you put in. Learn how to use LinkedIn effectively for your small business and you’ll soon begin to see the results.

  • Connect only with relevant people

Have a policy, Williams advises. “If it’s someone you know, accept, and if it’s someone you don’t know, then check first whether they are relevant. Don’t worry about clicking “ignore” because the person won’t be notified that you’ve done that. If someone you know isn’t directly relevant to your business, they may have a contact that is or vice versa – so it’s usually worth connecting.”

  • Reply promptly if you can

“What’s happening on LinkedIn all the time is that people are being offered a virtual business card, then taking it and walking away,” Williams says. “If you’ve got old invitations hanging, you can send a quick note just letting people know that you haven’t been active on LinkedIn. That way they won’t take it as a personal slight. Sometimes you think nothing will come of a contact, but a note from you actually makes them think – and they’ll think about what you are doing and how they might help you. The more active you are, the more chance that it will lead to something of real benefit.”

  • Engage with other people’s posts

Like and comment on other people’s posts – but be genuine. “Engage effectively and show a constant interest in others,” Lopata advises. “Then, when you have something to share, your online connections will be far more receptive and more likely to respond and support you.”

  • Focus your time

How much time do you need to spend online? You might be surprised how little time you actually need to spend on social networking sites, particularly if your objectives are clear, Lopata believes. “It’s far more effective to target your activity and engage in a focused way than spend too much time online, making a lot of noise but very little progress. If you spend too much time online people in your network will start wondering why you have so much time on your hands.”

  • Use text-expanding extensions

In an ideal world, we’d all have the time to write people messages, but in the real world, this falls by the wayside. Williams suggests using timesaving tools such as Gorgias for desktop (Chrome only) or the TextExpander app for your phone. “These free tools make it much easier to be more engaging on LinkedIn,” Williams says. “They sit in the browser and enable you to write more expansive messages more efficiently, with less effort.”

Marketing your business on LinkedIn

LinkedIn’s role in marketing is often underrated, Lopata believes. “LinkedIn is a fantastic way of raising your profile because you can join groups in key communities,” Lopata says. “If you engage constructively within those groups, such as through blogging and relevant posts, then you’ll make your mark, earn trust and be able to connect with leading influencers in those communities.”

  • Nothing beats face-to-face

“However, involved with social networking you become, don’t lose sight of the importance of meeting people in person,” Lopata says. “Online networks should supplement your existing relationships, not take their place. Ultimately you get to develop trust and rapport when you look into people’s eyes.”

  • Write articles

Write articles that help your target audience and challenge them to think differently, Williams says. “People in a given network will have certain commonalities and shared interests. Show that you are genuinely helpful by giving them content that is useful. People will naturally associate you with this useful content, so no one will mind if you occasionally post something more promotional.”

  • Mix long form and short form

Post regularly with engaging content, with images and video too. “Ask questions and don’t always post about business,” Williams advises. “Short posts will engage your feed, while long-form articles will show on your profile.” Monitor the views and clicks of an article, to see what engages.

“The most powerful functionality of LinkedIn is its ability to make connections for you,” Lopata says. “Find the key people to whom you would like to be introduced to on the site and find out how you are connected to them. If they are a second-degree connection, approach your mutual contacts and ask them to introduce you.”

Use LinkedIn regularly, Williams advises, and things really do happen. “The main thing is to understand that it won’t be of any use to you if you don’t log in and engage with other people. Get active and the magic starts.”

Once you’ve mastered LinkedIn it’s likely you’ll begin to see your business grow, make sure you’re fully prepared for everything with business insurance from Hiscox UK.