The New Belle of the Ball
For years, LinkedIn played the poor stepchild to flashier consumer social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Millions of people signed up for LinkedIn, but mostly they used it to find recruits or, more likely, to find a job.
That’s changing, and it’s changing quickly. LinkedIn is emerging as the belle of the social business ball. Facebook’s stock is down 10% in the past year. LinkedIn’s has nearly doubled.
LinkedIn’s newfound glamor is being driven by a new growth engine, and it’s no longer just Recruiting.
Sales and Marketing have discovered LinkedIn.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Rolodex these days, but I can almost guarantee that all the Sales reps you know have the LinkedIn app installed on their smartphones. Marketing Departments are suddenly scrambling to define their LinkedIn strategies.
Sales and Marketing professionals are simply following their customers. In many industries, especially B2B ones, LinkedIn is where it’s at.
Whether it’s law, consulting, investment banking, advertising or accounting, clients and prospects are bypassing company websites and doing due diligence directly on LinkedIn. (A recent study by Greentarget, for example, found that over two-thirds of general counsel use LinkedIn on a daily or weekly basis for work reasons.)
It’s not just services. In High Tech, Insurance and a host of other B2B verticals, customers are getting their information from LinkedIn.
Imagine you’ve put out an RFP for a significant purchase on behalf of your company. It could be for a new ERP system, an advertising campaign, an MRI machine, new copiers, whatever. When sales reps start submitting proposals, what’s the first thing you do? You check to see who you’re dealing with, and that will almost always take you to LinkedIn.
For B2B industries, LinkedIn is far more valuable than Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or any consumer social site. Consumer social media may be great for consumer branding or even direct sales. But B2B sales is a more intimate, high-touch activity. It requires one-to-one relationships built on trust and shared context. LinkedIn is unique in its ability to deliver that level of interpersonal engagement.
There’s huge competitive advantage for those B2B companies who systematically leverage LinkedIn at scale for brand marketing, lead generation, lead qualification and customer engagement.
Getting Employees to the Big Dance
Sound too good to be true? Maybe it is, because there’s a catch.
LinkedIn profiles belong to the employees, not the company.
That simple principle is a huge reason why LinkedIn usage has more than 200 million members. Employees use LinkedIn to build their professional networks, often (but not always) in order to find a new job. They don’t want their employers to know about that activity, much less to influence it.
LinkedIn became the social business killer app because it bypassed companies and went right to the individual businessperson.
That poses a challenge for companies’ efforts to build Sales and Marketing programs around LinkedIn.
Whereas the Marketing Department can manage a Twitter handle or company blog, LinkedIn requires participation from each individual employee. And it’s not enough to just set up an account. Employees need to upload pictures, maintain their profiles, build their networks, and engage with those networks.
Simply put, you can’t do it for them.
Today your company probably has a handful of employees who use LinkedIn frequently, refresh their profiles constantly, share company news with customers, and mine their networks for new business opportunities.
It’s still early days, but the data already indicate that Sales and Marketing professionals who use social media significantly outperform their peers who don’t.
But you can’t build scalable, repeatable success on a handful of employees. Management requires repeatability. Repeatability requires scalability. Leaving LinkedIn participation up the individual is, almost by definition, not scalable.
For every employee who uses LinkedIn effectively, you likely have several others with bad or old pictures, incoherent executive summaries, and anemic networks.
It’s a missed sales opportunity, and it may even be a branding liability. Your people are your company. When they look great, your company looks great. When they look bad … well, you get the point.
Fairy Godmother, not Wicked Stepmother
I’ve written at length about the need to integrate social business tools in-the-flow of daily work. The challenge is not primarily technological. It’s cultural and behavioral. Your employees — all of your employees — need to embrace LinkedIn as an integral part of everyday work.
LinkedIn needs to become the place where employees go to do their jobs, not to find new ones. (They’ll probably still use it to look for jobs, but heck, there’s not much you can do about that.)
As with most organizational change, the road to success runs through business process. In order to drive business value from LinkedIn, companies need to weave LinkedIn into their standard operating procedure.
Communicate guidelines for how you’d like employees to describe your company and your brand on their profiles. Encourage Inside Sales Reps to use LinkedIn for lead generation. Help Field Sales Reps share company-approved content with their networks.
Worried that this all sounds like Big Brother? I haven’t found that to be a problem, as long as the company approaches LinkedIn guidance as an employee benefit rather than a compliance exercise. Don’t force employees to participate; emphasize the benefits to them, their reputation, and their professional development.
Think fairy godmother, not wicked stepmother.
Employees want help. Almost everyone I talk to about LinkedIn says exactly the same thing: “I should be using it more than I do.” They just don’t know how.
At the end of the day, the incentives are extremely well-aligned. Employees want to perform well, build their reputations, and grow professionally. Companies want employees to perform well, build reputations, and grow professionally.
It’s a glass slipper that fits.
Originally posted on CMSWire. Title image courtesy of Potapov Alexander