Originally posted in The National Law Journal on May 27, 2013
“Which button do I push on LinkedIn for business development?” The chief marketing officer of a major law firm described to me fielding this question recently. Lawyers often look for ways to get other people to do their marketing for them, so the question behind the question was: “Do I really have to work at developing my business if I use LinkedIn?”
Well, yes, you do. But LinkedIn has introduced some features that give users more opportunities to gain visibility and business.
The first thing is to tap into your alumni network from law school and undergraduate days. We all have relationships that we should have maintained but didn’t, and now LinkedIn has developed a search tool that helps you reconnect with your classmates. You just go to the “Contacts” pull-down menu and select your alma mater. Up pops a list of people who also studied there at the same time as you. You can break this list down by city, company name or industry.
I did a quick search for my peers in the legal industry. The first page of results for me included legal counsel from Amazon.com Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Qualcomm Inc.
You obviously won’t know everyone who ever attended your college, and yet there remains an advantage to reaching out to them over total strangers. They share with you something that Malcolm Gladwell called “weak ties.” These aren’t strong enough to convince someone to go out of their way, but you have something in common that makes them more likely to open your message and maybe even have a telephone conversation. And if you actually knew this person, your job becomes much easier.
Is there anything unethical about reaching out to these individuals for business? It depends. If they are in-house counsel, then they are lawyers and represent an exception to the anti-solicitation rules. And you definitely need to run a conflicts check at your firm — you may have a great in with someone at Target Corp., but you don’t want to pitch to someone whom others at your firm have been working on for years.
The purpose of every online interaction is to arrange a meeting. The purpose of every first meeting is to arrange a second. So how do we get more meetings? By personalizing our messages. How does it make you feel to reconnect with a long-lost friend? Great, right? Compare that to how you would feel if that same friend sent you a generic message on LinkedIn: “Since you are a person I trust, I would like to add you to my network.” Personalize your messages. Show real interest in your old friends’ careers and where life has taken them.
All this takes time and organization, but just recall (or imagine) how difficult this was in the days of the paper Rolodex. All you need to do these days is carve out time every day in your calendar and make it happen.
There may never be an easy button for business development, but LinkedIn is always improving on a tool that may be the next best thing.