Social media training courses for Linkedin

Even as it comes within a year or two of celebrating its first decade, opinion is split between those who hold LinkedIn up as the senior so...

Even as it comes within a year or two of celebrating its first decade, opinion is split between those who hold LinkedIn up as the senior social network, the ‘grandfather of social networks’, and those who maintain ‘LinkedIn has never been a “social network” ’ or that ‘LinkedIn was sort of Web 1.0’s version of a social network.’

By the CIPR’s definition of social media, it certainly ranks highly as a popular network for ‘the building of communities or networks and encouraging participation and engagement’. ‘Over 135 million professionals use LinkedIn to exchange information, ideas and opportunities’, says the site’s UK homepage and, as of November 2011, there were more than six million members in the UK.

The numbers definitely suggest it should be taken seriously as a platform with significant reach in professional networks. As the site has increased the types of interactions available (moving away from being a ‘Web 1.0’ network), it is lining up to compete more directly against the other major social networks for marketers’ attention.

The gradual addition of features such as Twitter integration, LinkedIn applications and company status updates in recent years has made the network increasingly social, adding features which all enable and encourage greater engagement between members and companies.

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Whereas advice to LinkedIn users has traditionally focused on capitalising on the individual opportunities it presents, companies increasingly need to stay alert to how these developments will impact on their social media strategies.

The more that LinkedIn adopts social features, the greater the need for it to be managed at a corporate as well as an individual level. It elevates the need to build a relevant, engaged following on LinkedIn to the same importance as the bigger beasts of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

As with all networks, companies need to ensure that they have a clear strategy and objectives for engagement through LinkedIn, that they have identified the groups and conversations which are relevant to them and that they have the resources and policies in place to manage their participation in those conversations.

LinkedIn has certainly become established as the leading professional social network, doubling its membership in the UK over the last two years. While other newer networks (particularly Google+) may be waiting in the wings to challenge its position, it continues to establish itself as arguably the most important online platform for business-to-business engagement and communication.

What’s in It for Me?

Senior level executives use the site mainly for trade industry networking (22%) and promoting their businesses (20%). Middle managers are more likely to use LinkedIn primarily to keep in touch (24%) with others, as well as for industry networking (20%). Entry level employees, not surprisingly, are using the site mainly for job searching (24%) and co-worker networking (23%).’
LinkedIn sells itself as a platform to connect/reconnect, boost your career and find answers; simple really – just an online extension of our offline networks.
So what’s to get excited about? In 2010, LinkedIn had two billion people searches and it’s on track to double that in 2011. A complete LinkedIn profile with a custom URL set-up is also likely to appear near the top of any search for your name (go on, Google yourself).
If you’re in a position where being easily found online is an advantage – and there aren’t many people who aren’t – then there’s a clear, compelling argument for taking your personal LinkedIn profile seriously.
In Online Public Relations, Phillips and Young point to our human desire to seek society ‘in different groups, different types of groups…for different purposes and different “selves” ’. They argue that in PR this usually means we should look to belong to a large number of groups, rather than broadcasting in groups with large numbers of members.
LinkedIn gives us this opportunity to belong to multiple networks based on school, university, employer, shared skills, professional bodies, shared interests, local business networks and so on. It’s the ideal platform for identifying and connecting with people across multiple niche groups.
Essentially, it’s a highly effective tool for managing a personal professional brand online. If you do nothing else – no blogs, no Twitter, no podcasts or videos – LinkedIn gives you a platform to be found and to create a professional online presence.
As well as a showcase for your personal achievements and those who recommend you, there are multiple opportunities to build an authoritative voice – particularly useful to smaller businesses and consultants. It’s easy to demonstrate expertise through Answers, Skills, Polls and Group management or discussions.
The site continues to launch new tools to add to this list. The Alumni platform gives you quick access to make connections with university classmates or find new contacts in businesses who share your alma mater. The Skills tool (in beta) is a useful way to showcase your skills under established keywords within your profile and also to find others with shared or relevant expertise. One recent study found that 75% of US companies will always or sometimes check out a prospective employee’s online profile. The surprising thing about this statistic is that it isn’t 100%. The trail we leave behind us online is crucial to the success and development of our careers – it has to be positive and in the case of LinkedIn, the starting point is the fullest possible profile. We want employers, colleagues and clients to be able to easily find content that shows us in the best possible light.
This is even more important for PR 2.0 professionals. As we carve out a new role, genuinely participating on a personal level in the communities with which we seek to engage, we are constantly blurring the line between ‘PR person’ and ‘person’. We are expected to participate openly – whether on our own behalf or for our employers/clients – exposing ourselves to greater personal scrutiny. We will be judged on the impact of our personal blogging, recruited on the basis of our social media following and valued against the online company we keep.
Authenticity and transparency play a critical role in our effectiveness and LinkedIn is a vital tool in ensuring we communicate the professional side of our identity as part of our wider online personality and profile.
It’s also why automatically linking your social networks together is not advisable – you don’t necessarily want your weekend Facebook photos or your Twitter rants waiting for you on your LinkedIn status on Monday morning. It’s easy enough with the #in tag to mark only those Tweets which you want to share through LinkedIn.

‘Conversations Among Human Beings Sound Human’

While Facebook may be the king of branded Pages, LinkedIn has been developing its corporate offering since the launch of Company Pages in November 2010. Within a year, two million companies have created LinkedIn Company Pages.

What Facebook has become to consumer marketing, LinkedIn is for business-to-business. ‘LinkedIn is strictly business, and that’s what makes it such an attractive option for business-to-business marketers.’ And we know that top executives turn to the internet for business-related information more than any other source, even recommendations from colleagues or friends.

So the introduction of more truly social features to LinkedIn’s Company Pages should be a game-changer for the site and for marketers’ ability to bring business-to-business brands to life.
The original Company Pages enabled members to follow, share and see who in their networks was linked to the business or had recommended its products and services. There was careers information and a tab to showcase specific products. The major change in November 2011 – the addition of company status updates – is a major shot in the arm.

As LinkedIn moves more closely to resemble Facebook in pinstripes, it has added familiar engagement tools. Company updates to followers now appear in their profiles. They can Like, Share and Comment – creating what LinkedIn calls a unique conversation with your company. And any interactions can be seen by members’ networks, expanding their reach to a much wider audience. All of which you can keep tabs on and manage through Page Analytics.
For the PR person, these are developments which have significantly increased the importance of LinkedIn within the development and delivery of our social media strategies.
LinkedIn also says that Company Pages present an opportunity to reveal the human side of a company, to see the individuals behind the brand and highlight how people use its products.
This is interesting in the wider context of how companies benefit from their staff’s activities on 

LinkedIn. There are clear benefits to using the Company Page, but every employee is also both ambassador and advocate with every connection and interaction they make across the network.

One of the most memorable of The Cluetrain Manifesto theses is: ‘We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?’

What more natural way to humanise corporate communications than to let people out to play – particularly when there’s a purpose-built playground for them?
The Groups network has a niche for almost any business need – and the facility to start your own if you can’t find what you want – with user-friendly discussion and sharing tools built in. Through 

Answers, members can benefit from the shared knowledge of their network or showcase their own expertise by helping others.
Both allow companies to share the talents of those they employ while also giving people outside the business more direct access to those within. There’s a clear reputational benefit here, as well as demonstrating an understanding of social media best practice, increasing the porosity of the business and enabling it to speak in a genuinely human voice.
How do you make it work either for you or your company? The golden rule of social media engagement applies here: what do you have of value to the community that you can share? As Todd Defren puts it, ‘think random acts of content’.

PR professionals have always been skilled in helping businesses to identify the news/content that they have (or could generate) and then crafting it into something of interest to others. There is a valuable role for us to play in supporting strategic engagement through LinkedIn, both at the corporate and individual level. As well as engaging in our own right, of course.

Finding inspiration is a bit of a struggle as there aren’t many great case studies out there. LinkedIn’s marketing solutions site has plenty of high profile examples of success stories which are a good start. 

The Company Pages for those businesses who were first out of the blocks on launch day – Dell, Microsoft, HP, Volkswagen and Philips – are all also exemplars of what can be achieved.

Where Next for LinkedIn?

By deliberately mirroring ‘real life’ networks, LinkedIn is a simple site for businesspeople to use and its value is immediately clear. Setting up is easy and the social features are familiar to anyone who has used any of the other major networks. LinkedIn wants to help you make the most out of the system and its Learning Center is a real strength, with easy-to-follow guides tailored for everyone from students and job-hunters to companies and journalists.
Gradually adding company-specific facilities and supporting social commerce have increased the importance of the site to business-to-business marketers.
But as I write, Google+ has launched Pages. It looks like a swipe at Facebook, but there’s a real potential threat to LinkedIn. The Circles concept – easily segmenting contacts/friends into multiple groups – enables you to keep social and professional separate but manage them together in a single network. And for businesses it will integrate with Google Docs, Analytics, Search and YouTube for starters.
The real killer may well be Hangouts – a simple, free group video conference facility with masses of applications for everything from project collaboration to face-to-face customer service. So, after a few false starts with social networks, Google is competing strongly in attracting members to Google+ in its early days.
Crystal ball time, then – where could LinkedIn go next?
Video is clearly key to the future of social media and LinkedIn is already offering it as part of company status updates. But an offer which competes with the Hangouts concept would give executives even greater value from using LinkedIn to connect with their network.
LinkedIn is increasingly accessed with mobile devices and here there are clearly opportunities for innovation. For example, adding location-based check-in functionality which enables you to see 

LinkedIn contacts nearby and displays their pictures and profiles – no more remembering a face but not a name at business events. Or how about the ability to scan a conference hall with a LinkedIn-augmented reality app to recognise faces and overlay profile details or show your mutual contacts?
Wherever it goes, it continues to develop its social media and social commerce functionality. To the uninitiated, LinkedIn may look like it lives in the shadow of the cooler consumer kids, but a reach of six million UK professionals (and counting) is a pretty compelling argument to put it centre stage in any business-to-business campaign.



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The Digital Media Strategy Blog: Social media training courses for Linkedin
Social media training courses for Linkedin
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