How to Build a LinkedIn Audience for Inbound Marketing

The next chapter in our “Ultimate Guide to Using Social Media for Inbound Marketing” series tackles LinkedIn, the self-proclaimed “professional social network.” We will delve into best practices for getting started with LinkedIn profiles, groups, connections and long-form publishing, all of which are extremely powerful for inbound marketing purposes.

Inbound Marketing With LinkedIn

This is the second installation in our in-depth social media series, so if you haven't yet done so, it may make sense for you to read the introduction, which explains the guiding inbound marketing principles at play across all social channels, and the first channel-specific article, which will help you to get started on Facebook.

What Makes LinkedIn Different

When considering LinkedIn's place in your social presence overall, keep in mind that 79% of LinkedIn users are 35 or more years of age. Therefore, even though it’s the world’s second most popular social media platform, if you’re targeting a younger crowd, you may be better off focusing on Snapchat and Facebook.

Affluent, older folks, however, are all over LinkedIn. Some 38% of internet users earning over $75K and 50% of all American college grads are active on the platform. The most predominant industries represented on LinkedIn are tech, finance and manufacturing. Oddly, the legal sector comprises an exceptionally meager percentage, which, if you're targeting lawyers, may represent a major opportunity, as there will likely be little competition, or might mean you're better off focusing elsewhere.

The real draw that pulls marketers towards LinkedIn, though, is that it's the only mainstream social platform to specialize in business networking. It also happens to be social media's top performer for procuring leads. The only major drawback is that by its very nature, B2B marketing involves less dynamic, rapid, lively discussion than B2C-oriented social media activity. However, for many, that's a plus, as it means you can be reasonably active on LinkedIn and only need to log in a few times each week – not too heavy of a commitment.

These patterns are evident in the network's usage metrics. Only 13% of LinkedIn users sign in daily – they’re looking, but not all day long, like they do on Facebook. People utilize the platform to research potential partners and vendors, find employment, discover relevant trade-themed content, stay up to date on industry trends and occasionally network with one another. These are activities that people need periodically, not daily, and that's why you're going need to think about your LinkedIn presence differently from your other social presences.

LinkedIn Profile Optimization

Before you get started with posting updates, joining groups and publishing, ensure that your personal and company profiles look professional, complete and feature quality headshots. No wedding pictures, no beach shots and nothing featuring you amongst a group. Use keywords liberally in your profile, so those who are searching for information about your field can find you.

One of the advantages to LinkedIn over other platforms is it allows you to share presentations, photos, videos, links and PDFs in your profile. This feature is known as your “Professional Portfolio,” and it can set your profile apart by making it more immersive – it's also a great opportunity to drive relevant traffic back to your owned properties.

Company Pages and Showcase Pages operate extremely differently from personal profiles, but they can all be leveraged in tandem with one another for maximum impact once you get a feel for how LinkedIn interaction goes.

Jump-Stating Your LinkedIn Following

Next, it’s time to build connections. Start by giving LinkedIn permission to sync with your email accounts, so you can automatically find all of your off-network contacts here too. There are some other interesting hacks that you might find effective for these purposes as well.

Whereas LinkedIn used to be more "closed," with users encouraged to only connect with those we truly know offline, in recent years, the platform has become more useful as a content distribution channel. As a result, many inbound marketing thought leaders have begun recommending that we think of LinkedIn less as a peer-to-peer network and more as a broadcasting platform.

As you start to become more active here (we'll further delve into the nitty gritty below), you're likely to run across profiles of people with whom you want to connect, despite having little to no familiarity with them off of LinkedIn. These are the people to whom you want to reach out individually and form deeper relationships, either because they're influencers who can boost your own reach or because they're prospective clients. When issuing connect requests to these people, try to avoid using the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” template provided, since without a personalized message, your invitation is far more ignorable.

Making Connections with Strangers

Be aware that you may not always have the ability to edit your invitation. When using a mobile device or tablet, and when browsing grids of recommended contacts, the option may not be presented. In this case, wait until you have access to your laptop or desktop to connect with a new person. Yes, invitation customization is that important. A good rule of thumb is to always go to the person’s profile and send the invitation from the “connect” button on the profile, rather from any other possible link.

You can write a winning LinkedIn invitation in just a few sentences. Be sure to include how you know this person and identify any commonalities (you attended the same university, you’re from the same hometown, etc). As long as you remain honest and enthusiastic, connecting can be quick, personalized and effective. Keep in mind when connecting, however, that if you invite too many people who aren’t familiar with you, you may be penalized. Don't be surprised if you run into this notification:

A “restriction” (basically a hold on your account) is what happens when you violate the LinkedIn user agreement by “spamming” invitations to those who don’t know you. While a restriction can be lifted once, LinkedIn will not give you so many more chances.

Getting Started on Groups

Once your profile is complete and you've got a solid baseline of connections, it’s time to begin joining (and becoming active in) groups. LinkedIn is home to some 2.1 million industry-themed and interest-specific groups. Go where your clients and potential clients already are. Professionals gather around topical discussions on LinkedIn, so a few searches will lead you to your best options. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll find both closed groups and open groups. Closed groups require administrative approval prior to admittance, while open groups do not.

When determining whether a specific group might be useful to you, considering not only the number of members but also the group’s activity. Although a group may have upwards of 20,000 members, if the last thing posted or discussed was over a month ago, it’s not an active group and therefore will likely not prove useful. On the other hand, it may be easier for you to make a big splash in smaller or less vibrant groups, so start off experimenting and see what works.

Once you’re in a group, you can begin posting your own contributions and participating in conversations on topics of interest. Discussions are the lifeblood of LinkedIn groups, as they provide frameworks for sharing relevant resources and wisdom. Becoming involved in discussions is the perfect way to build your authority and expertise in your space, which is, after all, what inbound marketing is all about.

The more discussions you start or contribute to, the more likely you are to be viewed as an authority, and the more credibility you’ll earn. This earned standing is extremely beneficial when reaching out to establish a new connection, as everyone wants to be connected with those who are influential, “in the know” or thought leaders.

Be careful, however, not to start discussions for the sole purpose of self-promotion. Many LinkedIn groups are tightly moderated, and any discussions or comments deemed irrelevant or overly sales-y will be removed. If your posts get flagged too many times, your profile may even be disabled – beware of LinkedIn's "SWAM" (site-wide automated moderation) policies.

The Pulse of LinkedIn

The final piece of the LinkedIn puzzle – for beginners, anyway – is publishing original long-form content. Over the past couple of years, LinkedIn has evolved into a major publishing hub that's open to all users. They opened the LinkedIn Publishing Platform to the general public in January, in an attempt to become a “definitive professional publishing platform.” Today, LinkdedIn-hosted articles receive seven times more views than job-related updates.

Since four out of five LinkedIn users influence or make purchasing decisions, LinkedIn has positioned itself as a highly effective content marketing tool. In addition to huge exposure, articles published on LinkedIn also generate high results in Google search rankings. Because your articles can be set to aggregate on your profile page, they also enhance your personal branding. Considering it’s one of the longest standing and most trusted social platforms, other users are more likely to have confidence in the opinions, viewpoints and content published here.

Start Prospecting Among the Pros

Once you've mastered these basics, you'll be ready to delve into some more advanced tactics, like leveraging the advanced search features available to premium accounts, reaching out to people via the "Who's Viewed Your Profile" module, and maximizing opportunities afforded by "employee advocacy," which LinkedIn is perfect for.

Ultimately, LinkedIn is a popular business prospecting platform for good reason. Business to Consumer (B2C) vendors flourish here because those responsible for procurement expect to be engaged on LinkedIn, while B2B is LinkedIn's lifeblood. The publishing feature has positioned the entire platform as an excellent tool for both building influence and broadcasting your message.

A successful, engaged, consistent LinkedIn presence is likely to emerge as a top-performing component of your inbound activity on social media.

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