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Linking In

Mar 17, 2010 12:00 PM, By Don Kreski

How you can take advantage of the largest business networking site.

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LinkedIn can be a good way to expand your business network, but it is important to understand that the site works in a subtle, indirect way. The site is more about networking than direct sales opportunities.

LinkedIn can be a good way to expand your business network, but it is important to understand that the site works in a subtle, indirect way. The site is more about networking than direct sales opportunities.

"It's interesting," an old friend and AV marketing manager recently said to me, "several of our manufacturers have told us what amazing success their dealers all over the country are having with social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. I struggle with that claim because I haven't spoken with any dealers who are having amazing success."

The comment struck a chord. I too have been trying to figure out how I can use LinkedIn and perhaps the other networking sites to bring new business to myself and my clients.

My friend, Tony Cascio, director of business development at St. Charles, Ill.-based integrator MediaTech Intelligent Home Systems, says he has done many of the things that I've done. He set up a personal profile. He's reached out and connected to a number of friends and business contacts. He's joined some groups and discussions. Recently, he set up a LinkedIn group for his company, and he's talking to people he knows and asking them how they're using the site.

What Cascio has learned is that you can, indeed, use LinkedIn to grow your client base, but the way it works is subtle. Daniel Newman, executive vice president at United Visual of Itasca, Ill., puts it nicely: "It's the old adage of not what you know but who you know. We all tend to have very broad networks of people we've met throughout our careers, but we don't maximize the potential of those networks. It's not that there's necessarily a lot of reciprocal business coming from these contacts, but when we need something, we usually know someone who can help.

"For example," Newman says, "when I need qualified candidates for a position I'm trying to fill, when I'm looking for a new supplier or for an introduction to a potential customer, if I know someone who might help, I'll give that person a call." LinkedIn facilitates that kind of networking. It's not so much a direct sales or marketing opportunity, but a powerful indirect one.

A research tool

Newman says one of the biggest values of LinkedIn is its ability to help reach decision makers within new accounts. "Think about how hard it might be to find an IT director at a large corporation that you want to do business with. In the past, you would cold call that company, probably talk to a secretary, and hope she's willing to tell you who the IT manager is. But now I can go to LinkedIn, very often find the person I'm looking for, and then connect to him directly through a group that we both belong to or ask a mutual connection to introduce me. At the very least, I can send his profile to someone on my team and say, 'You should get in touch with this person.'"

One of LinkedIn's best features is the ability to form or join discussion groups on almost any topic.

Betsy Jaffe, director of public relations for InfoComm International, has joined several groups built around specific publications, such as one for the readers of Architect magazine, as well as PR and association-related groups. "I tend to join these groups because I want to see what their members are talking about," she says. "I may also join a group if I'm looking for a vendor in a particular area because I can ask for advice and 'listen in' on discussions."

Many people use LinkedIn as a huge contacts database. For that reason, recruiter Dan Brockman says he generally keeps LinkedIn open on his desktop. "When someone calls me," he says, "I may not recognize the name, but in a couple of minutes I can usually find out who it is I'm talking to and what their potential interest might be in talking to me."

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