For a lot of B2B marketers, LinkedIn represents a bit of a missed opportunity.
"Perhaps it's the curse of being there first," says Mike O'Toole, president and partner of Cambridge, MA-based PJA Advertising and Marketing. "We've all grown to think of LinkedIn as a contact manager, something we'd use for recruitment but not necessarily marketing."
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube may be flashier and get all the attention, but LinkedIn does deserve serious consideration from B2B firms looking to build relationships.
"Many people think of LinkedIn as a one-note place just to create groups, but it is an excellent place to reach your audience across the entire buying cycle, from awareness to purchase decision and beyond," says O'Toole.
A hesitancy to try something new isn't surprising in B2B, he notes. "Business marketers are more risk adverse and can be slower to adapt. But the longer buying cycle and consideration process makes social media an ideal way to share information."
How can you make the most of LinkedIn to build your business's social profile—and your bottom line?
1. Don't spend a lot of effort trying to drive people to your LinkedIn presence.
Rather than creating links to drive prospects to LinkedIn from other places, Matt Magee, vice president of digital at PJA, says a better tactic is to drive audiences already engaged on LinkedIn off to other sites.
"For our clients, the issue isn't driving people who are visiting their website to their LinkedIn page," he says. "They don't need to create another destination. There's more value in driving the audience already active on LinkedIn off to other sites."
2. Target users by interest and geography.
"LinkedIn has matured as a paid media channel," says Magee. "You can leverage its power as a community with deep—and accurate—social profiles, and match them to paid ads you can buy and match to targeted eyeballs, based on information like title or geographic location."
B2B marketers should take advantage of the ability on LinkedIn to target users by their geographic location, job title or specialty when buying advertising on the site, he notes.
3. Not everyone belongs in the same group.
Forming groups on LinkedIn is a great way to connect with different segments of your prospect and customer base.
One client, enterprise application provider Infor, created a group called Infornation where clients could learn about different software topics. "While it isn't a product specific group, there's a lot of engagement there relating to their product offering," says Magee.
Harvard Business School of Executive Education is another great example of a B2B marketer that has invested well in LinkedIn, says O'Toole, noting that they've marketed their programs effectively by creating two distinct groups on the site, one for "friends" with an affinity for the school, and another for alumnus. Both groups receive targeted content about courses, and can be mined for market research purposes.
4. Don't be an absentee landlord.
Of course, as with any social media outpost, you can't just expect to start something and forget it. "You need the human investment and someone committed to originate conversations and comment on posts," says O'Toole. "You must show by example that you're moderating an engaged discussion."
Consider setting rules for your groups, and moderating discussions as necessary, he adds. "Some people still try to heavily self promote themselves, and that can get boring very quickly."
PJA itself uses LinkedIn for business development. "Our LinkedIn group is an interesting lab for us," O'Toole notes. "When we ourselves are active, discussions are fertile. But when we're not, they come to a halt."