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Today we will be looking at the benefits of the LinkedIn for businesses. LinkedIn is a social network for businesses and professionals. Despite being a year older than Facebook, the website is less well known than other social networking sites.

Fame and media attention are not everything though, because LinkedIn pushes all the buttons professionals and companies need in a social network. This is why all the executives of the Fortune 500 count themselves as LinkedIn members. This is also, why LinkedIn has been profitable since 2006 and was floated as a public company in 2011.

The website was founded in 2002 and launched in spring, 2003. IT was founded by Reid Hoffman. Hoffman began his career at Apple and Fujitsu after graduating from Stanford and Oxford universities in the 1990s. He was a member of the founding board of American financial transaction website PayPal and along with several other members, founded LinkedIn after PayPal was acquired by eBay in 2002.

LinkedIn grew steadily, but not at the fast rate seen in more youth and social orientated networks such as Facebook, but nor did it crash and burn like MySpace or stagnate like Friendster. Its major growth has been more recent as it reached 50 million users in 2009, 70 in 2010 and 100 million in 2011. The current number of users is 187 million.

LinkedIn members are fairly spread around the world with the largest group being Americans. Approximately one in six Americans is a member of LinkedIn. The same proportion of Brits are also members. The majority of users are men between the age of 24 and 54. According to statistics, approximately 33% of users access the website at least once a month. In 2011, there were approximately 4 billion people searches on the website.

As well as allowing individuals to join LinkedIn, the network allows various companies to register themselves as members. The most popular sectors or industries from which the companies come foorm are hi-tech, manufacturing and finance.

These companies can also be broken down by their size. There are many large companies involved in LinkedIn as well as smaller ones.

Vincenzo Cosenza’s infographics demonstrate the growing reach of LinkedIn. The website has become a site where professionals can find work, find employees, connect with likeminded people in the same or related sectors and to pool resources.

[heading color=”black”]Business Tools[/heading]

Members of LinkedIn have a number of tools at their disposal, which if employed correctly make the site good for business. These cover brand awareness, marketing, customer interaction and general business activities.

Business Pages

By creating a business page with LinkedIn, companies are developing their brand awareness. On many social networking sites like Facebook this is a simple case of self-advertising, maybe a little social interaction, but is really just aimed at gathering ‘likes.’

As LinkedIn is developed in the direction of helping businesses, it has created a range of tools and options for businesses. Many of these are outlined below.

Brand Building

Perhaps the most important one of all, is brand building. Such is the power of LinkedIn, if you have a company page on the social network; it is likely to be towards the top of the first page of any Google, Yahoo! Alternatively, Bing search related to your company. This means at a stroke, a well set out profile will enhance your company’s visibility online.

It is very important for companies to promote themselves. As well as marketing and advertising (see below), companies want to get their message out to the general public. Status updates allow you to release news, snippets, previews and much more to all your staff and followers in real time. This saves you time and money having to pay for press releases or news spots. There are a number of tech savvy news sites out there that specialize in finding company updates on LinkedIn and spinning them into stories.

Having a slick profile is one thing, but LinkedIn has several tools that allow users to prove their quality. The first is a recommendation system where users can give an appraisal of a person or company. The second is the Answer! system. Any user can answer questions on a variety of topics, but if a company specializing in a certain field answers all questions in that field and answers them well, then users will be alerted to the quality and knowledge of that company.

Recruitment

According to Bersin & Associates, the average cost of hiring a new employee in the United States is $3,500 USD. The cost is high for small companies and relatively cheaper for larger ones.

The traditional costs involved with hiring an employee include hiring recruitment firms and headhunters, job advertising costs on job boards and in newspapers, and arranging interviews.

The main advantage of using a website such as LinkedIn is that professional networking sites vastly reduce costs. This is especially true for small and medium sized companies trying to keep their overheads down.

LinkedIn makes use of sourcing tools to sift through the available employee pool in order to find the best people for the job. Such filtering tools are relatively new, but are developing all the time. Of course, recruitment is not necessarily a free thing on LinkedIn, but it is far better value for money than hiring an outside agency to do the work for you. LinkedIn’s model for recruitment appears to be the way forward.

Teamwork

A business has a LinkedIn profile of its own. You have a personal profile, so do your employees and any contractors. LinkedIn allows you to draw these resources together by linking colleagues together, by making them feel part of a group or a team, so they can bounce ideas off one another via the network. It also allows them to identify with the company they work with. Another advantage is that LinkedIn allows you to produce adverts to place on your employee’s profile pages.

Your in-team network has another advantage. By linking together your workers and networking them through your brand, you can scout their friends and contacts. This means you can find out which of your employee’s friends are suitable for your company. This is worked through LinkedIn’s referral engine system.

LinkedIn also offers a pipeline system that helps organize your and your employee’s workflow and project folders. You can set up reminders, synchronize team activities and more.

Client Acquisition

In addition to finding new recruits, LinkedIn offers a platform to find new clients, customers, and services. This service works in two ways. First, if you have a service that needs doing for your company, which can range from hiring an advertising company to finding a website or graphics developer, you can look through various freelancers and companies.

This works in much the same way you might scout potential employees. All companies, like yours are publically listed on the website. These are subdivided by industries and services. You can look at their profile pages, the quality of their employees and scout their former clients in order to decide if they are right company for you.

By the same token, if your company provides services to other companies then you can look for new potential clients in the same manner. You will know the kind of clients you can work for. For example, you might be restricted by locality if you are a courier firm or if you provide certain types of training, or you could be a manufacturer or developer attuned to certain types of larger companies.

Market Research & Interaction

Interactivity is the buzzword of the last few years, and it looks set to gain in importance over the next decade. Shopper’s tastes are changing and consumers do not want to be a doe-like shopper at some faceless corporation. By using professional sites like LinkedIn, you can begin to address this problem.

LinkedIn offers a range of tools for helping to build your brand and to encourage interactivity. Firstly, your company will list its employees. This helps put faces to your activities and potentially allows customers to interact with workers.

You also have the ability to great an interest group. This group could be named after your company or could be related to it. You can also as a company or as a group leader organize questions, polls and get customer feedback on specific products or services before they go mainstream or when you are in the developmental stage. These interactions can be further augmented by using videos and photos, by including links to your homepage or by linking your business profile to your official Twitter feed and other social networks.

Advertising and Marketing

LinkedIn offers a broad range of advertising and marketing options. These range from traditional ads, to ads that generate costs per click, are timed or targeted to certain sectors. These are run not based on specific contracts, but rolling deals that can be stopped at any time you wish.

Rather than being targeted almost randomly as with other social networks, LinkedIn is designed so that you can reach your core audience. You can target people in specific industries, with specific core data such as age and gender, by the groups they are members of and even by their job titles.

LinkedIn Facts

  • As of September 30, 2012, LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 187 million members in over 200 countries and territories.
  • Sixty-three percent of LinkedIn members are located outside of the United States, as of September 30, 2012.
  • LinkedIn members did nearly 4.2 billion professionally-oriented searches on the platform in 2011 and are on pace to surpass 5.3 billion in 2012.
  • Headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., LinkedIn also has U.S. offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Omaha and San Francisco. International LinkedIn offices are located in Amsterdam, Bangalore, Delhi, Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong, London, Madrid, Melbourne, Milan, Mumbai, Munich, Paris, Perth, São Paulo, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto.
  • The company’s management team is comprised of seasoned executives from companies like Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, TiVo, PayPal and Electronic Arts. The CEO of LinkedIn is Jeff Weiner.
  • LinkedIn is currently available in nineteen languages: English, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.
  • As of September 30, 2012, LinkedIn has 3,177 full-time employees located around the world. LinkedIn started off 2012 with about 2,100 full-time employees worldwide, up from around 1,000 at the beginning of 2011 and about 500 at the beginning of 2010.

[heading color=”black”]Success Stories[/heading]

It is one thing to talk up the impact a website or business could have. It is also one thing to say what tools and services are available. However, how much can be truly known from these lists? Therefore, it is important to consider LinkedIn’s impact on a number of companies.

Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard has a specialized social media team. The aim of this team was to create a network of advocates to promote HP products, engage customers and fans, support HP customers and to improve business via sales and reduced costs.

They began their LinkedIn connection after the social network approached them about creating a HP business page. HP’s Worldwide Social Media Manager, Kari Homan described the rapid growth of HP’s fanbase and community as surprising. The next step for the company was to decide if they should use LinkedIn’s Recommendation Adverts to augment their fanbase. This is the difference that they experienced:

Inside two weeks, the HP ad campaign created 2,000 recommendations by LinkedIn professionals. This in turn led to 500,000 viral updates and traffic to HP’s products. By the end of the month HP had accrued and extra 20,000 followers on the website.

Chevron

Chevron’s problem was that it wanted to connect to energy leaders they had previously found hard to reach. They also wanted to encourage and develop dialogue about complex issues in their industry and to engage with opinion and policy makers.

They decided to create a Chevron Custom Group on LinkedIn. This group would target policymakers, NGOs, academics, plus industry, media and financial professionals. This scouting policy would be backed up with targeted LinkedIn ads and Partner Messaging.

Chevron chose LinkedIn because of its high quality audience, precise targeting capability and its ability to generate respectful and professional group interaction.

As a result of their decision, Chevron was able to exceed its campaign goals by 41%. This included doubling its membership because of peer recommendations, a user repeat visit rate of 90%, 87% readership levels for discussions and a 92% readership level for digests.

Volkswagen India

Volkswagen India, on the other hand, wanted to develop its brand awareness amongst professionals in India. This included building loyalty and aspiration, and influencing decision-making in the company. India is home to 9 million+ LinkedIn professional users and is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors outside of America.

The company’s solution to its challenge was to a VW-branded company page on LinkedIn. This page would allow users to recommend things such as their favourite VW models. This would be supplemented with LinkedIn recommendation ads; much in the same was as HP, to extend the company’s reach.

VW choose LinkedIn because it believed the social network to be the best for career-minded professionals. It, like Chevron, was also seduced by the site’s ability to accurately target specific groups of people. It also believed that the site was affordable and could be linked to VW dealership locations.

As a result of working with LinkedIn to create a brand page and to use targeted adverts, VW received 2,700 product recommendations in the first 30 days. This also led to 2,300 new users on the VW company page and 960,000 viral updates about VW car models.

Conclusion

As this article demonstrates, it is possible to set specific business goals and achieve them on LinkedIn. While social networks such as Facebook open you to a wider number of people from a wider range of backgrounds, LinkedIn is more focused on the kinds of people who will make you more effective as a business or who are interested in buying your products.

The website has a wide range of tools. This reader was designed to give you a glimpse of what is out there for you on LinkedIn. You have seen the statistics that prove why LinkedIn is so important to professional businesses, you have seen a little of what tools are available, and the direct benefits the site has been to three well-known businesses. Now it is time for you to learn how to do all these things.

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