Self-Taught MBA: Getting Intimate with Social Marketing
In my last article, I discussed Facebook and how you can easily set up a page that acts as a dynamic extension of, or even a replacement for, your company’s website. Facebook works great when you’re trying to reach consumers, but for professional outreach I recommend LinkedIn. It works for anyone needing to build a professional network within the industry, especially for subcontractors who want to engage with contractors and developers in business-to-business dialog.
Unlike Facebook, which has nearly a billion members who use the site for personal reasons primarily but also for commerce, LinkedIn has an exclusive professional focus. Over 160 million people use the service, but its power does not derive from a large user base alone. Instead, it’s built on the ability to reach targeted segments. Consider that a great majority (72%) of LinkedIn users are aged 25 to 54 (people in their prime working years) and that every CEO of a Fortune 500 company has a profile. LinkedIn is also used by a lot of men, which–perhaps to the detriment of our industry–remains the chief demographic in the construction business.
The specific purpose of LinkedIn is to connect businesses for collaborations. Many people also use the site to post professional profiles and resumes, which are searchable by potential employers. To create a business page, you need a business email address connected to a business website, something like “Burt@BestBuilder.com.” This is good and bad: it means that nobody can create a false page for your business, but also that you cannot use LinkedIn to develop a quasi-website, as you can with Facebook.
You may not want a business page anyway. You may simply want to post your individual profile and personalize your LinkedIn interactions, as the site provides great opportunities for networking within the industry, both locally and nationally. Users typically want to know more about you than your company, your expertise, your industry associations, and your work history. This information serves to qualify your opinions and potential fit as a service provider or partner. Your profile can include a picture (which I strongly recommend), your present position, a brief write-up of your qualifications and experience, and as much detail as you want from your resume. It’s easy to set up; when you go to the LinkedIn website, click on “Join Now” (don’t worry, it’s free), and follow the prompts.
If you have a website, one way to promote your company is to create a business account with a very brief description of the services you offer and then have your key employees link their personal profiles with your business. They would then appear under your business banner for potential clients to review and contact.
The social side of LinkedIn
Although created for businesspeople, LinkedIn is used more for individual professional use than business promotion. Once your personal profile is up, you can begin networking immediately by joining LinkedIn groups in your area of interest. For example, I am a member of several groups, including Home Building Professionals, Construction Owners, Construction Writers, and Green Building Advisor. Moderators and members post to these groups, engaging in conversations, sharing industry news, and asking questions. You can become well-known among these groups of industry contacts by remaining active in discussions. People can reply to your posts publicly or send you private emails. It works a lot like joining your local trade organization, except that you don’t pay dues and never have to eat rubber chicken.
This is not to knock involvement in local industry groups, such as Homebuilders or the Remodelers Council, which remains essential to establishing yourself as a credible business in the community. As an adjunct, however, LinkedIn can work wonders. If you wanted to target specific individuals or sectors within your community, say local planners or the head of a specific construction company, you might look up their profiles in LinkedIn, see what groups they are active in, and then join those groups.
By participating actively in groups that include people with whom you want to develop a rapport, you can engage these people without cold calling or seeming pushy. You can learn about them and their business interests and accomplishments, so that when you do interact in person, you have an easy lead-in to conversation and an impressive level of knowledge about their background. If you contribute good comments and constructive opinions, don’t be surprised when you meet face to face that your target client already knows a lot about you, too. This personal connection provides a stronger basis for commerce than advertisements, marketing, or even public relations efforts. LinkedIn is a sophisticated weapon in the arsenal of savvy guerrilla marketers.
As an example, here's my LinkedIn profile. You can see that it has a picture, my position, and some brief background. Farther down, you can find even more detail, including the groups I have joined. On the right-hand side, you can see the number of contacts I've established over the years. These groups and contacts provide both a forum and a rolodex.