Since its inception in 2002, LinkedIn has developed into the most indispensable online business platform in the world. Successful businesses depend on dynamic networks that yield partnerships, suppliers, customers and business prospects. To take some poetic license, no thriving business operates as an island, and LinkedIn is the preeminent tool for growing a deserted island into a thriving community.
We are all limited by time and space. It is the human condition and it is a major impediment for a business that is looking to scale. We only have 24 hours in a day and can only be in one place at a time. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated this problem as most of the world is hemmed in at home with no possibility of getting on an airplane, attending the annual industry conference and leveraging expo floors, panel discussions and cocktail parties to make connections and drive leads. While nothing can replace personal interactions, LinkedIn is the next best thing as it can enable your businesses to grow without ever leaving your home office.
When I founded my agency as a sole proprietor in 2005 (although I was joined shortly thereafter by my first colleague, Laura Finlayson), I was vexed by the same challenge facing all entrepreneurs. As a founder, I had to balance the need to build a network that could yield lead generation opportunities and sales while also tending to the whims and needs of my existing clientele. It was a classic “guns and butter” scenario. An investment of time and money into attending a trade show in San Francisco would diminish those same resources that could be used to service clients. It was at that point that I started to become active on LinkedIn.
Over the years I have used LinkedIn to engage, converse, partner and sell. I credit LinkedIn for hires, sales and even an acquisition. The results do not occur overnight, and at times it can be a tedious and painstaking exercise, but I could not have built Antenna Group into a nationally recognized B2B integrated marketing and public relations firm without the LinkedIn platform.
Here are three fundamentals that will put you on your way to building a LinkedIn network full of strong, mutually beneficial relationships (LinkedInships).
Be an inch deep, not a mile wide
As in real life, sincerity is the key to building genuine, lasting relationships. We all recognize that LinkedIn is built to encourage and enable professionals to transact, but sincerity and business agendas do not have to be mutually exclusive. For example, a thoughtful note that incorporates a shared interest in a service area or industry conversation is more likely to break through than a piece of anodyne content that is relevant to many but unique to none.
A thoughtful note that incorporates a shared interest in a service area or industry conversation is more likely to break through than a piece of anodyne content that is relevant to many but unique to none.
Personalization is all the rage but what gets lost in that fad is its definition. Personalization is not a mass email that is addressed to a specific person with a specific title. Rather, it is a note and piece of content that is a result of research into a person’s background and areas of mutual interest. My most successful LinkedInships have resulted from virtual social behaviors that mimic personal interactions. My LinkedIn networks grew as soon as I internalized that as my guiding principle.
Make sure that your content projects your voice
A few years ago, I identified an executive decision maker at a company that I desperately wanted as an Antenna Group client. At first, I attempted to grab her attention via likes and reshares of her content, followed by a note identifying myself and my ask (which was an introductory phone call). Her silence was deafening.
Content and engagement are vehicles to LinkedInships, but they need a driver. Breakthroughs happen when the respondent gets to know the driver––the person behind the posts, comments and likes.
Soon afterwards, I published a blog post on a topic that was completely unrelated to this particular executive. I did not send the link to her nor did I hashtag relevant keywords to her service area or industry. Much to my surprise, however, I received a note from her with a follow-up question to the blog post. Thus began a relationship that never resulted in a business opportunity with her company but did give her the confidence to make introductions that did yield new business. During one conversation she mentioned that she finally responded to me because the blog post gave her the opportunity to know me.
In the absence of a warm introduction, projecting your voice through content is the ONLY way for people to spark a conversation. Content and engagement are vehicles to LinkedInships, but they need a driver. Breakthroughs happen when the respondent gets to know the driver––the person behind the posts, comments and likes.
Have a mutually beneficial agenda
LinkedIn did not invent networks. In fact, its growth was in part due to the input of network scientists (yes, that’s a thing). While the building blocks of networks are characterized by nodes and edges, the glue that binds the network edifice is common interest.
Imagine a New York restaurateur attending a local pipefitter’s trade show in Albuquerque. The chances of making meaningful connections at the trade show is negligible because of the lack of common background, interests and agenda. You are neither a prospective customer or partner and are therefore bereft of a binding agent that would make the relationship stick.
There are many commonalities that build networks: family, sports teams, hobbies, geographies to name just a few. The common denominator is always a shared interest and the possibility for reciprocal value. Building a network of LinkedInships is no different. Engaging a person without thought to commonalities or a mutually beneficial agenda transforms your target from a person to just a LinkedIn profile.
I learned this lesson from personal experience. A number of years ago I set out to acquire an agency that would complement Antenna Group in a number of strategic areas. Using Google and LinkedIn searches, I quickly identified a dozen possible targets and commenced LinkedIn outreach to engage those agency owners. I assumed that I was in the driver’s seat since, as the acquirer, I had something to offer these agency owners. My messages and InMails reflected this myopia and as you can probably guess, my response rate was zero.
I finally decided to show a successful investment banker friend who pointed out that I had done nothing to highlight the reasons that an acquisition would benefit the company being acquired. What were their pain points that could be fixed with an acquisition? What were the synergies that my firm offered which would unleash their growth? Where did the agency owner fit into the organizational structure?
There are many commonalities that build networks: family, sports teams, hobbies, geographies to name just a few. The common denominator is always a shared interest and the possibility for reciprocal value. Building a network of LinkedInships is no different.
Responding to my friend’s advice, I modified my introductory messages. Within a day, I had received six responses, and five months later I was fortunate to close an acquisition which became a major driver of Antenna Group’s growth trajectory.
With in-person networking opportunities cancelled, and potential leads and partners working from home offices, there’s no better time to deploy new marketing habits. Used correctly, LinkedIn can not only supplement, but drive your sales and marketing efforts. An investment of time and resources into LinkedIn will yield results during these turbulent times and beyond.