If you use LinkedIn correctly, it can be a marketing godsend. You can form relationships with hundreds of potential customers and solidify your brand—without spending an arm and a leg. Do it, wrong, however, and you won’t just embarrass yourself; you might actually hurt your company’s—and your own—reputation.
How to do it right? Learn the most common mistakes small business owners make—and what to do about them.
Mistake: Coming on too strong in your profile.
LinkedIn is all about the subtle, soft sell. Promote your product or service too openly on your profile and you’ll be sure to turn people off. “You don’t want to sound like you’re bragging,” says Jill Konrath, a sales expert and CEO of Sellingtobigcompanies.com.
The answer: Get your customers to write as many positive reviews of your company on your profile as possible. If people who use your product or service comment about it, you’ll increase your credibility. Why? It shows that customers are willing to take time out of their busy days to write something nice about your company. “It carries more clout,” says Konrath.
Mistake: Promoting your product or service in a message or a group discussion.
Similarly, just because you’ve connected with someone, doesn’t mean you have permission to start plugging your wares. “It feels like a violation,” says Konrath. That’s also true for group discussions. “People will see right through you,” says Patrick O’Malley, who runs 617-PATRICK Social Media Training and Consulting in Medford, Mass. In fact, according to O’Malley, you can be tagged for spam if you do that too often.
The answer: Before contacting anyone, make sure you understand the number one rule of making connections on LinkedIn: keep it low-key. In group discussions, don’t ask questions or make comments that are obvious sales pitches. Instead, establish yourself as a key expert or resource by providing thoughtful, pithy observations.
Mistake: Failing to highlight the problems you solve for customers in your profile.
Too often, small business owners describe the product or service they sell in their profile, without explaining what the benefits are. Result: you miss the chance to stand out from the crowd.
The answer: Focus on the issues and challenges your company addresses. Examples: “We help customers struggling to increase their sales to tap new markets,” or, “We show companies how to decrease their manufacturing costs.” “You’re talking about results, and that’s what attracts more interest,” says Konrath.
Mistake: Not taking advantage of all the capabilities available.
LinkedIn provides access to a plethora of research and other features that many people aren’t aware of. “They’re things that, quite simply, can give you a leg up on the competition,” says Konrath. “People think of it as a referral network, but there’s a lot more.”
The answer: Find out what LinkedIn has to offer—and use it. Example: Before every first-time meeting with a prospect. Konrath always checks the person’s LinkedIn profile to learn about the individual’s background and interests. It’s information she uses to “create important connections right away that I couldn’t make otherwise,” she says.
Mistake: Joining too many groups.
By taking part in group discussions , you can attract a lot of positive attention. But, join too many and you’ll be spread too thin.
The answer: Focus on two or three that are most likely to provide access to potential customers or partners.
Mistake: Inviting too many people you don’t know.
Do that a lot and you can get in a heap of trouble: you’ll find yourself on a list of violators. Then, if you want to invite somebody to join you, you’ll need to have their email address to do so, according to O’Malley.
The answer: Just don’t do it. Make sure you know your invitees. And be especially careful if you’re inviting a lot of people at one fell swoop. O’Malley, for example, once invited 3,000 people, only to find that several of them were individuals with the same name as contacts he knew. He’s never done that again.