There is so much talk about Facebook and Twitter that conversations often overlook the third most popular—and the most businesslike—social network: LinkedIn.
Based on numbers provided previously by founder Reid Hoffman, there are millions of small business owners using the product. In fact, LinkedIn recently celebrated it’s 100 millionth user.
One of those small business users is Chuck Hester, author of Linking In to Pay it Forward. Hester has nearly 11,000 LinkedIn connections, confirming he knows the subject well. He speaks regularly on how to use LinkedIn for business and he runs a popular series of boot camps to train people on how to effectively use the networking tool.
His love affair with the platform began several years ago, before it was clear that LinkedIn would emerge as the leading online community for job seekers and employers. He was among the first to try landing a job that way back in 2005, when LinkedIn was relatively small and users like me were scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do with it.
“I was looking for a public relations executive position when I connected with Ryan Allis, CEO of iContact," Hester says. "He accepted my invitation to connect on LinkedIn and I responded with a request to meet in person (we are both in the Raleigh/Durham area). When we met, it turned out that his young company was looking for its first Director of PR. I...got the job and worked there for almost five years. I would not have met Ryan had it not been for my networking with him through LinkedIn.”
Hester’s story has been repeated so many times by so many people that it hardly seems newsworthy anymore. But back then, the fact that you could connect online, land a meeting, and then a job stopped people in their tracks.
LinkedIn is an ideal venue for small businesses to find and recruit talent because it simply bypasses any resource constraints, argues Hester.
It’s also great for finding what he calls “the passive candidate”—people who would be great for your organization who are not actively looking for a new job.
“I know of companies that only advertise for jobs on LinkedIn because they can find superior candidates and are able to look at profile information—including recommendations and make a quicker decision," Hester says. "Plus, with more than 100 million registered users, it's a great talent pool."
That 100-million number greatly expands LinkedIn’s potential beyond recruiting and promotion; it has also spurred entrepreneurship on its own.
Rob Shore started a financial services magazine called I Carry The Bag—it was born out of a single moment on LinkedIn. “I read a comment in a group about on-demand magazine publishing and MagCloud. I made an immediate decision to start the magazine. I had zero publishing experience, but I knew one fundamental thing: there had never been a publication dedicated to this niche.”
In a little over a year, Shore has gained over 1,000 readers. The magazine also dovetails nicely with his core consulting business for financial services product distributors, which he stays connected to through his LinkedIn group Wholesaler Masterminds.
Hester believes that LinkedIn is particularly robust for small business needs, but he points to three LinkedIn features that are particularly valuable to small business people:
LinkedIn has thousands of groups—such as Shore’s Masterminds—where a small business owner can meet business contacts. “Take a minute to use the search function of LinkedIn and find groups that are in your industry. Join a few and become active in discussions. Introduce yourself and become part of the community,” he advises.
If it makes sense, a small business person can start his or her own group, using it to interact with customers and business partners, promote best practices and keep up-to-date on relevant news.
2. Status Updates
This feature lets businesses announce what they are up to or promote something about their business. LinkedIn also has a feature that lets announcements simultaneously get announced on Twitter for greater exposure.
3. The Company
This section lets you dynamically profile who you are and what you do. Noted Hester, “You can include a description of your company, add services and product information that can be linked directly to your website. Plus, other LinkedIn members can recommend your company and follow your updates right from this page.”