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Inbound Marketing

My new lead generation-fueled love affair with LinkedIn

June 17, 2009

There was a time—not too long ago—when I firmly believed that LinkedIn was just one big job-seeking and networking love fest. And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know our collective feelings about business people “networking” (in the most traditional and nauseating sense), and that this isn’t something I say fondly.

But recently the tides have changed, and I’ve become somewhat of a LinkedIn junkie. What changed? I discovered how active the community there really is, the quality of the discussions and the incredible amount of traffic and leads it was bringing to our clients. Yep, LinkedIn is an inbound marketing machine. (Did I really just say inbound marketing machine? Oy.) I only wish it hadn’t taken me three years of using it to figure it out.

But first, to clarify, I don’t believe that “So and so sent me a message on LinkedIn and now we’re talkin’ business” qualifies as a case study on using LinkedIn for lead generation. The event must be uniquely limited to the platform at hand, whereas in that example, the same thing could have easily happened over email (or Facebook, or Twitter, or…you get it). Now, if the person got a hold of you on LinkedIn because they happened to see your contribution to a discussion in a group there, or arrived as one of your shared connections, well, that’s another story altogether.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you a few ways we’ve used LinkedIn to generate leads and other business opportunities for ourselves and for clients.

“Answers”
Obviously one of the great (and sometimes, not so great) things about social networks is that people can emerge (or just pose) as experts in their industries. Given a soapbox, many people will use it to spew advice or request it, and that’s exactly what happens in the Answers section on LinkedIn. People in your network post questions-provocative, thought-provoking or purely inquisitive-and other users answer them. Of course, many of these questions can lead to opportunities, whether you present yourself as an expert by starting an engaging conversation, or if you provide someone with a solid answer (or point them toward another source who will offer them that answer) and start the dialogue that way.

We’ve used the Answers section several times to connect our clients with opportunities. For example, we were able to get Bank of America’s Annual Report (produced by our client Story Worldwide) featured in the book The Writer’s Guide to Annual Reports by Robert Roth. We’ve also used it to secure speaking engagements, radio interviews and identify business opportunities.

Still others, as pointed out in an article by Copyblogger, use Answers to identify sources for articles they’re writing, which could mean media coverage for you…especially if you’re in a niche industry where experts are hard for journalists to track down.

Groups
There are thousands of active groups on LinkedIn and I guarantee there are at least a handful that cater to your interests (whether work-related or personal). I currently belong to nine groups, and have elected to get a daily digest (email) of the day’s activity from about five of them since I, like many people, don’t have the time to hang out on LinkedIn all day to see what’s being discussed. These groups and digests are not only a great way to keep up with relevant conversations; they’re a great way to get your conversations out there.

I first realized this when our client at Hunt Big Sales posted a link to his e-book Landing Big Sales with an RFP into one of his active groups. Within two days, he got 300 downloads (or leads) from simply making the book known to this one group. Considering his book requires a registration (albeit a free one), this was a welcome outcome.

Needless to say, when we launched our new e-book last week, we took our audience generation campaign over to our LinkedIn groups (as well as Twitter, Facebook and other outlets). And as expected, 49% of our downloads so far have come from these groups.

The Obvious: Connecting with people you don’t know
There are a few ways to use LinkedIn in the general networking sense. My favorite example of using LinkedIn to generate new business comes from our partners over at Hubspot. Hubspot allows you to collect information about your leads when they download your thought leadership content (such as e-books, research, white papers, etc.). One of their clients noticed that Bank of America* was particularly active on their site, so they headed over to LinkedIn to attempt to make a subtle and professional connect with the person at hand. As it turns out, by simply opening the floor to further conversation by making this connection, the company was able to secure Bank of America as a client. And not just any client—the biggest client in the company’s history.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just begin connecting to people who you want to work with and start pitching/stalking them. It means you should integrate LinkedIn into your overall sales strategy. After all, because of its professional nature, people are more open to talking shop here than they are on, say, Facebook. There’s also something more appealing about receiving a business inquiry over LinkedIn than by email. People, including myself, tend to feel a bit violated when they get a random pitch in their inbox. Email is becoming the 21st century’s cold call…and we all know how popular cold calls are.

Updates & Applications
You’ll hear a lot of people telling you to stick to just one or two social media platforms. Our philosophy is to use as many (or as few) platforms as necessary to connect with the entirety of your audience. Basically, you need to be where your audience is. And if you make that commitment, whether to one platform or several, you need to do it right. On LinkedIn this means taking advantage of their newish applications, such as posting an RSS feed to your company or personal blog, and sharing presentations with slideshare, as well as posting regular updates and making sure to flesh out your profile as much as possible to show your qualifications, etc. You want to make sure that when people do find you and/or connect with you, you offer them as much ammunition as possible to start a dialogue with you. This may not be your first choice in platforms, but if this is the only place you’re going to be found by a certain portion of your target audience, well then, put a little bit of effort into it.

Okay, are you still with me? If so, thanks for reading my coffee-fueled dribble and feel free to connect with me over at LinkedIn

*This example is unrelated to the previous Bank of America example. Just a coincidence…

6 thoughts on “My new lead generation-fueled love affair with LinkedIn”

  1. Hi Gretel,

    Great post! Unfortunately, I’m on the other side of the LinkedIn fence, and wanted to share my thoughts in hope of a good and lively conversation.

    I don’t attempt to use LinkedIn for inbound marketing. Like so many other, er, every social network (eg, “the inherent problem of existing social networks”), there’s an insurmountable amount of noise to try and compete with. However, unlike Twitter or Facebook, where you have control over your first-degree relationships, a LinkedIn group brings mass amounts of anonymous people together who may or may not have any shared interests. In my mind, LinkedIn is a swarm of recruiters, commodity hawkers, and Nigerian scam artists. This is true in Answers and Groups. and in my experience, has lead mostly to either a lot of leads (that were grossly unqualified) or irrelevant content. At the worst, I even had a recruiter call leave a voicemail in my office reminding me to “pull my head out of my ass” for calling him out for selling his wares instead of answering the question.

    Instead, I use LinkedIn for what I’ve found it to be good at – business intelligence. Within a few clicks, I can identify company suspects, qualify them as prospects, and in most instances, find the specific gatekeeper I need to get to. However, for my own sake and integrity, I typically dive a layer or two deeper and try to find more about that contact elsewhere. I’m not a car salesman or a recruiter – I like to forge relationships with people I could have a drink with, not with anyone that has a pulse and “interactive” in their title. Taking this dive into other networks to see what this person is really like allows me to know the person before I meet them, and to me, that’s the greatest value of this social networking thing.

    What are you or your reader’s thoughts? I’d love to hear what everyone has to say.

    All the best,

    Matt Albiniak
    Sr. Account Nerd
    Nerdery Interactive Labs – a division of Sierra Bravo.

  2. Hi Matt,

    I actually agree with you, which is why it took me so long to figure out how to like LinkedIn. It’s definitely like a flea market where you have to really dig for the good stuff, but I’m finding that in a few groups in particular, the majority of the discussions are good stuff. Sure, people are trying to sell themselves, but at least they’re doing it in the form of selling their expertise–blog posts, e-books, etc. that I can learn from.

    As for networking, I’m with you in the keeping-it-real department. However, I must say that there are some people with whom you’ve got to walk on ice. For these people, I think that a LinkedIn connection is often best, although a little behind-the-scenes Twitter stalking action never hurt anyone. 🙂

    Oh–but when it comes to lead generation–LinkedIn has been the number one driver of traffic for us (which is funny considering our personalities are better-suited for more casual sites like, say, Twitter). And I’m really excited about it.

    Okay, I’ll stop yapping but thanks for the comment!

  3. I’d be interested in diving into those analytics to really see what the LinkedIn folks are up to. There’s a campaign that comes to mind (in a former life) where our management went bonkers over the amount of traffic we were getting….then I had to pee in the pool and tell them that that segment had the lowest time on site and lowest goal completion rate. I hate being the buzzkill, but at the same time, I’m not a big supporter of spending time/energy/money on campaigns with minimal ROI.

    BUT – I haven’t found those good group nuggets or responded to many Q&A’s on LinkedIn, so I can’t reasonably make the same generalization as my past experience.

    Either way, keep charging, and I’d love to see a “month in review” of the analytics after the dust settles.

    Cheers!
    -matt

  4. I’m almost done! Avinash Kaushik, chief evangelist for Google Analytics, just posted a link to this free 30 page ebook. He considers it one of the best. If you’ve read his book (Web Analytics an Hour a Day), calling the free book one of the best is quite an accolade.

    http://tr.im/oT6x

    Cheers!
    -matt

  5. Hey Matt,

    I’d be happy to share our analytics. The group that has sent us the most traffic was the BtoB Lead Generation group. It’s full of really interesting articles that I particularly like since we do a lot of lead generation for clients. I doubt that’s up your alley, but for me it’s perfect.

    I’ll check out the ebook as well.

    Talk soon!

  6. Great discussion!

    I am really curious to know how those LinkedIn leads are working for you? Did you get a lot of tire kickers just wanting your free white paper or did they turn into qualified leads? It sounds like a great way to grow your house list for lead nurturing if you have lead automation software set up to support it properly.

    Thanks and I look forward to hearing more about the analysis.

    Carrie Baker
    @cqbaker on Twitter

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