As one of the web's "big three" social networks, along with Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn has grabbed its slice of the limelight as the space where professionals strategize their next career move. But that's an unnecessarily limiting way to view this powerhouse network. Over the last few years, LinkedIn has introduced myriad tools -- some free, some paid -- to help small businesses drive word of mouth about their brand. Here are just a few ways you can get started.
Increase your visibility with a company page
If you look at LinkedIn's users as potential customers, employees and business partners, it becomes clear the networking site is a grand stage on which to tell your brand story. There's no easier way to start than to create a company page. This profile offers you a central hub to provide an overview of your business, showcase products and services and attract new talent. Facebook like features allow you to build a following and engage with customers directly through status updates and content sharing. There's even an analytics feature that gives insight into your audience and your page's effectiveness.
Generate new leads
With 150 million members, LinkedIn is the Internet's largest business mixer, and you should work it as such. Assess the room to identify a few key players in your industry and either have one of your connections introduce you or approach them directly. Find the LinkedIn group discussions where your audience is active and join the conversation. And you wouldn't dream of attending a networking event without a stack of business cards; make sure your profile is current and complete -- you never know when a lead may approach you.
The same methods you use to find new business also apply to finding your next star employee. Every savvy job seeker understands the adage "It's not who you know, it's who who you know knows," and it applies to the talent recruiter as well. Build a strong, well-rounded network of people both inside and outside your industry and tap into it for recommendations. Uncover candidates by joining Q&As and groups that are relevant to the position you want to fill. If you have a company page, post openings there to attract active job seekers. Remember this will likely be their introduction to your business, make sure the content on your page accurately reflects your company culture to lure the best fit for your position.
Promote your expertise
LinkedIn Answers is a fantastic medium through which to show off your expertise and build trust in your brand. Demonstrate your knowledge by finding a question related to your field and sharing your insights. You'll expand your visibility beyond your connections, and potential customers will find your answer through LinkedIn's Advanced Search. Any answers you provide are also posted to your profile and as a network update on your connections' homepages. Each time a member picks your answer as the "best," you earn a point of expertise. The more points you earn in a specific category, the higher you rank in that category's expert list.
Your competitors are already leveraging LinkedIn in some or all the ways mentioned above. Take advantage of this to stay on top of whom they're hiring, what executives are leaving, what new ventures they're involved in and what their customer sentiment is like. This is a unique opportunity to get data that could help your business gain a competitive edge.
Is your business using LinkedIn? Tell us how you're making the social network work for your company in the comments.