Friday, March 4, 2011

Maximizing LinkedIn for Your Company: Three Questions Answered

Last year, it was my pleasure to be invited to write a post on Good Practices for Maximizing Linkedin as a personal Professional Development platform on Shelly Kramer's V3 blog.

This year, I have been asked to consider how a Company can use LinkedIn for development, beyond HR using it to look at candidates.  Here are the answers to the top three questions I've received.

1) Why Should My Company Be on LinkedIn? 

LinkedIn was designed with individual Professional Development in mind, but there are a number of reasons why you want your company there:

Search Engine Visibility is considerably increased when you and your employees are on LinkedIn. For instance, searching on my name brings up my LinkedIn profile first, although there are other platforms on which I have been active much longer. LinkedIn is a powerful force for visability.

Corporate Presence in Social Media - Not every business is right for a blog, or a Facebook page. You may not be able to reach out to clients on Twitter, especially if you work in an externally regulated industry. By having a coherent LinkedIn presence, you can show that your company is not opposed to Social Media or behind the curve. You understand the need for Social Media, even - especially - at the corporate level. LinkedIn keeps it Professional.

Highlight Employee Expertise - This is your best weapon in Social Media and no less on LinkedIn. The Answers forums give your employees a chance to apply their experience and skills to a variety of business-to-business situations. They can learn from competitors and peers, just as they might at an industry meeting. And they will have a chance to show off the same expertise that they apply for your company. When your employees actively, intelligently participate on LinkedIn, it shows the world that your company has it together.

Professional Credentials and Recommendations - Groups on LinkedIn can highlight professional associations, credentialed institutions or affiliations that your employees - and therefore your company - are aligned with. Recommendations are another way for your employees to bring their A-game to a publicly visible space. When your top producer has fistfuls of recommendations from clients, it says something important about them and about your company.

2) What if my employees are reluctant to embrace LinkedIn?

One of the concerns that employees often express in regards to professional use of Social Media is that they "don't have time." This often masks fear of the unknown, or fear of failure. It's very easy to see a new task as an obstacle that has to be avoided, rather than a new skill to be embraced.

Social Media as an overarching concept tends to be used to refer to the technological platforms, like LinkedIn, through which we communicate with other people. Forget the technology - it's just a platform. LinkedIn is no different, really, than talking with people in person, by phone, by email. Setting up a profile is no more difficult or time consuming than taking a moment to establish who you are to a lead over the phone.

Whatever function employees are already doing - communications, marketing, sales - does not change. Only the platform on which they are doing those things changes. Whatever the function was, it still is. So Marketing on Social Media is still Marketing. Communications/PR through Social Media is still Communications. Sales is still Sales. Your employees are just picking up a new kind of phone. Give them clear guidance as to your expectations of their participation and use, provide training and feedback and they'll integrate their LinkedIn profile into their daily routine in no time, just as they did with email.

3) How do I implement Social Media Participation in my company?

Implementation of a Social Media Policy is similar to any other technology or policy roll-out. There needs to be stages for education; expectation training; implementation training; and follow-up/reinforcement/feedback. There also need to be some checks and balances in place for surveillance and enforcement.

A rollout of any policy should go hand-in-hand with a communications campaign and reminders of responsibilities and rules for employees.

The problem that I've seen with most with new policies in corporations is that there is an initial rollout, and then no follow-up. Wherever there are new people coming in, there has to be continuous education on the policy, as well as retraining for employees who have been around a while. Provide a continuous cycle of training, feedback and policy adjustment for as seamless a transition as possible.

With an eye on these basics, maximize use of LinkedIn to promote and expand your company's presence and allow your employees to participate actively in their professional development at the same time.

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