LinkedIn isn’t just for large corporations with thousands of employees. Small businesses can leverage LinkedIn and also use LinkedIn’s features to find employees, reach new customers, and gain exposure.
Fox News Business reports  that a recent LinkedIn survey showed 80% of small business owners (with “small businesses” categorized as those with 200 or less employees) are utilizing social networks to find new customers and grow their revenue.
While LinkedIn does offer paid services (like job postings and premium profile levels), there are ways that only cost time and effort up front, such as keeping an updated company page, employee profiles, and groups. These features can help make LinkedIn one of the most important social networks for your small business.
How to Leverage LinkedIn for Business
Individual Employee Profiles and Engagement
Personal profiles make up the backbone of LinkedIn, with over 277 million users throughout the world. Over 93 million (roughly 34%) of these users are in the United States, which is the highest concentration of users per country, according the LinkedIn’s press page .
While your small business’ employees only make up a miniscule amount of these users, they still have a great impact on your company’s presence on the site. It is to small business owners’ advantage to encourage employees to have an active profile on LinkedIn. This is because many features of personal profiles can have a big impact to how much visibility your company can get on the social network.
Recommendations on personal profiles are perfect for potential customers to get a better overall view of the employee, and therefore, the company itself. When an employee has a well-rounded profile with generally positive (but not disingenuous) recommendations, it can increase trust. There are over 1 billion  recommendations on LinkedIn.
Along with potential customers or clients, recommendations can also help potential employees get to know their potential co-workers and learn more about what gets noticed at your company.
Regular Updating and Activity on LinkedIn
Regular status updating (which can be scheduled using a service like Buffer or HootSuite) with applicable and interesting industry links and company news on profiles can help get exposure for your business to your employees’ individual networks.
In the below example of a newsfeed, this life coach shares an applicable article by a colleague that would be interesting to her clients. In the second item, she liked someone else’s update, which also shows up as activity on her connection’s newsfeed:
Employees should also spend five to ten minutes each day checking out what others are sharing and commenting on updates as needed. This type of activity can increase their visibility and make them maintain an active presence on the site.
Utilize Their Network
Employees should also be encouraged to cultivate their network, adding contacts on a regular basis. It is universally accepted as a bad practice to add people that you haven’t met before without including a personalized note that goes farther than, “I’d like to add you to my personal network on LinkedIn.” LinkedIn also helps this process by offering suggestions based on the user’s existing network and their email contact list (which can be imported).
Because LinkedIn is known as a business referral social network of sorts, employees should be willing to vouch, or at least have some thoughts on, each person in their network. This network can be a great way to get potential leads, as an active profile will remind connections who a person works for, and can keep your small business top-of-mind.
Another great aspect of most employee’s networks is that they usually know the most people in their geographical area (if they aren’t a recent transplant from somewhere else). For local businesses, this can be an additional benefit, as connections are seeing updates about your company that services the area they live in.
Another newer aspect of personal LinkedIn profiles  that are great for connections and potential customers or employees to see are the publications, professional gallery, and projects section of a profile. These are areas where an individual can add links to video, documents, presentations, and project outlines to their profile.
In addition to showcasing projects and links to past work, there’s also a section called Publications, where a user can add journal articles, blog posts, and other examples of content they’ve written online.
Each publication includes the title (which links to the actual piece of content), where it was written, the date of publication, and a short summary of what the work is about. This section should be updated regularly and gives employees a chance to showcase industry content they’ve written. This can help your small business by showcasing employee expertise and to drive links to your website (if the publications listed are hosted there). It’s important to only include the best works.
Promoting Employee Profiles
If your small business has bio pages for employees, it may be useful to include a link to their LinkedIn profile. This can help clients and perspective leads connect with them on the platform, especially if they are a 2nd or 3rd connections of your employees (meaning they have some connections in common).
Allowing employees time to maintain their LinkedIn network and profile can only help to increase your company’s online presence.
LinkedIn Company Pages
Another great aspect of LinkedIn that specifically gives more information about your small business are the company pages. There were over 3 million LinkedIn company pages  as of June 2013, according to LinkedIn’s blog . These work similarly to Facebook’s company pages, in that individual profiles are added as admins of a page.
Company pages offer a lot of features, including status updates (again, like Facebook), a showcase of products and services, and page analytics to see how your updates and information are performing on the page.
Share Your Own Content and News
These updates can be scheduled like profile updates through social media scheduling platforms and can include industry news and information that your industry colleagues and target audience will find interesting, as well as news about your own company, such as press releases, new store openings, or new hires.
Mixing up the ratios of sharing industry news and company updates can help users see that your small business wants to be a resource for the industry without being too pushy about their products. Many users get on LinkedIn with their business in mind, but if something comes off as too advertorial, they are likely to shy away from staying engaged with the company. Instead, they will feel more comfortable liking interesting articles and commenting when they have something to say.
Growing engagement like comments has a lot to do with the content you are linking to, but also what you have to say about it. Posts that include editorial thoughts about the update or are asking the reader’s opinion about the link often get more engagement than no comment at all.
LinkedIn also allows companies the opportunity to promote certain updates they post. These are called Sponsored Updates .
These updates allow companies to have content show up on LinkedIn users’ home feeds without being directly connected to them. If your small business has a professional service, like accounting or leadership consulting, sponsoring posts may be worthwhile.
However, almost any business can find luck with getting more exposure via sponsored LinkedIn updates. Red Bull is one advertiser who is experimenting with sponsored content. They sponsored this recent update:
Promotion cost varies on location, your target audience, and the length of the campaign.
Showcase Products, Services, and Events
The Products tab of a company page allows you to add a list of products or services your business offers, as well as events or apps that are in development. This section is similar to the employee project showcase, but just at a company level.
When setting up the product or service entries, you can also link to employees that are on LinkedIn that can be contacted directly by the reader. The product or service entry also includes areas for adding applicable categories, images, a description, key features, videos, and URLs for more information. Because of these available fields, this tab could be a great way for companies of any size to get leads .
The analytics tab, which can only be seen by added page admins for your company, allows you to get a good overview of how your posted content (status updates) are performing. Metrics include impressions, clicks, interactions, followers acquired, and percentage of engagement.
Viewing analytics for page updates on a regular basis can help you craft a better optimized LinkedIn strategy. For example, if infographics get a lot more clicks than articles that aren’t as visually-based, try to post one infographic a week  and see if that grows your page followers and engagement.
Maintaining your company page is an easy way to get more engagement on LinkedIn. By posting regular updates and updating the products tab, your page can be a great way for potential customers to learn more about you.
Other Crucial Small Business Opportunity Sections
While LinkedIn continues to grow and offer users more information than ever (with original education content based on users’ interests), there are two other main areas of this social network that small businesses should pay attention to: Jobs and groups. Both of these areas allow owners to find employees, continue to brand themselves as an industry resource, and to raise awareness about company activities and services.
The Jobs section of LinkedIn is arguably the most-used portion of the site. It has hundreds of jobs in almost industry. In addition to being shown on the LinkedIn Jobs portal, job openings can also be shown on your company page, which can then be promoted via your employees’ profiles and networks.
Unfortunately, this is the only area of the site that owners will have to pay for to use. The pay scale is sliding, depending on the area where the profile is that is setting up the ad. The more populated the area, the higher the rate.
For reference, a job post in Kansas City, MO (a metropolitan area of 2.34 million) costs $195 for 30 days. This rate includes free profile matches (tells you qualified candidates based on their interest and profile) and 5 inMails, which are messages sent via LinkedIn to users that you aren’t connected to directly.
However, posting a job on LinkedIn can bring highly qualified candidates that may not see the job otherwise. Additionally, employees can promote the opening through their own networks, which could lead to a more qualified or trustworthy candidate.
Another area of LinkedIn to promote your job openings (whether they are hosting on LinkedIn or not), as well as share company and industry news are Groups.
According to LinkedIn , the average user joins seven groups. Groups are discussion areas where users can post discussion content and questions , promote events, or connect with others surrounding the group topics.
In addition to joining groups covering industry topics, your small business employees should also join regional or local groups, if that is your organization’s main target. For instance, a sales associate could find a lot of networking opportunities with local businesspeople if they searched for groups that have titles such as, “[City Name] Entrepreneurs” or “[Regional Name] Small Businesses.”
Having an active presence on groups is something owners and employees should strive to make part of their daily or weekly routine. By answering questions, offering their own products and services (in a non-pushy way), and connecting with others can help increase the credibility of your business, especially in your target industry market or area.
Many active LinkedIn groups also have in-person networking events, which can be a great way for small business owners and employees to get to know other professionals in their community.
Whether it is personal profiles, company pages, jobs, or groups, LinkedIn has a plethora of opportunities for small businesses to leverage their online presence .
LinkedIn is growing  at a rate of two new members per second, and this professional network can be a huge traffic driver to businesses. By maintaining active employee profiles and a company page, businesses could find themselves receiving regular leads and exposure from LinkedIn, which is beneficial to everyone involved.
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