Just how valuable is LinkedIn to your business?

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Possibly the greatest benefit for any business executive is LinkedIn’s unique ability to build their professional brand – and make it easy for other professionals to find their profile when in need of a specialist. In fact, if you only had one place to focus your energy on and build your brand online, it has to be LinkedIn.

Despite that, most people don’t actually understand how LinkedIn really works. In an emerging markets country like South African for instance 94% of business people believe that their businesses should be participating actively on LinkedIn, yet 81% admitted to not having a clear understanding of all the features and benefits provided by the professional social network.

In order to optimise your personal brand on LinkedIn, here are the top three personal brand touch-points:

1. Activating your personal brand keywords
Unlike Google, optimizing your personal keywords will yield you instant search ranking results on LinkedIn and propel your brand to become first choice in your niche. Business executives and recruiters alike are constantly searching for services and people on LinkedIn, and all it takes to make them find you is keyword optimisation.

Once you have identified the keywords that are most relevant to your personal brand (be it SEO expert, programmer, social marketing speaker, real estate agent in Cape Town or brand leadership expert), you need to add your keywords to the big five places — your headline, current experience, past experience, summary and specialties.

Then conduct a search on LinkedIn’s top right hand corner and find out whether you rank in the top ten results — failing which you need to go back to each section and keep optimising your keywords until the LinkedIn search facility places your brand on the first page (and ideally in the top three).

2. Building your list
As the father of copywriting, the famous Gary Halbert, once said, “the money is in the list” – or, more specifically, in the relationship you have with your list of connections that know, trust and like you. Ultimately, this is the primary indicator of your personal brand strength and LinkedIn is the only social network that allows you to export your connections’ contact details to build your list.

In addition, Groups represent one of the biggest opportunities online to build your network and at the same time to regularly communicate with each member. Once you have set up your own group, you can send out an announcement once a week and position yourself as the authority in your industry.

Most importantly, the name of your group should not reflect your company name but rather the target audience you are addressing. Plus, Google loves LinkedIn groups and ranks them highly when people search for the subject of your group.

3. Giving and receiving recommendations
In the age of social proof, showcasing your recommendations is undoubtedly the best credibility builder there is. This is the one feature that can make your brand stand out immediately and separate you from your competition. And, in the case of giving recommendations, build up tremendous goodwill towards yourself from those that you have done business with. Get into the habit of spending 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to write a recommendation for at least one of your connections — and you will quickly reap a tit-for-tat from most of the recommendations you have initiated.

A great case study on how you can leverage LinkedIn for building your brand in a short space of time is the former American football player Lewis Howes. After suffering a severe injury on the field of play and spending six months in hospital recovering, Lewis decided to launch a new career using LinkedIn to build his network and brand community (having had no business education, and no formal network to fall back on).

Today, his group Sports Industry Network is 82 347 members strong (growing at a rate of 1 000+ new members each month and generating 1 222 comments last week) and has become a primary source of information on sponsorship, fan management and networking with top sports executives for many sports brands.

In a nutshell, the power of building your brand on LinkedIn rests on the personal return on investment — while it takes a rather limited amount of time to implement each of these steps, an optimised brand on LinkedIn should easily generate an average of three to five qualified leads a week and at least two closed deals every month.

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