Figuring out how to market using LinkedIn takes some creativity. Other social networks, such as FaceBook and MySpace, have very loose rules concerning the content put on your own profile and the ways you are allowed to contact other members. Both sites allow you to request friendships with anyone else, and then leave messages on their public "walls," which can be in the form of advertising. FaceBook also has an API that will allow entrepreneurially-minded programmers to produce web applications which they can spread to entire groups with a couple of mouse clicks. It's a social media marketer's paradise in a lot of ways.
LinkedIn: Useful Barriers
To begin with, LinkedIn contacts are usually not made through simply searching for a demographic ("people who live in Columbus, Ohio") and then making all of these people your contacts, or requesting that they become "friends". While you can try to contact people you don't know on LinkedIn, it is the equivalent (in marketing terms) of the dreaded "cold call."
This is because the usual way that people connect via LinkedIn is through the "introduction." In other words, if your friend Chris Brogan thinks that you would benefit from knowing his friend C.C. Chapman, a social media consultant and advocate, he can facilitate the introduction. C.C. Chapman can then decide for himself if you are a person who he thinks would be a positive addition to his circle of friends. Then, after interactions between the two of you have proven your value, he may take the initiative and introduce you to friends of his who might benefit from your acquaintance. At that point he will "introduce" you to other members of his social network, such as Heidi Miller, another social networking evangelist.
This may seem like a very slow way to make connections - and it would be if it were not for a feature of LinkedIn that let's you know just how you may or may not be connected to people of interest. What it will not let marketers do is use the traditional mass mailing or spam techniques. What social media professionals such as Brogan, Chapman, and Mille (all real people) have in common is that while they are eager to expand their circle of connections, they will not do so indiscriminately. They are professionals who make sure that there is some value added with every new connection.
Understanding How to Market Using LinkedIn
The value of an introduction through LinkedIn lies in the validation that the connection makes. It's a web-based form of word-of-mouth marketing - the idea that a person is more likely to buy your product if a trusted source vouches for it.
Therefore, the best way to market using LinkedIn is to first provide that value in a way that makes people want to share their experiences with you with others. While that may seem to be an obvious thing, it really isn't - too many businesses focus on the sale, and once it is made, simply move on to the next potential customer. LinkedIn forces you to not just focus on the sale, but also on what people say about it afterwards.
This isn't to say there are not sales techniques that should be used - specifically, the technique of identifying key people who have the trust and connection of many people. LinkedIn is able to facilitate this by listing the number of direct contacts each member has. In fact, when you log into LinkedIn, there is a small box on the left side that lets you know just how many contacts you currently have and what kind of network that connects you to. With a careful strategy, a relatively small number of contacts can connect you to literally millions of other professionals.
The other advantage is that when an introduction is requested, LinkedIn will also let the person know exactly how they may be connected to you - through specific names of people recognizable to the potential contact.
What this means is that the marketing strategy using LinkedIn is based less on product and more on personality. Establishing a reputation as a valuable contact and a trusted individual is the best way to improve your client and customer base.