Link it up
LinkedIn can be a business-building bonanza
By Adam DeGraide
In today's buying climate, where the majority of consumers research online before purchasing, your agency cannot scrape by with mere existence on the Web. It's imperative to become active and expand your network through social media. While Facebook and Twitter are necessary additions to your agency's marketing strategy, LinkedIn is recognized as the social network for business professionals. It is also noted as the preferred online network for 59% of people active on social media according to a 2011 report by Performics and ROI research.
As a veteran Internet marketer, I can tell you that LinkedIn is one of the most underutilized resources in the insurance industry. In today's fastest growing agencies, LinkedIn is currently being used to grow their business network and sell more insurance. LinkedIn, like all business tools, is worthless if you don't bother to use it. A weak or stagnant profile is worse than no profile at all. However, if you learn LinkedIn and use it regularly, you'll build a stronger online presence, recruit better people, expand your marketable network; and it will become one of the best profit centers in your agency.
Build your personal brand
Your LinkedIn profile is one of the best places to build your personal brand outside of your Web site. It is one of the first things people will see when they look you up online, so you need to make it impactful.
On the highest level, your profile must quickly represent who you are and what you do. Achieve this by clearly representing yourself, your business focus, the people you know, and what those people have to say about you. Remember that all the details in your profile are selling points. Think about what the following items say about you to a potential customer or employee: your images, past experience, education, accomplishments, articles, specific niche products, videos, blog feeds, tweets, favorite books, etc. Include anything professionally relevant that reflects your personal brand and that might serve as a bridge between you and a future prospect, recruit, or strategic relationship.
Your LinkedIn "connections" reflect how many people are in your professional network. If you want to be known as a successful professional, your profile needs to reflect that in the number of connections you've made. I often see incredibly successful agents on LinkedIn who have only a handful of connections. Start adding connections today in order to build your online credibility. Here's a thought: You can start by connecting with me! Trust me; I'm someone you want to know.
Get recommendations. I don't need to explain to you that the best sales tool in the world is the positive review from a current client. Anyone who sees your profile should be able to see what others have to say about you. In my experience, the best way to get a recommendation is to ask for one. If you don't, you're in no danger of getting recommended. Another strategy is to give one and ask for the favor to be returned. Remember, what others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself.
On a technical level, your profile must be flawless. Don't overlook misspellings or grammatical errors. Fill out your profile completely. Set up your URL with your full name, and change your headline to a title that is relevant. Make sure that you incorporate your SIC codes and desired keywords, phrases, niches, and specialties into the text of your profile. On the surface level, people use LinkedIn as a search engine, so build your profile intelligently to help you show up in searches. This is simple but important stuff.
Don't sit back and wait to be found. Start pushing your profile to everyone you meet. Build it into your e-mail signature and include it on your business card and Web site. Tell people to go look at it and connect with you. One of my top producers takes this a step further. He sends a LinkedIn connection request to prospective clients prior to meeting them face-to-face. Since he's built a positive brand on LinkedIn, he knows that the page builds value for him personally. Prospects often comment to him about the wonderful things other clients say about him as well as an article that he's posted. This is a simple, free, and powerful sales tool.
Find the best talent
I like to train agencies to always hire out of inspiration, not desperation—and LinkedIn has made this easier than ever. LinkedIn is a gold mine for recruiting. (You should already know this.) A 2011 report by Career Enlightenment on Mashable, showed that 92% of companies reported using social media networks for recruiting, and 86% of hiring managers reported using LinkedIn specifically. This LinkedIn bias makes sense for a few reasons.
LinkedIn offers employers a higher quality of candidates by giving access to people who are already working and skilled in their field, in contrast to unemployed job seekers. While recruiting new talent, you can gain deeper insight into candidates and their personalities by reviewing their profile and recommendations from others.
LinkedIn candidates obviously see the value of social networking; otherwise, they wouldn't be there. This indicates that they understand the modern consumer and are ready for the modern workforce. Hiring someone who is already using LinkedIn also means they can help you leverage it to prospect and make business connections.
While LinkedIn does offer job listings for a fee, you also have word of mouth for recruiting—and it's free. Simply post a status about your desire to hire, and watch your entire professional network with their exponential reach spread the word and recommend potential candidates.
Grow your business
LinkedIn offers many options for expanding your business network, prospecting for new customers, and obtaining strategic industry partnerships. It offers targeted searching, powerful groups, direct messaging to prospects, and even targeted paid advertising. If you don't believe it will work for your business—you're right! It won't with that attitude. Just know that the last five strategic business development connections for my company came directly from my personal LinkedIn profile.
Start by simply searching through your own connections to identify potential customers or strategic relationships. You can search your current connections' network, or you can perform targeted searches across all of LinkedIn. The searching allows you to find people in specific roles, or companies by type and location. Review the profiles of those prospects to learn more about them and then reach out to them. Try different methods of reaching out and you'll find something that works.
Leveraging LinkedIn groups is another powerful prospecting opportunity. Check out the groups directory to find groups that are relevant to your business. When selecting groups to join, remember that more activity is more important than more members. Survey the activity and join the conversation. Answer questions, offer your perspective as an insurance professional, and don't be afraid to assert yourself. If you are extremely active in answering questions, LinkedIn will recognize you as an "expert" in the Answers forum. Go check it out and consider the potential. The important thing to remember is that by being helpful and offering advice, you open the door to future conversation.
LinkedIn also offers paid advertising opportunities that can drive traffic to your Web site. Set up LinkedIn's targeted advertising for your exact prospect or niche, and your ads will appear only to that specific audience. If you have the right tools on your Web site to track the activity of your ads, and a strategy to properly respond, it will be extremely profitable. We have seen many companies generate a positive ROI with LinkedIn advertising.
Leverage your links
Remember, LinkedIn is a "social" network. Don't just build an ivory tower—be social! You won't get far by posting non-stop about buying insurance. You need to connect, engage, and interact. Be creative with how you reach out and take the time to find mutually beneficial connections. If you sit down and think about how you can take advantage of these opportunities for your agency, you will have success.
Now that you know what to do, don't delay. Start by building your profile and joining the conversation. It's already taking place without you. The fact is, if you don't use it, I guarantee someone else will, and you'll lose out. So get on there, and make it happen!
Adam DeGraide is a veteran Internet marketer, sales guru, entrepreneur, record producer, and motivational speaker. In 2006 he founded Astonish Results, a digital marketing company, and since then he has been encouraging independent agencies across the country to "Join the Internet marketing revolution, or get left behind!"