The capability of LinkedIn to be an effective platform for strategic communication is both constrained and advanced by its unique properties. Make no mistake, however. When operating in a B2B and/or services-oriented environment, organisations can leverage LinkedIn via a number of potent means – e.g. market research, differentiation, positioning, viral marketing – to deliver business results.

LinkedIn business communication: community building

We should all by now be well versed in the personal brand building capabilities of LinkedIn. Not only is it an online resume and often first port of call on Google when anyone – not just recruiters or potential employers and clients – go looking for you, but it is an interactive, ongoing reflection of your professional interests, achievements and proactivity. Manifestations of this proactivity and your engagement with your profession include:

  • how up to date your LinkedIn profile is and how frequently you update it
  • the number, nature and frequency of updates you publish on your profile
  • the sort of LinkedIn groups you are a member of and how often, and how meaningfully, you contribute to discussions in these groups.

When it comes to using LinkedIn for professional, strategic organisational communication, there are also ways of using the platform to help build reputation and increase sales.

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It is my view that organisations using LinkedIn for professional communication/marketing/public relations/stakeholder relations et al do, however, need to be operating in a B2B environment and primarily be providing services, as opposed to products, to their customers or stakeholders.

The B2B characteristic is imperative because of the nature of those who populate and utilise LinkedIn. It is a social network designed for, and populated by, those with an interest in business-related matters. It is a social network, in fact, that is ‘social’ only to achieve business-related outcomes. You don’t get on LinkedIn to have a chat with your buddies.

My bias towards believing LinkedIn is better for service-leaning organisations is because of LinkedIn’s proclivity for better suiting the approaches of thought leadership and inbound marketing (noted below).

Thought leadership and inbound marketing at the heart of LinkedIn

There is no getting around it. At the core of any effective LinkedIn communication strategy, is an absolute, no-compromise necessity to apply the approaches thought leadership and inbound marketing. This is consistent with most approaches to social media marketing.

Value will only be perceived in the communicating organisation, and its credibility will only be enhanced, by the creation and sharing of content which enriches the professional lives of organisational target audiences. Furthermore, the sharing of content and expertise without pushing out too many calls for sales (outbound marketing) must be the default.

The opposite of taking a thought leadership and inbound marketing approach is manifested in the following:

  • Only sharing content not original to the organisation and/or it being of a low-level and not very useful nature
  • Communication from the organisation frequently, if not entirely, being of a sales call nature (in other words, all about me/the organisation and not frequently enough about the customer/target audience and what their needs are).

To gain true, full value out of the thought leadership approach most content needs to be created by the organisation. A significant amount of content not created by the organisation can also be shared through LinkedIn, too. This is ‘curated’ information. A few points to bear mind with curated content include:

  • It is an invaluable means of maintaining a consistent (saying constant makes it sound like an organisation will drown its target audiences in information, which is not a desired outcome) stream of content
  • By using valuable content from a non-organisational employee offers 3rd party credibility and it also sends a message of humility to target audiences
  • When sharing content from others, it is important to try to add value to it with an additional comment or two as often as possible. This provides some stamp of originality from the organisation and aids in its branding.

Integrated communication for effective outcomes

Communication via LinkedIn as a stand-alone strategy is unlikely to yield results. It needs to be part of a broader, more holistic strategy containing a diversity of communication channels.

When using the approaches of thought leadership and inbound marketing this should be self-evident. One reason for this is that when generating thought leadership content an organisation will want to leverage it across multiple platforms. This is not just to share the content, but to facilitate the viral impetus which will help propel it through the internet to as many target audiences as possible – influence and resonance.

The eternal argument: branding or tactical?

There is no rigid rule for when LinkedIn can be used as a branding tool or a tactical sales too, but any organisation which chooses to put most of its communication efforts into the tactical sales basket will not succeed. In a future post I’ll discuss objectives and KPIs for LinkedIn communication, but it is mainly in the reputation growing and enhancing area where positive outcomes will be gained.

Once again, this goes back to the thought leadership and inbound marketing themes. Yes, there may well be a sales outcome that is ultimately sought, but it is not being sought by outbound marketing (sales calls, deliberate interruption of prospects’ time etc). It is being sought by providing excellent content of value to target audiences, about being involved in the right sort of conversations with the right sorts of people and about, often, those people finding you rather than vice versa:

  • Yes, this goes to the approaches of utilising LinkedIn Groups and LinkedIn Company pages
  • Yes, this goes towards strategies to join LinkedIn networks with both target audiences and influencers on target audiences.

Shared voices through LinkedIn, public relations and social media

A sub-set of the branding vs. tactical discussion is the notion of whether LinkedIn strategic business communication needs to be founded on the notion of ‘creating a community’ or being centred on the organisation which is driving the communication. This goes back to the fundamental rationales which are at the heart of both public relations and social media:

  • Public relations and social media are both, theoretically at least, about sharing power, about equalising opportunities to have perspectives heard, about at least some form of consensual decision making.

In the context of LinkedIn, involvement in the platform will only succeed if it is focused on the needs of target audiences and the organisation is willing to put in the long-term effort (as this is not about short-term wins). The upside of this considerable investment is it will lead to ‘sticky’ target audiences, those who are committed to the organisation providing resources and facilitating the flow of resources to them.

When you get this balance right; when the sums add up; when LinkedIn is one part of an integrated strategic thought leadership and inbound marketing approach to organisational communication – then, and only then, can LinkedIn prove a successful means of generating leads,  enhancing reputation and building up solid financial return of investment.

A future post on the tactical dimensions of LinkedIn business communication will follow in the not too distant future.

Have you used LinkedIn for strategic business communication? What have been the strategic underpinnings of your LinkedIn communication? Have you seen it used successfully for B2C communication, as well as B2B? Do you feel as if you have been effectively marketed to through LinkedIn – what have been the hallmarks of effective and non-effective business communication in your experience?

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