LinkedIn boasts a range of sophisticated tactical tools to help achieve strategic communication objectives. The tools include market research, LinkedIn groups, direct marketing e-campaigns to your range of contacts, Company pages and leveraging off organisational employee LinkedIn profiles.

Using LinkedIn for business communication

It offers so many strategic communication options, in fact, it is tempting to rely on LinkedIn as a ‘one-stop marketing shop’ for marketing to some groups of professionals. As I have asserted in a previous post, however, concentrating on LinkedIn alone for a strategic communication program would be a mistake. That said, it offers a cornucopia of tools few organisations seem to use to their full capability.

Strange, as it has been claimed by Experian Marketing Services LinkedIn received 94 million total US visits in December 2012, an increase of 40% in traffic compared to December 2011. Balance this with the ability of the platform to hone in on target audiences through profession, seniority, geography and industry sector (there’s more) – and you really do have an exceptionally flexible and authoritative professional communication tool.

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This post focuses on the market research and professional networking groups capabilities of LinkedIn. A future post will focus on direct marketing e-campaigns to your range of contacts, Company pages and leveraging off organisational employee LinkedIn profiles.

Market research; public relations objectives

A communication strategy should start by undertaking research. This is for a number of reasons:

  • Identify if presumptions being made about target audiences are correct
  • These include confirming the best ways to communicate to them, clarifying the issues which they are passionate about and understanding whether a product or service conceptualised for them actually cuts the mustard
  • Set benchmarks for what success should look like in the communication strategy
  • Identify who or what influences the target audience.

There are a range of ways market research can be integrated into a LinkedIn strategic communication program:

  • Use LinkedIn groups to ask questions of large numbers of people at once and facilitate the conversation (a qualitative approach to market research)
  • Use LinkedIn polls to gain answers to a limited number of multiple choice options. These could be related to an issue of prospective importance or a communication mode of potential utility (a quantitative approach to market research)
  • Send an email out to all of your contacts. From this approach you can do two things. Firstly, you can ask them their thoughts on any issue relevant to your prospective communication program. Secondly, you could direct them to a survey (using the free online SurveyMonkey, perhaps) where you ask your contacts as few or as many questions relevant to your prospective strategy as you think appropriate (depending on how you apply this approach, it can be a qualitative and/or quantitative approach to market research)

Three more tips:

  • When undertaking your email blast, you can use LinkedIn’s advanced people search facility so you are only emailing those people specifically relevant to your survey, as we all have a lot of contacts not relevant to our target audience
  • You can recruit a range of employees to send the email out to their contacts, thus enlarging the sample size, making it more likely to achieve an acceptably rigourous sample response
  • You can export all of your personal LinkedIn contacts into discrete file, enabling you to send an email out from your own email account rather than through LinkedIn. This can help efficiency, but it may also lessen the credibility of the email as it will occur without the LinkedIn branding. There are pros and cons to this approach but it does have its appeal.

Depending on your approach and the response (e.g. is the sample likely to make it worthwhile repeating the process) a variation of the above approach can be repeated either at the end of the communication program or at a certain stage during it.

The normal rules of best practice market research apply, which I won’t go into here, and it is unlikely to replicate the validity a thorough (i.e. ‘standard’) market research program possesses, but depending on the assiduousness with which these approaches are applied, they can be very effective.

Let’s face it, undertaking research and setting meaningful, business-relevant objectives is one of public relations’ greatest weaknesses, so virtually any market research is better than none.

LinkedIn groups can be good marketing

Most of the advice centred around the strategic marketing power of LinkedIn groups tends to say ‘form your own group, be the centre of conversations relevant to your industry sector and look like a genius’. Then everyone will admire you and flock to your ‘cause’ (profit-aligned or otherwise). Yes, well, maybe!

There are three problems to this:

  • There are already a plethora of groups on the platform dedicated to a multiplicity of topics
  • Facilitating a group effectively takes a lot of time, attention and content
  • As per the non-LinkedIn world, in a B2B environment such as LinkedIn exists in and for, industry associations and non-individual business aligned communication possess a high degree of 3rd party credibility an individual organisation will struggle to achieve.

Having said that, if your organisation specialises in a certain business field and there are no LinkedIn groups dedicated to this field in existence, or they are 2nd rate, or they are dedicated to a different part of the world to yours, or their global focus means there is a niche for a more country-specific group, then you may well decide after doing your competitive analysis, there is a gold-plated opportunity for you…so go for it!

Even if you decide to start your own LinkedIn group, however, branding it as XYZ company LinkedIn group isn’t an option. It sounds too me-centred and not enough target audience-oriented. So there is a branding opportunity lost! It needs to have a name relevant to the sector.

But this is not as big an issue as it could be. Don’t forget, this is social media. This is LinkedIn. Success comes through inbound marketing approaches, not old school shout and deliver, invasive and interrupting approaches. Content and helpfulness rules and will deliver brand enhancement. It’s more subtle than the old days of marketing.

It can be just as effective to piggyback on existing groups relevant to your target audiences, especially if run by industry associations. Very similar methodologies apply whether you piggy back on other groups or run your own show:

  • Post content produced by your organisation and try to stimulate a conversation
  • Post content produced by those with nothing to do with your organisation and try to stimulate a conversation
  • Make helpful and meaningful contributions to the discussions others have started or respond to questions that have been asked
  • Use the relationships you form through doing this to invite people to become a LinkedIn connection
  • Ensure there are a few people from your organisation who make contributions to the groups. This will enrich the brand of your organisation in the eyes of your target audience, it will reduce the risk to your organisation if a LinkedIn-dedicated employee leaves and it will incentivise to employees to want to be advocates for and spokespeople of your organisations.

It is true running your own group allows you a modicum more ‘control’ over the group. But this is social media, remember. Control is not what it is about. If you want to exist in the old school days and apply the command and control approach to business communication then what are you looking at social media for anyway?

Like any form of social media, LinkedIn is designed to be participant-led, rather than ‘leader’/moderator/’owner’ led, which is its fundamental, but paradoxical, simultaneous beauty and challenge. This shared ownership means greater cut through, stakeholder ownership and impact. Inclusive in this is a greater bank of resources to draw upon to help attract and retain interest from target audiences.

But what do you think? Can you share examples of LinkedIn being used for these tactical communication purposes? How would you refine the approaches I have flagged to make them work better? Are there particular sorts of organisations you think would benefit from using these LinkedIn tactics?

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