Using LinkedIn for business-to-business networking was the topic of last month’s column. Seven tips, along with navigation pointers, were shared to help readers get started.

This month’s column features business-to-consumer networking, a tip for expanding your network and information about engaging. Let’s start with the idea of using LinkedIn for business-to-consumer networking.

Local service providers that cater to the personal needs of busy business professionals should look at LinkedIn as a marketing tool, especially if their services provide value and genuinely make the lives of busy folks easier.

Consider the possibilities for janitorial companies, restaurants, dry cleaners, landscapers and beauty salons. They handle tasks others don’t have the time or desire to do, and busy people are looking for service providers to make their lives easier. In this case, social networking would be beneficial to both groups so it’s a win-win situation. Make sense?

OK, so you understand more about business-to-business and business-to-consumer networking but, you don’t know how to connect with more people to expand your network.

Here is an easy tip: Use business cards.

If you go to business meetings, attend networking events or visit trade shows, you probably have a stack of business cards on your desk from people you’ve met. Those cards are golden!

Grab one from the stack, log into LinkedIn and enter the person’s name in the “Search” box (upper right) to see if they are members. If they are, open their profile and click the blue “Invite” button. You will be asked to choose how you know the person and may be asked to enter their email address (found on the business card).

Add a personal note to the invite to remind them where you met; something like “great to meet you last month at the chamber breakfast, I’d like to stay connected with you here on Linked In”.

Repeat until you have gone through the entire stack of cards; it’s a quick and easy process.

Last month, you polished up your profile, and this month you worked to expand your network. Now it’s time to really use LinkedIn as a networking tool by following these three tips:

-Engage. Engaging in a positive manner is what will make your business stand out from the crowd, and it goes a long way toward building meaningful relationships. Open LinkedIn several times per week; watch for opportunities to comment or simply “Like” your contact’s status updates. If they share an article that relates to your industry, read it and click the “Share” button to spread the information with those that follow you.

-Update your status. Share information about industry events and meetings you are involved with, new programs or services your business offers, job openings at your firm, etc. It only takes a minute and will help keep your business fresh on people’s minds. Start small and be consistent. Try one time per week; once you are comfortable with the process you can increase the frequency.

-Recommend people. Recommendations on LinkedIn work like an online testimonial; they are easy to do and are very much appreciated. While viewing a contact’s profile, hover your curser to the right of the blue “Send a Message” box and select “Recommend”. Write a brief testimonial about your experience with that person. Take time to write thoughtful recommendations because they appear on your profile as well as the profile of the person you are recommending.

Using LinkedIn along with these quick tips can help expand your network and build important relationships. When used effectively, social networking can also increase the visibility of your business which in turn should increase revenues.

Remember to also look for opportunities to take social networking offline by meeting people in person. Face-to-face networking also helps strengthen relationships.

Patti Rowlson of PR Consulting Services is a publicist and marketing consultant located in Whatcom County. Her columns appear on BBJToday.com on the last Thursday of each month. Connect with PR Consulting Services on Facebook and Twitter (@pattirowlson) for additional marketing tips.

This article originally appeared in the  Bellingham Business Journal.

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