LinkedIn as a Business Research Tool
LinkedIn is a fertile ground for those wanting to research almost any business niche or industry. Even with all its adjustments and changes over the last several years, LinkedIn still remains the most business-oriented social network, with a strong slant towards jobs and careers – as well as on networking, in the truest, most traditional sense of the word.
That’s why you want to make sure every word you put in your Profile Summary, posts or Page is focused on your business goals – no posts about puppies, babies or new bathing suits unless you are walking dogs for a living, running a Mommy Membership site or working as a fashion designer specializing in beachwear.
LinkedIn doesn’t allow you to “Friend” everybody like Facebook does. In fact, indiscriminate contacting is considered a major LinkedIn faux pas. This social network operates with contacts restricted to first, second and third level contacts… and also Group contacts.
Without diligent networking, it can take a long while to build up a solid contact base – but do avoid the typical beginner mistakes, which are:
- Adding everyone in your email accounts, past workplaces and educational institutions. Stick to those people who share or influence your interests, goals and industry only
- Recommending everyone they can – whether or not they’ve ever worked with them before
- Joining too many Groups; then not bothering to monitor or interact
- Joining Groups that are too large – or too inactive
Finding the right people on LinkedIn is a vitally important foundation to lay – so choose or accept contacts carefully and with an overall goal in mind. After all, you want to be able to monitor your business branding feedback and interaction – as well as research others.
You can manage your profile, organize your contacts – and view other data, such as how often people viewed your profile and how many times you appeared in LinkedIn Search (and whether or not this was a rising or falling trend.)
Step 1. Finding the Right People on LinkedIn
Who should you connect with on LinkedIn? The network will offer to search your friends via email accounts, previous and current workplaces, professional organizations and educational institutions first.
Only connect with those who:
- Are in related or similar careers
- Possess similar interests
- You are currently networking with in other areas of your life
- Possess skill sets you can learn from
- Are consistently active on LinkedIn
If you find someone you’d like to connect with, but you don’t know them:
- Follow them, if you can
- Look for someone you already know to introduce you (but make sure you have an excellent reason to want to be introduced)
- Look for Groups they are active in. Join this Group (providing it is actually a good fit for you and your goals) and make sure you are consistently active there too.
You can invite people to become first level contacts by accessing the See who you already know on LinkedIn page.
Step 2. Using LinkedIn Searches
You can also search for likely contacts yourself. You can use LinkedIn’s Advanced Search function to set up specific criteria – both to include and exclude.
Here’s how you do it…
- Open up Facebook Advanced Search.
- Enter your keywords, separated by qualifiers such as “AND” and “OR”.
- Choose from your connections at various levels – or from groups.
- Scroll down and expand other fields that might be relevant in your search.
- Add a location, if that is relevant.
- Press “Search” when you have set up all your parameters.
Some of these fields won’t be available to you if you have a free account. Scroll down the left-hand, vertical menu until you see “Search like a Pro” and click “learn more”. A pop-up window will show you various filtering options upgrading will open.
You will see results in real-time; and if you have checked off connections of any sort, you will see Profile slugs, photos and summaries.
But note that you can also use LinkedIn’s simple search bar – which has recently been enhanced. (And you can Save searches.)
What’s Replacing the LinkedIn Signal Tool?
Some of you may have already tried LinkedIn Signal, a filtering tool that allowed great opportunities for research in your news stream.
With Signal, you were able to use the filters to organize or isolate the following:
- Niche or Industry
- Specific companies
- Types of update (Profile, Group, sharing)
And several more.
Yet LinkedIn dropped Signal at the end of July, to the protests of many. Why?
Well, it seems they think their new, increased Search functionality makes Signal redundant. You can specify, filter and search for companies, groups, people, hashtags and more from LinkedIn’s own basic search bar.
Step 3. Using LinkedIn for Work Opportunities
It’s true that LinkedIn is a powerful virtual job fair, for those seeking steady, traditional employment.
It’s also a great place to pick up freelance contracts and new clients for your online business.
You can search the “Jobs” section, which will be optimized for your Profile.
You can also see what your competitors are offering – and what potential clients really want from your type of business or your skill sets.
But it doesn’t matter what type of employment you are seeking – traditional steady or part time, contract or online freelance – you need to reverse-engineer the business research company recruiters will use.
This fraternity usually doesn’t have a background in marketing. When they search LinkedIn, recruiters (freelance and company-employed) most often use simple keywords based on criteria you might find in a job ad:
- Specific skills or skill sets
- Degrees or certification
- Licenses (e.g. “plumbing license”)
- Industry jargon and terminology (try to stick to straight terminology, if in doubt)
Go through relevant job ads – and your own resume – and make sure that you highlight key words and phrases regarding these terms, skills, accreditation and terminology.
Recruiters set great store by industry influencers, so find out which ones they follow – and follow them too. (Or just find influencers yourself and follow them.)
How Do You Find Recruiters?
It helps to study a variety of recruiters – just the way writers study agents and publishers – to see what type of other, key search words they might be using. Avid Careerist, Donna Svei supplies tips and keywords in one of her recent July 2013 posts. In fact, virtual assistants who write resumes and CVs are also good to follow for tips – and good to connect with on LinkedIn.
Hunters study the habits of their prey. While your intentions are not in the least predatory, LinkedIn is one social network where the habit of study and research is far more important than other, more social and personal platforms – especially for job hunters.
Step 4. Finding and Using the Best LinkedIn Groups
The one place you can find everyone – recruiters, influencers, potential networking connections and prospective clients – is within LinkedIn Groups. Known for their strong focus, Groups provide a unique way for you to become visible, known and trusted – without members even being connections.
- Give and get feedback
- Ask questions
- Answer questions
- Present offers
- Share resources
- Invite people to share your content and visit your site
And best of all – monitor the response you get to all of the above.
You can also share links freely with Groups – but don’t use this as an excuse to spam. Always make sure that any links you share are highly relevant, timely and interesting, with a clear purpose for sharing.
LinkedIn has done away with the ability to create polls for Groups, but you can now perform some actions that weren’t approved before: Namely…
- Post job discussions and promotions
- Flag or delete posts according to Discussion Types
(If in doubt as to what you can and can’t do, check out Changes to Groups Format in the Help section.)
Used regularly, consistently and wisely – with a clear goal in mind – LinkedIn’s Groups feature remains one of the best arenas in which to conduct business research.
When you join the right Group, you can use it to check out:
- Areas of the common Group interest that its members are having trouble with
- Gaps in available resources and products
- Resources or products currently available
- Complaints about competitors, or existing products or services
- Complaints about lack of products or services currently available
- Brainstorming sessions and ideas
- Community culture
- Industry or niche influencers
So how do you know which Groups to join?
Get into the habit of scrolling down LinkedIn’s right-hand, vertical sidebar. That’s where you’ll find suggestions tailored to your Profile – including “Groups You May Like”.
Q: “How do I find more Groups to join?”
A: There are two ways: See what Groups your most like-minded connections or influencers you are following belong to… and click on your Interests tab on the horizontal menu bar, and select “Groups” from the drop-down menu that will open up.
- Make a commitment to spend time daily monitoring or interacting with your Group or Groups.
- Decide how many Groups to join.
- Find Groups that are active, with ongoing discussions and dialogues.
- Avoid Groups that are too big (over 1,000 members) or too small.
Taking these simple steps ensures you’ll create maximum visibility and interaction – which in turn will impact your searchability when others research you. Successful Group participation also creates trust and shows you without any need for third-party apps or stats who to follow – and learn from.
Like its competitors, LinkedIn is evolving all the time. Some changes are frustrating, some are exciting – but it still remains the premier social network for seriously career-oriented or business-networking online professionals.
And it still remains one of the top places to easily conduct solid, real-time business research.