THE BLOG
06/04/2013 06:55 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2013

LinkedIn for Marketing -- The Best Kept Secret?

What comes to mind when you think of LinkedIn?

Probably two things: a huge social network, and a great place for recruiting or finding a job.

True enough. LinkedIn these days is, in fact, 225 million members strong. And 70 percent of Brandz's Top 100 advertises jobs on LinkedIn. But I'm going to suggest that this answer doesn't go far enough. Something's missing: it's that LinkedIn is also a fantastic marketing platform. In fact, while most of us have been busy posting our resumes and contacting old friends, some of the world's top brands have learned to leverage their employees as brand ambassadors, as well as to maximize customer evangelists to grow brand awareness, and ultimately drive business.

So, let's explore from this different perspective just what it is that LinkedIn provides.

First, LinkedIn turns out to be a powerful benchmarking tool to help you:

> Understand the size of your market;

> Identify emerging business roles (such as the new Chief Digital Officer title) well ahead of BLS classifications; and

> Gain insights and profile your ideal business buyer.

In my industry, for example, we actively track the number of search engine optimization (SEO) professionals as a proxy for the growth of our market.

LinkedIn is a self-described professional network, but that barely scratches the surface of what makes it a powerful tool for marketers.

Consider demographics. According to a LinkedIn study, 4 out of 5 LinkedIn members drive business decisions. In the USA, these members are also 93 percent more likely to have a college degree compared to the average Internet user. Meanwhile, in the U.K. 59 percent of LinkedIn members are managers or senior level executives. That's an impressive and valuable collection of people for any marketer. 64 percent of LinkedIn users believe that LinkedIn will help them grow their business and help them develop relationships.

Put this together and the message is that the average LinkedIn user is far more influential and educated than the average Internet user, and that he or she derives real business value from LinkedIn. It is hard to imagine a more ideal, pre-qualified and receptive audience of this size.

So how can your brand market effectively on LinkedIn? Well, after analyzing the Brandz Top 100 brands and identifying both trends and best practices, we have an answer.

It starts with followers. While the publicized number of followers on many social networks is often used just for bragging, 'followers' actually mean something on LinkedIn. That's because LinkedIn followers actually do something: they help spread brand awareness among a highly connected, educated, engaged and influential community. Further, LinkedIn allows brands to share highly targeted communications with followers based on their profile - i.e., company size, industry, role, seniority and location.

So, what does it take to gain followers on LinkedIn? You start with employee evangelists. We found a positive correlation between the number of employees on LinkedIn following their own company, and that of the overall number of brand followers. Nine out of the top 10 brands, as measured by the number of LinkedIn followers, have at least 60 percent of their employees listed on LinkedIn.

Interestingly when we look beyond the top 10 brands by followers we see a gradual tapering of the percentage of employees on LinkedIn. Does this mean there is a correlation between LinkedIn usage and brand success? Perhaps, but it does suggest that smart marketing companies also know the value of having their employees on LinkedIn.

But, you may be asking: doesn't all of this employee exposure increase the likelihood of poaching by your competitors? Not if they're happy (and LinkedIn can help you with that too). So why not encourage your employees to join LinkedIn and engage with your company page? Ultimately it will increase the number of business professionals who explore your brand's LinkedIn page.

Once you have your best brand advocates on LinkedIn - that is, your own employees -- you have the perfect audience to share news and updates. That's why the best LinkedIn marketers work with their content teams to deliver meaningful content at a regular cadence which in turn is widely shared across LinkedIn.

Now, once you have the followers and are sharing updates frequently, the time has come to capitalize on the most underrated business tool on LinkedIn: recommendations.

A recent study by the research firm Aberdeen found that a stunning 59 percent of customers seek their peers' opinions before making technology purchases. LinkedIn enables users to recommend a product on its Products & Services page. It's not surprising then that 50 percent of the top 10 brands by LinkedIn recommendations also appear in the top 10 by number of monthly updates.

That's a great argument for getting those recommendations. And the way to start is to create a compelling description of your product offerings -- and post it in LinkedIn's 'Products & Services' section.

Another underappreciated feature of LinkedIn is video. As many as 60 percent of the Top 100 brands on LinkedIn now routinely post videos linked to their YouTube channel. These videos not only provide a visual way to position a brand message they also humanize your brand and enliven your LinkedIn profile page. Microsoft does a great job of incorporating video in their feed, sharing product videos including a video of the Xbox as well including video on its Careers page. If your business finds a positive correlation between posts and number of recommendations, try test-posting videos to further drive engagement levels.

With no little irony, if you want a shining example of how best to market on LinkedIn there's no better example than LinkedIn itself. With 375,000 followers and a staggering 7,800 recommendations LinkedIn is a great model. For example, the company posts an average of 150 times each month on its own page -- and the content is often very engaging. The company also embraces its cross-channel and cross-media digital marketing workflow with a liberal use of video in both the Updates and Careers sections. Finally, LinkedIn has a well-built Products & Services page using banners with calls to action.

When a company chooses to brilliantly use its own service; when most of the world's decision makers actively use this same service; and when most of the top brand marketers already use this service as a centerpiece of their marketing strategy... You might want ask yourself: what's the plan for developing my own LinkedIn-based marketing strategy?