LinkedIn. It’s the king of digital business-to-business connections. Unlike other popular social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is more about networking than socializing. It tends to be seen as a networking tool for the businessman rather than the everyman. Does this white-collar stigma leave any room for business owners to use LinkedIn to connect with potential customers?
Marketing vs. CRM
From a business standpoint, it’s easy to think of Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools. That’s because as a consumer, all I need to receive Nike’s marketing message is an internet connection, a Facebook account, and the ability to click “Like.” That’s it.
But LinkedIn isn’t so easy. Sure, I can follow Nike on LinkedIn, but that basically sends me links to their blogs, tweets, and other non-LinkedIn information that I’ve already found on my own anyway. If I want to use LinkedIn to its full potential, as a peer-to-peer communications tool to really connect with the company, I need to know someone on the inside. I need to be a colleague of, or have done business with, or have gone to school with, or be a friend of, or have the email address of a Nike employee.
But I don’t know anyone at Nike. I’m just a potential customer interested in their products.
This poses a bit of a puzzle for Nike (and every company on LinkedIn). How are they going to market to me if I can’t connect directly with them? LinkedIn is booming in popularity, thanks in part to its recent IPO, and it currently boasts more than 100 million users. That’s a large pool of potential for any company that can successfully tap into it. But doing so means finding a way to break the connection barrier.
The relatively restricted direct access is a communications hurdle, there’s no doubt about it. But that by no means renders the networking site useless when it comes to engaging with the customer. The trick is to understand LinkedIn not as an all-encompassing marketing tool, but rather, as a customer relationship management tool. A solid customer relationship management (CRM) system offers a company a sound way to manage its interactions with customers, specifically through customer service and technical or product support. Excellent customer service and support are important components of brand management, and therefore work as part of the overall marketing picture. Good customer relationship management is a tangent of good marketing.
LinkedIn’s Social CRM
LinkedIn offers a few tools that can help your business institute a great social CRM system. The best is perhaps LinkedIn Groups.
LinkedIn defines its Groups feature as a way to “stay informed and keep in touch with people that share your interests.” These groups generally function as discussion forums where members of the group can ask questions, pose answers, or give feedback on the topic at hand. The tenets of a good CRM system are open communications and efficient corporate responses. LinkedIn’s discussion groups provide just that.
Any user can create a LinkedIn Group. Let’s say you work for Pearly White, a company that makes toothpaste. You might create a group on LinkedIn called “Pearly White Customers,” or maybe “The Pearly White Experience.” Each week you could post a new discussion topic, like “What do you think of our new Mojito Mint toothpaste?” or “What’s the Pearly White flavor you can’t do without?” Each topic opens up a discussion to your group members and gives them the opportunity to give you direct feedback on your products and service. And guess what. LinkedIn Groups can be open to the public, so your customers don’t need to have gone to college with any of your employees.
How you fill your group with members is up to you. Will you send an email to your client list alerting them about the existence of the group? Maybe print the direct URL on your receipts? Perhaps you’ll include the group information on your business cards, just below your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Heck, you could even write about it on your company’s blog (Sort of like this: We invite you to check out Gremln’s own LinkedIn Group, “Social Media Scientists.” Join the group and share in the discussion about social media marketing by contributing your own questions and answers. We can't wait to hear from you!).
The connection between companies and consumers may be a little more formal on LinkedIn than it is on Facebook and Twitter, but even so, LinkedIn Groups offers businesses a great opportunity to use the networking program to interact with potential customers on a very personal level.