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LinkedIn is one of social media’s original darlings. It launched in 2003 with 4,500 members in its network and has since grown to the world’s largest professional network with more than 500 million members in 200-plus countries and territories. It’s a powerful B2B sales tool when properly employed. In fact, LinkedIn redirects four times as many users to company home pages compared to Facebook and Twitter. Too often, however, LinkedIn users’ efforts never go beyond creating an account and half-heartedly filling in basic fields.

Joining LinkedIn is not a strategy on its own. As its name implies, social media is meant to be social — a flow of ideas and exchanges among people and groups. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to share, connect, and engage like you mean business.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well … starting with your LinkedIn profile

You know that candid picture with your spouse on the beach last year? It’s great for your desktop wallpaper — but not your LinkedIn profile. Invest in a quality headshot that reflects your commitment to professionalism. LinkedIn profiles with professional headshots get 14 times more profile views.

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Next, add a well-written value proposition that clearly and concisely highlights the benefits of connecting with you. What industries do you serve? What’s your niche? Who have you helped and how? Infuse your value proposition with keywords relevant to your product or service. Don’t forget: Search engine optimization applies to LinkedIn profiles, too! Follow this up with an obvious call to action: Be implicit in your invitation to connect rather than assume someone knows the “next step.”

Now take advantage of ways LinkedIn lets you showcase your expertise. The “featured skills and endorsements” section lets you select areas in which you are well-versed or an expert. It then allows first-degree connections to validate each via endorsements as those in your network attest to such knowledge or skills. This is an easy way to build and reinforce your professional positioning online.

Don’t just connect — make a connection

With a solid profile as your foundation, it’s time to make connections. To generate new leads and sales, think beyond your “inner circle” of first-degree connections. Family, friends, and colleagues are valuable connections but aren’t likely sources of new business. Make your network a viable sales tool by linking up with new suitable connections. LinkedIn Search allows you to find second- and third-degree connections via a range of filters: location, industry, school affiliation, and many more.

Once you generate a list of targeted prospects, don’t blindly invite them to connect. Instead of the auto-generated text, send a short, personalized message to each prospect that expresses your interest in networking, the value you foresee in the connection, and perhaps even how you each know a common connection. Instead of feeling like they’ve been spammed, recipients can identify you as a friend of a friend, associate, or client. Customizing invitations to LinkedIn connections may take more time but will likely prove more valuable in terms of quality contacts who are also potential clients.

Rules of engagement

There are right and wrong ways to engage with LinkedIn connections. Avoid obnoxiously selling yourself or your business. Instead of writing promotional posts highlighting your product or service, share insider advice or statistics about your industry or area of expertise. Ask your connections about their own business challenges. This spawns dialogue and gives ideas for useful, helpful content you can share in future posts.

LinkedIn Groups also provide great platforms for meaningful engagement. Join groups that align with you and your target prospects’ business interests. Be active in the groups you join. Look at members’ posts regularly, comment on posts when you have valuable insights to share, and regularly post your own well-written content relating to the group focus. Be genuine in your commentary and not all-knowing. Seek to help — not sell.

By consistently contributing useful information and presenting ideas in a selfless manner, you can garner connections’ respect as well as be viewed as an expert at your business and a thought leader in your industry. When a LinkedIn connection or group member needs your product or service, you’re likely to be top of mind. But you can only make this happen through consistent efforts to actively integrate LinkedIn with your overall lead generation strategy.

Need help launching your LinkedIn strategy or creating valuable content to share with connections? Contact the professionals at Active Blogs at 800-720-5398 or for a no-cost consultation.