This is a guest post by Sarah Levy.
If you’re not already familiar with and using LinkedIn, you’re missing out on a great [small] business tool. The world’s largest social networking website for professional workers claims more than 175 million registered members in more than 200 countries and territories around the world — not bad for a service that was launched less than ten years ago!
And now new data indicates that LinkedIn is more popular than ever with small business professionals, making it a free and valuable resource for growing and promoting your business, particularly through the use of a new feature called Endorsements.
The LinkedIn study defines small business professionals as members who currently work at a company with between 11 and 500 employees. The data reveals that there are more than 15.2 million LinkedIn members who fall into that category worldwide, with the United States leading the way followed by the United Kingdom, India, The Netherlands and Canada.
With that kind of reach, you don’t have to have an office, or even a presence, in another country to broaden your global business knowledge and reach, notes LinkedIn. “Get out there and meet these fellow SMBs by asking and answering questions in the Startups and Small Businesses Category of LinkedIn Answers and joining LinkedIn Groups,” it encourages on its website. “You can also find your peers (or mentors) by doing a LinkedIn Advanced People Search by title, company size and a whole host of other facets.”
Small business professionals already use LinkedIn in these and a variety of other creative ways, according to the website’s Connection Director Nicole Williams. “Not only do they leverage the site to make critical hires, but they also use LinkedIn Groups like ‘mini conferences’ where they can learn more about various subjects like advertising and public relations,” she says. “We’ve also heard of small business professionals relying on their networks to find trusted vendors, partners and even funding for their companies.”
And now the new Endorsements feature makes it easier for you to give recognition to your professional connections for their skills and expertise. Leveraged properly, Endorsements also has marketing applications for your small business by promoting your products and services.
LinkedIn users should already be familiar with the feature that allows them to write a formal recommendation for a friend or co-worker (and vice versa). The Endorsement tool is similar except you need only click on the “Endorse” button on a connection’s page to recognize them for a particular skill (think of it like the “like” button on Facebook). You still have the option of writing a longer, more descriptive recommendation, but Endorsements is the way to go for more casual recommendations.
“With just one click, you can now endorse your connections for a skill they’ve listed on their profile or recommend one they haven’t added yet,” explain the folks at LinkedIn. “Think your connection is great at programming AND project management? Let them know!”
The process for submitting an endorsement of the professional prowess of a first degree connection is pretty simple:
- Go to your connection’s profile, at the top of which you’ll see a blue box with recommended endorsements for you to choose from; you can also suggest additional skills. Suggested skills won’t appear on your connection’s profile until they approve them.
- Alternatively, scroll down to the Skills & Expertise section of a connection’s profile and click the name of the skill or the + symbol next to the skill.
Your name and picture will appear next to the skill on your connection’s profile, and an update regarding the endorsement will appear in both of your network update streams. The most endorsed skills will move to the top of the Skills & Expertise section.
Individuals are notified by LinkedIn via email whenever they receive an endorsement. Simply scroll down to the bottom of your profile page under Skills & Expertise to see the names and faces of people who think you’re great at what you do.
Additionally, you can accept any new skills recommended by your peers that you may not have thought to include on your profile, or you can simply add a new skill by clicking on “add a skill” on your profile page.
The Endorsements feature was launched in English across the United States, India, New Zealand, and Australia in late September. It joins the Follow button for brands and a notification system to keep track of network updates, both introduced by LinkedIn earlier this year to boost engagement on the social network. LinkedIn says it will expand the Endorsements tool in all languages to all members in the near future.
In addition to Endorsements, there are a number of other ways that small business professionals can use LinkedIn’s services and features to their advantage:
- Get your company listed. More than two million companies have a LinkedIn Company Page, and so should yours! It’s free and provides key statistics about your business and who’s interested in it while allowing you to keep track of the competition by following their page.
- Spread the word about your business. Remind your employees to spread the word about your business by completing their LinkedIn Profiles. This will indicate to prospective clients that you’ve hired high-caliber experts that they can rely upon. Remind your staff to cultivate their presence in the network by including LinkedIn Skills and specialties in their profiles and to participate in LinkedIn Answers. Underscoring your employees’ strengths and expertise in a public forum like LinkedIn gives your company additional exposure that can lead to more business leads down the line.
- If your customer base is happy, make sure they say so online. In the digital world, success is all about receiving positive feedback online. Your customers can become influential advocates for your brand with a little encouragement from you. Simply add a free Products & Services tab to your LinkedIn Company Page and then ask your customers to write a recommendation of your business. By building out this page, more prospective customers will be able to find you on LinkedIn; by reading your customers’ testimonials, they may be encouraged to do business with you.