In common with many people, I hate LinkedIn.

    It’s gone from being occasionally useful to a platform used by desperate salespeople who send unsolicited messages, hoping someone will respond positively.

    Right? Well, perhaps not.

    I rarely accept connection requests from people I don’t know. To test a theory, I recently broke that rule and accepted an unsolicited request to connect. I then timed how long it would take for the inevitable sales message to arrive.

    The answer? Two minutes.

    I sat there rather smugly; I’d proved my theory.

    In reality, though, I hadn’t. All I’d done is confirmed my pre-existing bias.

    A reality check

    Despite my small experiment, there’s actually plenty of evidence to show that LinkedIn can be useful.

    The reality check I needed was delivered while I was part of Illuminate Live, a two-week tour of the UK by four speakers. This year I was lucky enough to take part along with Neil Bage, Fiona Tait and Catherine Morgan.  

    It was Catherine who explained how LinkedIn (and social media more generally) is helping her business The Money Panel go from strength to strength.  

    There’s no doubt that Facebook and Twitter have contributed significantly to our success over the past couple of years.

    However, I’ve developed a blind spot where LinkedIn is concerned. It took Catherine’s reality check to show me that my focus has been wrong; I’ve been fixating on (and getting annoyed by) the way some people use LinkedIn, rather than considering the potential it has for developing our business.

    I know some financial advisers and planners feel the same as I do.

    Their experiences mirror mine; unsolicited sales messages and lazy recruiters who aren’t doing their homework. That’s naturally a turn-off. But it could also mean some are ignoring the power of social media and the positive role it could play in building their business.

    Matching the platform

    I was asked by several delegates at the Illuminate Live sessions whether they should be using social media to market their business.

    The answer is always: “It depends.”

    Effective marketing is impossible if you don’t know your target client. I talked on the tour about the importance of building detailed client personas to understand everything you possibly can about your target client. That includes their social media preferences. 

    For example, Facebook has millions of UK users who are over 55, so if your target audience is people approaching retirement, that’s probably a good place to start.

    If you want to target people in a specific organisation, then LinkedIn allows you to do that. If first-time buyers are your thing, Instagram is probably the place to be.

    Once you know which social media channels your target clients use, you can start hanging out there, connecting, posting and adding value.

    The morals of this story?

    There are three:

    1) Avoid the mistake I made with LinkedIn. I judged the platform by some of the people using it. Every sales message I received reinforced my existing biases to a point where I ignored the possibilities LinkedIn offers.

    2) Focus on what’s important. There’s inevitably going to be noise on social media. For example, eight out of the last 10 messages I’ve received on LinkedIn have tried to sell me something. Yet the other two were from potential clients. From now on, I’ll focus on those and ignore the others.

    3) Find the right social networks. Whether you’re advertising or taking a more organic approach, you need to hang out online where your clients do. Don’t give in to peer pressure that you have to be on a certain platform. The fear of missing out is strong and can lead to poor decision making. Focus on the platforms your clients use. If you don’t know what these are, consider asking in a survey.

    Have I changed my views completely? No. I’d be lying if I said I loved LinkedIn. The constant sales messages delivered before any attempt has been made to understand my needs still wind me up.

    However, I can now see the possibilities it offers. If it’s a platform used by your target clients, then the same could be true for you.

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