Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest. These are the platforms many social media experts claim can be the linchpin in developing your online presence. While all of them can be useful marketing tools, there's another social network that can be more effective in generating leads and sales: LinkedIn.
While your competitors are busy spinning their wheels getting "likes" on Facebook and sending a barrage of tweets on Twitter, you can use different tactics on LinkedIn to build an online presence and generate profitable prospects.
Here are three steps to help transform your LinkedIn profile into a lead generating machine:
1. Create a call to action.
Don't just list your name and title in your headline. Instead, tell your network whom you have helped and how you have helped them. Explain the benefits you can provide because that's what really communicates who you are and what you do -- not a title.
Next, write a clear, concise call to action in the summary section, telling people in your network exactly what you'd like them to do. It may be a phone call, an email or just a visit to your site to sign up on the mailing list. Even a message as simple as "First Time Home Buyer? -- Click HERE" can have significant impact for real estate agents. You can't simply expect someone to call or email. You have to ask them. Also, be sure to collect their personal information so you can continue to connect with them.
2. Create an industry-specific LinkedIn group.
Forming a LinkedIn group is one of the most effective ways to get your network excited and engaged about a specific topic, all while driving traffic to your site and increasing sales. For example, I started the Sports Industry Network group in 2008, which has grown to 90,000 members.
As the group was getting off the ground, members began connecting and helping each other, but I wanted to add even more value to it. So I began hosting networking events and free webinars where I interviewed sports business leaders. During the interviews, the experts offered free advice and spoke candidly about various best practices. Eventually, the webinars attracted hundreds of attendees, and that's when I started thinking about how to make money from them.
The strategy I devised was simple: Promote free webinars to my LinkedIn group and then make an offer at the end for further education or assistance, including live events, private consulting or access to my membership site.
Based on my experience, here are five lessons for creating a group of your own:
• Identify the type of group you'd like to create and give it a name that communicates the topic clearly.
• Reach out to well-connected people within your industry to let them know you've started a group and would like to feature their expertise in live webinars.
• Do something special to show your appreciation to experts who join your group, even if it's just sending them a thank you card. Then, you can ask if they'll post the group link on their social networks and spread the word to like-minded people.
• Continue to add value by hosting webinars or in-person get-togethers.
• Provide a premium to members by offering some of the your business services at a special discounted rate.
3. Be active in LinkedIn's 'Question and Answers'
No matter what industry you're in, strategically participating in LinkedIn's Questions and Answers can be another effective way to develop stronger connections and boost sales.
The Q&A area is where users can post questions and get answers from others on the network. While this is an opportunity to demonstrate your industry expertise, you should tread lightly and avoid hyping your brand. Be a resource that answers people's questions without pitching your company, product or service.
Here are three tips for answering questions on LinkedIn:
• Find a question you feel confident answering and give a concise response.
• Click on the "reply privately" button to let the questioner know you've responded. There can be multiple answers posted so this helps draw attention to yours.
• Tell the person you'd be happy to have a quick phone call to help solve his or her problem and offer more detailed suggestions or strategies. At the end of the call, offer to provide more solutions at your normal rate if further assistance is needed.
The key to using LinkedIn as a sales-generating tool is to always ask, "How can I add value?" With that mindset, you're on the right path to attracting new customers.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.