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3 Strategies for Maximizing Your Potential on LinkedIn Become an authority, identify partnerships and generate leads.

By Tony Messer Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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If you're a small business owner, there's no doubt that you've heard the growing chatter about just how important it is to get on LinkedIn. It's the fastest growing social media channel for professionals, and with more than 430 million users from 200 countries worldwide, there is a lot of potential, to say the least. In fact, 40 percent of LinkedIn users check their accounts daily.

For many small business owners, LinkedIn represents untapped potential. There are plenty of future customers and connections to be made on the site -- if done correctly.

The key word here is "untapped." That's the thing. You know you should be doing something with LinkedIn, but you just don't know where to start. Sound familiar? That's the problem facing so many small business owners. Learning the ins and outs of social media channels takes time and energy. That's something that a lot of people just don't have when they're trying to run a business -- and everything that comes with it.

Related: 8 Companies Changing the Social Media Game

To help you cut through the noise and the time wasters, here are three key strategies to focus on -- becoming an authority, identifying partnerships and generating leads. Just doing these three things will give you the focus you need to start getting real business results from LinkedIn.

Let's take a look at each one separately.

1. Becoming an authority.

One of the most important ways a brand can begin to influence its potential customers is by building authority.

Becoming an authority in your field means you can be both seen and heard as an expert. That kind of influence is something that can't be taken for granted. It not only helps to drive traffic to your brand, but it also builds a foundation of trust with prospects and existing customers.

Take a look at the chart above as an example. It shows when content comes from experts, it is more likely to influence things like brand affinity, familiarity and purchase considerations.

Clearly, positioning yourself as an expert is important. But how can LinkedIn help you do that? First, by building relationships.

Becoming an authority is not done in isolation. You're going to need help. LinkedIn can help you to develop relationships with people who can get your brand and your content in front of new audiences. These range from journalists at influential publications to content managers and bloggers. Important relationships can also be built with other business owners who can feature you in their content via guest posts or as contributors.

There are a number of ways LinkedIn can help you do this.

LinkedIn Pulse

A few years ago, LinkedIn introduced Pulse, which is their own blogging style platform.

One great way to attract attention from the start is to post content related to your industry on Pulse on a regular basis. When you do this, other members will be able to see your content and start associating you as someone who has something to contribute in your field.

To get started publishing your own content is really simple. Login to your account, and you'll see this:

Select "Write an article," and you be brought to a new draft page which will allow you to write a post.

If you're worried that you just don't have the time to create multiple posts for both your own blog and LinkedIn Pulse, don't. You can simply copy and paste the content from your site right into your Pulse post.

As of now, SEO and marketing experts haven't found much in the way of penalties when it comes to this. But, if you are concerned, there are a few things you can do:

  • Cite at the top and/or bottom of your post that the content was published on your site first

  • Add or remove some of the original content, making the post slightly shorter or slightly longer

  • Wait a few days (up to about a week) for Google to index your original content before reposting

LinkedIn groups

LinkedIn groups are another really good way to get known and start building authority. There are a couple of ways to get involved with groups.

First, join a number of groups. Don't just join groups in your niche or industry either. Join groups for your local geographic area and groups in complementary industries that you might be able to partner with -- more on that later.

If you are in an industry that is specialized, or you don't see your niche in a LinkedIn group, then create one. This is going to automatically build you up as an authority figure.

Regardless whether you create your own group or join others, be sure to set time aside at least weekly (and ideally just a few minutes on a daily basis) to go into the groups and be active. Answer questions, offer advice, and share your best tips.

Do both of these consistently, and you'll soon be well positioned to be seen as a very important voice in your industry.

Related: 5 Tips For Creating Content to Share on LinkedIn

2. Identifying partnerships.

LinkedIn is also a tool for small business owners to identify and create potential partnerships. Essentially, what you want to do is look for potential partnerships with non-competing businesses. Ideally, these would be businesses that have clients who are in a position to require your products or services.

Another opportunity would be if they were businesses who could bundle your product or service as part of an offer to their customers. For example, if you are a real estate agent, some good non-competing businesses to target would include mortgage brokers, insurance agent, and contractors. Each of these partnerships are related, and it's quite common for realtors to recommend mortgage brokers and insurance agents to clients and vice versa. You could get a very nice referral partnership going on with a system like this.

These types of partnerships are ideal for both business to business (B2B) and business to customer (B2C) brands. You can find potential partnerships much in the same way you would customers on LinkedIn. The key is to know who you are looking for. You want to find the brands that are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck, so be extremely targeted in who you go after.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The keywords you want to target

  • The size of the partner and their reach

  • The geographic location -- you might only want to deal with people in your metro area

  • What you ideally need

  • What you don't want

Just as you wouldn't want to target the wrong customer, you don't want to make the same mistake with partners, because it could easily become a waste of your time.

Once you know what you want, you can start compiling a list of potential partners. LinkedIn makes this easy by letting you search for targeted keywords. When you do that, LinkedIn provides the top results for people, companies and groups. Don't just go by the first results you're given. Instead, you can further narrow down by things like location, industry and company size. That's why it's important to know those things ahead of time.

Once you have your list of ideal targets, start reaching out. In an ideal world, determine if you already have any connections available. If so, ask for an introduction. If not, do what you can to make yourself known. Rather than sending a cold message right away, join the groups they are in and comment on their Pulse posts or status updates. Then make the move, and send a message to connect about partnership potential.

3. Lead generation.

A third and final way to make LinkedIn work for you is for lead generation. With the way LinkedIn is structured, using it for lead generation is really more for the B2B brands that offer a higher priced services. This is because generally, it's going to take a bit of time and effort to nurture these leads, so keep that in mind.

The good news is using LinkedIn to build authority by posting in Pulse and being active in groups already appeals to potential customers. So, that part of an overall LinkedIn strategy is going to have two benefits, which is why it's so important.

Related: 11 Strong Signs That You've Mastered LinkedIn

Use LinkedIn to really get personal with lead generation. Keep track of any potential customers who comment on or share your content, engage with them when they do, and go a step further by adding them to your contacts.

Thankfully, the team at LinkedIn has realized just how important lead nurturing is for many users, so they've introduced a number of quick and easy little tools that can really help you keep track of them.

You can use a built in tool like LinkedIn Profile Reminder which lets you set future reminders, to keep in touch and check back in with these warm leads. Use this to say hello, share other content you'd think they'd enjoy, or ask them if they'd like to connect over the phone, for example.

LinkedIn also has a Notes option that lets you keep track of every interaction you've had with your leads. You can note if you've met them offline, say at an industry event, or even down to the specific post they first commented on. Keeping detailed notes with each potential lead is only going to pay off over the long run.

Final thoughts.

For many, being able to see a lot of success on social networks means dedicating a lot of time and energy. Seeing real results from LinkedIn doesn't have to take hours of work every single day. All it does take is knowing what to focus on.

If you stick with doing the three things in this post -- building authority, identifying partnerships and nurturing leads -- you'll soon start to see some real business benefits of using LinkedIn.

Tony Messer

Co-founder and CEO of Pickaweb

Tony Messer is the co-founder and CEO of UK web hosting company Pickaweb. Having worked with thousands of small businesses, ecommerce retailers and startups, Tony knows what it takes to grow an online business. He is the author of two books on online marketing.

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