Don’t Get Left Out of LinkedIn

Tips and tricks to make the best of your social media time

Like it or not, social media sites are here to stay. LinkedIn, BranchOut, Plaxo and others offer venues for insurance professionals to build Internet business cards, brand identity and strategic alliances. Social media sites allow agents to conduct pre-approach research to learn about prospects and their industries. Sales and personal marketing challenges are discussed in open forums. Insurance and risk management expertise can be built and recommendations gleaned to help attract qualified prospects. Social media sites are powerful tools when used wisely.

Why LinkedIn?

I chose LinkedIn over other social media sites for several reasons. LinkedIn intuitively appeals to me. Plaxo matches LinkedIn in many ways, but with less reach. Facebook emphasizes social over business and tends to be a time drain. Although still emerging, BranchOut appears to be a job search site without the depth of information matching LinkedIn (Read our Agency Technology column for more on BranchOut). Twitter is a time killing, work avoiding diversion. LinkedIn was it for me.

I’ve been a LinkedIn user for nearly 3 years. My advice is based on trial and error, immersion and a little help from my friends. Time management trumps technical prowess when I sit at my computer. Results outweigh "oohs and ahs" when using social media sites.

See the "Top 10 LinkedIn Dos and Don'ts."

How can you take advantage of the power of LinkedIn? What steps should you consider? Exactly where should you begin? Learn how.

Build an internet business card

Construct your LinkedIn profile carefully; your profile is an Internet business card and must exude professionalism. Take time to accurately, precisely and succinctly describe who you are, how you offer excellent value and what type of clients you best serve. If someone reads your profile and thinks, "So what does this guy (or gal) do?", then you’ve missed an opportunity. Clarity is the key to understanding.

Related: Read the article "It's All About the Price" by Ed Lamont.

Post a business photograph. Some LinkedIn profiles include a headshot of poor quality. Others post a picture of questionable content or omit a headshot altogether. You may love your dog, but don’t post a photograph of you hugging your slobbering canine as your profile headshot.

Use a current photograph. Studio created, color headshots should be your first choice. If you want to reduce expense, have a friend or family member with good camera equipment and better Photoshop skills take your picture.

Remember, this is your Internet business card. You’re branding your Internet identity. Think "professional" with everything you post on your LinkedIn profile. What you write is viewed by the public and there’s no spell-check feature with basic LinkedIn service. Take the time to copy and paste everything that you want to appear on LinkedIn to whatever word processing program you use. Review it for errors, then re-paste the corrected copy back to your LinkedIn profile or anything else you post on LinkedIn. Fairly or not, you are judged by the way you communicate in writing. Communicate clearly, correctly and concisely to maximize credibility.

Harvest LinkedIn recommendations. In the past, professional insurance agents requested letters of recommendation to display customer satisfaction, establish expertise, and prove credibility. With LinkedIn, it’s easy to ask for and receive recommendations. You can recommend others as well. Find the "Recommendations" drop-down menu under your profile. Click Recommendations and request brief endorsements or recommend others. It’s simple and quick. Once gathered and approved by you, recommendations appear on your profile for all to see.

Related: Read the article "Relationships are Everything" by Kenneth L. Fields.

Categorize your recommendations. Build a steady flow of endorsements. If you are reluctant to request a recommendation, give one to someone from whom you would like to receive an endorsement. Let the Law of Reciprocity work for you. Use recommendations when marketing to prospects. Endorsements prove value and separate you from other agents.

When building your profile, include education, work experience and professional designations. Create links to blogs you write. Post websites that promote your agency and insurance products. Recommend books and let others know of LinkedIn groups you have joined. There’s so much you can include when you tailor your LinkedIn profile. Build your Internet business card to increase visibility, accentuate value and attract future clients.

Develop strategic alliances

Send connection requests to clients, prospects, vendors, family, friends and referral sources. Build your LinkedIn connection base steadily to create a powerful network of strategic alliances.

Related: Read "7 Things to Know Before Meeting Your Next Commercial Prospect" by Matt Brown.

With basic LinkedIn service, connections can be categorized into useful clusters. Filter connections broadly by industry or location, then further filter connections by creating tags based on key words, specialization or importance. When you organize connections by category and tags, you enhance prospecting efficiency, help deliver valuable information effectively and maintain constant contact effortlessly.

How big should your connections base be? There are two prevailing schools of thought to consider. One is to build the base of connections slowly and methodically. Carefully qualify to control the quality of whom you accept as a connection. Most LinkedIn users allow those they connect with to view all of their LinkedIn connections. Shouldn’t you at least know whom your connections are and something material about them? This line of reasoning emphasizes the value you provide LinkedIn connection partners because of direct, significant influence with those in your connection base.

The other school of thought is to build as big a base of connections as possible. Some LinkedIn users have thousands and thousands of connections; more connections than can be viewed reasonably. Every one of your LinkedIn connections is notified each time you update your profile, edit summary details, add connections or post information. That adds power to sales and marketing efforts.

Post updates to your profile often. That keeps you "top of mind" with your strategic alliances. Once notified, many dormant connections revisit your LinkedIn profile. This line of reasoning emphasizes the value numerous LinkedIn connections provide you for expert positioning and identity branding.

Remember, your connections help you help others. As your base of connections expands, sales and marketing efforts are optimized. Use the benefits of both schools of thought to develop quality and quantity of LinkedIn connections as strategic alliances.

LinkedIn as a research tool

Professional insurance agents earn buyer confidence by being prepared. Research potential buyers and their industry before you approach. Gathering data prior to contact saves time, earns respect, and helps to create rapport quickly. Use LinkedIn resources as a research tool. The information you gather for prospect pre-approach purposes is valuable and can separate you from competitors.

Once on your LinkedIn profile site, you can search for people and companies by name. If those you search have a presence, you have valuable information. What does the prospect say about themselves? Where has he worked or gone to school? What are his interests?

Company or personal websites appear. Blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter links may be included. LinkedIn offers quick, timely and meaningful information about many people who make insurance buying decisions. Don’t ignore LinkedIn as a research tool—your competitors aren’t.

Another important research tool LinkedIn offers are groups created by LinkedIn users. Discussions of current issues and problems faced by the businesses to which you are marketing are posted. What a great resource to learn what’s important to your clients. Find out who participates in the discussions. Join groups where your clients and prospects can be found. Follow discussions that interest your buyers, and discover potential leads, build strategic alliances and add connections to grow your base.

In addition to groups where your buyers belong, join insurance industry groups. There are plenty from which to choose. Groups form to discuss insurance coverage and products. For example, workers’ compensation, surety bond and risk management groups are abundant and easily found. There are other types of coverage and product groups to be found as well.

Group forums that discuss insurance selling and personal marketing are available. Many state insurance associations start groups for their members’ benefit. The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research reaches out with several groups and sub-groups.

Learn from the discussions. You will benefit by discovering solutions to problems clients and prospects want solved. Sharpen your communication abilities by contributing posts to group discussions. The focus and clarity of what you write in group discussions will serve you well when taken to the street and competing in the arena of sales.

Don't get left out

So where do you start with LinkedIn? Review other LinkedIn profiles to find effective models. Let the intuitive nature of LinkedIn profile creation assist you. Ask others who have built a LinkedIn profile for help. Remember, be professional. The result of your efforts is a business card.

Harvest connections and build your base. Learn to post updates, add connections, and gather and give recommendations. When your base of LinkedIn connections is notified of your activities, you’re then "top of mind" and "on the radar screen" with all of your connections.

Join industry and trade groups to which your clients and prospects belong. Find out what they’re talking about. Participate in the conversations. Discover insurance, risk management and insurance sales forums. Learn the problems and possible solutions from insurance peers.

If you’ve already started to construct a social media presence on LinkedIn, take your Internet business card to the next level. If you haven’t, use these tips to get started. Get LinkedIn or get left out

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