Tuesday 08 October 2019, Bristol

Last year, PM Forum South West organised a talk by strategic communications expert Bram Vanoirbeek called ‘LinkedIn for the professions: Waste of time or no time to waste?’. Eighteen months later, Bram returned to follow up on that theme, diving deeper into the specific tactics business development professionals can employ to maximise engagement on LinkedIn.

BD challenges for professionals

Bram introduced the talk, hosted at PWC’s Bristol office, by outlining the BD challenges for professionals. There being no single point of purchase, no single decision maker, no frequent buying consideration and often no clear product were just a few of the challenges raised. This all adds up, he said, to a slow burn for BD professionals.

He emphasised the importance of being a constant point of availability, explaining how LinkedIn can help professionals by letting them be seen as experts, start conversations and stay front of mind.

The road to connecting

On the PowerPoint behind Bram was a pyramid. The bottom row read ‘awareness’, followed by ‘relevance’, ‘trust’, ‘relationship’ and ‘timing’. These elements are crucial, he explained, to successfully reach out to people. You build up from the bottom of the pyramid so that eventually, when the timing is right, people are ready to do business with you.

The profiles of people in large organisations often vary from those of SME business owners in terms of their titles and content. It is worth being mindful of this when using keywords to search for people, he advised.

‘Your reach is only as wide as the number of people you’re connecting with’

Bram noted that having 500 LinkedIn connections who each have 500 connections gives you a reach greater than the circulation of the Financial Times. LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator function is a helpful tool for expanding the number of searches and connections you can make on a weekly basis.

Two psychological techniques can be used to increase engagement. The first being the ‘mere exposure effect’ in which preference is given to profiles on the basis of having been seen repeatedly. People are naturally drawn to things they are familiar with. So if your profile regularly appears on a feed it will help to build relationships.

The second is ‘the power of association’ in which words and logos are associated with a particular brand. If you post regularly on a niche specialty you can harness this principle. Your LinkedIn audience will associate you with the subject and be more likely to come to you when they have a need in this area.

These techniques should be used to forge connections and gain trust.

LinkedIn’s algorithm

LinkedIn’s algorithm is non-chronological, prioritising relevancy over recency. The key, then, is to post relevant content, but this can vary between profiles.

A puzzled audience member asked why a partner in her firm’s article didn’t gain any traction, despite having many followers, while a colleague who made the same post achieved a much better reach. The likely reason, Bram explained, was the article’s lack of relevancy to his profile as a whole: LinkedIn’s algorithm is programmed to determine how content relates to profile.

Another feature of LinkedIn’s algorithm is the raised visibility of ‘liked’ content – especially if it draws an instant reaction: if many people like your post within ten minutes of it being published, the post receives an ‘engagement boost’.

As a good LinkedIn member, it is also important to engage with others’ content by commenting and liking.

Some key posting ‘do’s’ were mentioned:

● Be relevant - become associated with a selection of relevant topics.
● Be niche - become an expert in something.
● Keep it personal - you’re talking to people, not robots!
● Use tagging - tagging widens your reach.
● Interact, don’t just post.

Finally, he emphasised the necessity of timing. An associate of his gathered information on a spreadsheet and learnt, to their surprise, that their optimal time of day for posting was 5am! This will of course vary from person to person.

Be noticed without being overbearing, aim to post one to three times a week, Bram advised. Any more and you will risk being penalised by LinkedIn’s algorithm. And any less will not give you sufficient exposure.

Add value and stay relevant

The talk moved on to listing the effective types of post, from short opinion pieces made directly in the post and shared blog posts to lesser-used mediums such as video and SlideShare. Whatever the approach, seek to add value.

Some good ways of gathering inspiration for your posts are through Google Alerts and the news. But Bram highlighted the importance of putting a unique spin on existing information if you can.

Finally, he recommended combining two parts of your life in your content. This has the potential to attract a niche audience with similar interests. Video gaming and law was one example he cited that had worked very well for one solicitor.

Taking it offline

One approach people don’t tend to do enough of, Bram observed, is link their social media presence to real-life events. The best way to do this is by picking a theme and then turning it into an event – a roundtable for instance. This allows you to post regularly about your topic leading up to the event. You can then send out personalised invitations to people who have engaged with your posts.

People would generally rather be invited to an event than a coffee, as events provide more opportunities to gain and demonstrate value. For strategically important connections, he recommended invitations to more exclusive experiences such as sports hospitality, as they are more likely to respond positively to such offers and are easily worth the investment.

Create a personalised direct messaging strategy

Direct messaging can be utilised in a variety of ways. Bram suggested opening with a ‘did you see’ reference to current affairs, which can provide an interesting conversation starter. He also recommended ‘congratulations’ and ‘just a thought’ messages when appropriate. Both of these strategies show that you are interested and engaged, greatening your chances of coming to mind for business opportunities.

He also listed some things to avoid, such as sending negative, unprofessional, boastful and mass messages.

Q&A’s

The talk concluded with a Q&A session, and one particular question of interest was raised: Does LinkedIn’s algorithm penalise content that has been posted multiple times from a company’s website by different people? Bram believed this not to be the case, however, he noted that engagement can be improved by putting a new spin on a company post based on an individual’s own experience or expertise.

And so concluded this interesting talk on how to use LinkedIn to stay in sight and in mind. We hope you find these engagement strategies as useful as we did!

Huw Bendon, On Point Copywriting