As social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc. become more popular, a few businesses are jumping into the social media marketing arena while others are pondering how to take advantage of them. The WaveGuide newsletter will have a series of articles covering various social media sites in upcoming issues; this one will focus on LinkedIn. The articles will share some ideas about how to use these sites in your marketing programs and give examples of how they have been used successfully by others.

LinkedIn has over 50 million members from over 200 countries. Its focus has always been professional so the majority of its use has been for business interactions as opposed to Facebook or YouTube, networks that traditionally focus on personal content. LinkedIn’s mission is “to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” Since it has been around for many years and grown into a large community, the site is relatively mature in its use for business interactions. If you want to get your feet wet in social media, LinkedIn is a good starting point to gain some experience.

It is recommended that companies develop a social media strategy and set goals to measure progress as a part of their overall marketing strategy. LinkedIn can be part of the promotional arm of marketing and provide a feedback mechanism, but it is only a small part of the overall strategy that should cover a mix of print and digital media. Using social media sites for marketing is relatively immature at this point. It is certainly not the major thrust in most marketing efforts; however, it is necessary to get involved in some aspects of this media to gain experience for future efforts as it becomes more important.

Probably the best use of LinkedIn for promotion is to join relevant industry or special interest groups that would use your products and services. You can do a search for keywords and determine these groups by reading their descriptions. Also, check the size of their membership and concentrate on the largest ones that best fit your audience. There are subgroups within some of the larger groups; keep this in mind when exploring them. Then contribute content to the groups and subgroups that would be informational and/or educational about your technology, products and/or services plus promotional items in appropriate categories. As you find people who are interested in your products or services, you can contact them as a possible lead.

Each group has several sections, including discussions, news, jobs and subgroups. Company materials that are informational or educational can be promoted as Discussion items in the various groups and members can comment on them providing a feedback mechanism. These posts should be informational in nature (no too promotional) and try to solicit feedback to engage the audience. The other important part of a group is the News section where users can post new product announcements or important company news as another way to get visibility for the company and its products or services. Also use the news section for announcing events/trade shows the company is attending or webinars they are sponsoring. And, of course, the company can use the Jobs section to post job openings to find qualified candidates. Keep a balance between promotional and informational items so you do not just promote products without offering some general educational or newsworthy value. Also, do not overpost to the point where you dominante the group listings or people will start ignoring them (or the group manager may kick you out of the group).

Microwave Journal is utilizing LinkedIn to develop a group called the RF and Microwave Community that has grown to over 2,000 members in less than a year. Many companies are utilizing the group to promote their new technologies, products, demos, trade show presence, presentations, news, job openings and more. There is a wide range of large and small groups from the Defense and Aerospace group with over 12,000 members to the smaller mmWave Special Interest group with a little over 300 members. There are many wireless groups on LinkedIn so you need to search out the ones that are the best focus for your business. Some of the test and measurement companies are already active in posting content to these groups.

Larger companies may find it useful to create a company group if they have quality content that a large number of users will find interesting and useful. Consider starting your own group if you have a good focused subject matter where the company can offer value to an audience and still accomplish some promotional activities within the group. The group has to have a good, focused mission that will attract members or it will not be popular enough to be worthwhile.

Keep an eye on various applications that are being developed for LinkedIn such as integration with Twitter, Blog postings, sharing multi-media, etc. Blog and news feeds can easily be added if you are the group manager. There is integration with Google docs where presentations can be linked to promote your products as demonstrated above. There is also a paid option where the user gets access to more information and utilities; this might be worth it to get access to more information.

All of these methods are open to users/companies, but require someone to take the time and effort to post and monitor feedback to make them an effective part of a marketing program (it is usually helpful to have a point person who manages the effort on each social media site). It is important to identify the groups that have members who would be interested in the company’s products and focus on the ones with the largest number of members and best subject focus. Then participate consistently in various sections, always making sure the information is relevant to the audience. Use social media to compliment your more traditional print/digital approaches as it gains popularity.

Social media allows companies to establish direct communication with customers and prospects. Where traditional media broadcasts a controlled message to a large audience, social media by nature, is more intimate. Unfortunately, it can also be less controlled, as in the case of an irate customer wrecking havoc to a brand in a public discussion forum. These days, it is better to be proactive than to ignore these situations. Where mainstream media has established your brand and messaging on a global level, monitoring and participating in social media allows you to maintain your positive brand identity through direct dialog with customers. In the end, your company’s products, customer service, presence in trade journals and participation in various social networks will all influence how you are perceived in the marketplace.