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Should You Use LinkedIn to Build a Network or an Audience?

2014-27-August-LinkedIn-Head.jpgI’m not sure how to use LinkedIn anymore. I’m on LinkedIn all the time as a social marketer, and over the last year or so I’ve noticed some big changes to two basic aspects of how I think about LinkedIn … and they've left me scratching my head about my own approach.

The first is who to connect with.

When I first started using LinkedIn it was all about connecting with business professionals who I actually knew. And I felt kind of important when someone sent me an invitation to connect. Not anymore. These days, I get LinkedIn invites daily from people I’ve never heard of, let alone met. Should I connect with them?

The second is how often to share content.

I used to believe that posting more than four or five LinkedIn updates a week seemed kind of self-important and obnoxious (at least to me). Now I wonder if I should be posting that many updates — or more — every day. This is in addition to my comments on other people’s posts, and in LinkedIn groups.

About Audience, Not Just Network

So what’s causing the shift in my thinking?

Core to LinkedIn’s strategy is to drive more engagement by becoming a content publishing platform for marketers and want-to-be influencers. It also means this “everyone’s a publisher” mindset is starting to make it about audience and reach, not just networking and relationships. For example, LinkedIn recently added a “how you rank for profile views” feature. That’s definitely a “publisher” metric!

So should I focus on growing my network of personal relationships or building an audience for my content? Or can I (somehow) do both?

What Social Marketing Experts Say

With these questions in mind, I asked some really smart social marketers how they approach LinkedIn. Here’s what they said:

Ted Rubin, Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker, Brand Evangelist, @TedRubin

Having a personal profile with a zillion LinkedIn connections means the same thing as having a desk full of business cards. Unless you actually build relationships with the people in your network, you just have a collection of names …. Do you have a strategy for reaching out to build relationships with strangers and acquaintances?"

Margaret Molloy, Global CMO of Siegel+Gale, the strategic branding firm, @MargaretMolloy

LinkedIn is my go-to destination for business insights and opinion. It is my "home page". I particularly like the fact that you get notifications when connections publish posts… Unless you are attentive to lists you can easily miss updates on Twitter. I'm a huge fan of the new LinkedIn publishing capability. We cross publish all blogs from our siegel+gale blog property as LinkedIn posts to increase reach."

Todd Wilms, Silicon Valley Digital Marketing Executive and Forbes Contributor, @toddmwilms

There is a yin-yang relationship to LinkedIn - content and networking. In fact, it is your responsibility to engage your network with great content. The two ideas go hand in hand… and sharers on LinkedIn need to think across three dimensions: sharing other's content, sharing your own content, and sharing your personality. This means you find great stuff (curate), you share your great stuff (thought leadership), and you share your personality (humanize)."

Britta Meyer, CMO of WageWorks, named a Top 25 Social Business Leader by the Economist, @Britta_SF

LinkedIn is today's most effective way to build your professional network. I see the new profile upgrades and publishing options as part of my opportunity to present myself, so that I can stay relevant to my connections, and they stay relevant to me. I am worried that marketers mistake this as a general publishing platform, which it is not and hopefully will never become. What makes LinkedIn special is that it is not about reach, it's about relationships. And that is the too-often forgotten core of social media."

The Balancing Act: Relationships and Audience

What’s my takeaway?

Your personal network and relationships are as important as ever. But now you need to consider how content plays into your own LinkedIn strategy, and how to find your own balance of relationships versus audience.

From my perspective, creating and sharing content is an important aspect to LinkedIn. So is building an audience that I can engage with: not just on a one-to-one basis but as a publisher of content for myself and my company. So my struggle is how to manage this balancing act.


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