Your #Career: 4 Steps To Lead Generation (Networking) Through LinkedIn…Understanding #Executive #Branding is Like Unlocking the Secret to Getting Picked 1st in Middle School Dodgeball

In content marketing, your network is everything. Although publishing a brilliant article on a site with 100,000 readers is a great credibility booster, it won’t matter if you’re not speaking to the right people.

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That’s where LinkedIn’s publishing platform has stepped up to the plate. Its platform has become a prime place for brands to share content. Now that anyone can publish articles to the professional networking site, it’s easier than ever for companies to target brand advocates, potential customers, and industry influencers all in one place. What was once the content domain of Richard Branson and Bill Gates now plays a significant role in any solid marketing strategy.

Some people question the value of publishing on LinkedIn when compared to well-known sites like Forbes. Others wonder whether it’s worth going after the big names at all if LinkedIn allows them to get so close to their audiences. I say it’s not an either-or situation. LinkedIn helps me stay top of mind with customers and influencers in my industry, while my Forbes articles reach tens of thousands of people and increase my company’s credibility.

Visibility is important, but engaging directly with your network will create more tangible business opportunities.

Why LinkedIn Works

B2B marketers love LinkedIn — and for good reason. The platform drives 80 percent of B2B social media leads. Companies such as HubSpot use LinkedIn to republish blog posts, maximizing the number of people reading and sharing their teams’ ideas. LinkedIn provides a perfect venue for publishing insightful, shareable content that’s tailored to your network.

You can also drive readers to other content that you or colleagues have published by linking to them in your article. LinkedIn advertising can generate qualified traffic to landing pages that invite your audience to sign up for more articles and information.

LinkedIn may play different roles in your content strategy, so consider whether you’re using it to create visibility or generate leads. I found that my LinkedIn articles didn’t perform as well as I’d like traffic-wise, but they were great at bringing in new business. One post only had 11,000 views, but my company got more than 100 qualified leads from it. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to make LinkedIn work for your company’s goals.

 

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How to Do LinkedIn Right

Many people see LinkedIn as a place to look for jobs and little else. But companies such as Microsoft have taken the content opportunities on LinkedIn and run with them, and marketers at all levels would be wise to follow suit. Bill Gates publishes as a LinkedIn Influencer, and the company regularly shares blog posts relevant to industry insiders and the general public. Microsoft starts conversations with readers and keeps them coming back for new insights.

Follow these steps to create your own successful LinkedIn strategy and start directing qualified leads to your brand:

1. Create an editorial calendar to stay consistent. Don’t treat LinkedIn like an afterthought — a site where you publish when you have a little spare time. Use this platform to stay in front of your network by consistently publishing quality content. Because you won’t have an editor reminding you of deadlines, maintaining an editorial calendar can help you manage your LinkedIn publishing schedule.

2. Optimize your posts for conversion. You can take a few more promotional liberties on LinkedIn than you would when writing for a publication. Include calls to action by linking to relevant whitepapers and articles that help drive traffic to your company’s site. Don’t inundate readers with sales pitches, of course, but provide them with additional resources from your organization.General Electric has mastered this strategy by sharing genuinely interesting content and discussion starters on its LinkedIn page and linking back to the company’s website or other brand articles. The exciting, visually appealing posts on GE’s LinkedIn profile make readers want to stick around. Most importantly, readers don’t feel like they’re being sold something all the time.

3. Mention other influencers. Don’t humblebrag about all the cool industry people you know in every post, but do include shout-outs to colleagues and mentors, when possible. Share useful anecdotes from conversations you’ve had with them, or reference a milestone achievement of theirs to drive home a point in your article. The people you mention will likely share the post with their networks, expanding your content’s reach.

4. Regularly reward engagement. Reader comments present the perfect opportunity to create a human-to-human connection with your audience. A simple thank-you will suffice for some comments, while others merit a thoughtful reply. Taking the time to talk with readers in the comments makes it more likely that they’ll become brand advocates and share your content with their own networks — putting your content in front of more potential leads.

As more brands recognize the power of LinkedIn, you’ll need to stay on your A game. Connect with your audience through relevant LinkedIn Groups, personalized interactions, and creative content to make your page one that excites people and keeps them craving more.

Your LinkedIn presence acts as a gateway to your brand. If you give people a taste of the interesting work your company is doing and how it can help them, they’ll follow up through the links and opportunities you provide. You might not get the massive visibility you hoped for, but the qualified leads that funnel in will be more much valuable.

Understanding executive branding is like unlocking the secret to getting picked first in middle school dodgeball. It centers on two things: being good and being liked. Similarly, executive branding verifies your value in the field and creates familiarity that enhances trust between you and potential customers.

As Bryan Kramer puts it, people want a natural human-to-human connection with brands. Unfortunately, companies now have less time to form that bond. In fact, most B2B buyers don’t talk to a sales rep until they’re 57 percent of the way through their purchasing decision.

With executive branding, however, the audience feels connected to the individuals behind the company long before the first point of contact. You can spark conversations with prospects and influence their decisions before they’re ready to reach out to you.

Forging a Connection Through Executive Branding

Thought leadership has been a core part of Influence & Co.’s success; we’ve consistently shared this information in whitepapers like this one. From the start, we’ve positioned our leaders as subject-matter experts. And we’ve seen firsthand how executive branding can build the company brand, dissolve trust barriers, attract and nurture leads throughout the marketing funnel, and keep us top of mind when prospects and customers are ready to buy or provide a referral.

We recently had a large account sign up for our services because its leader read one of my articles, “Be A Leader In Your Industry: Help Others.” It was a simple yet transparent view of what I had done to help grow the company by helping people.

I received several emails from readers who have attracted more opportunities since adopting this mentality. But it also begs the question: Would people have related in the same way if the “help others” message had come from my company?

Looking at it from the other extreme, a company that blasts out a PR blitz to confess its wrongdoings won’t have the same effect. By openly discussing Target’s struggles, Jeff Jones has helped humanize the brand because the audience can sympathize with him in a way that doesn’t translate with brand-sponsored messaging. I use this example a lot because there just aren’t other brands that will take the leap like this, so there aren’t a lot of examples out there.

Hone Your Executive Branding With These 4 Strategies

Executive branding doesn’t just draw you closer to your audience; it also positions your company as an authority in its industry. Some companies do this through product development, but when a company can monetize key employees’ expertise through content creation and speaking engagements, the brand-building effects are astounding.

Beth Comstock and Dave Kerpen are two illustrative examples of executive branding done right. Dave has combined consistent publishing, paid speaking engagements, and book writing to fuel both his Likeable Media brand and his growing startup, Likeable Local. Beth has also positioned herself as a prominent figure in the marketing world by offering valuable content online and making memorable speeches.

As a result, both have become revered industry leaders and have driven continuous opportunities back to their companies. There’s a huge size difference between Likable Media and General Electric, but the results are the same. Having leaders who authentically engage with your target audience makes a big difference.

You, too, can reap the benefits of a comprehensive executive branding strategy by promoting your key employees through these four strategies:

1. Create thought leadership content. Publishing guest-contributed content is the core initiative that nurtures every other executive branding opportunity. If you’re consistently building a web of content that keeps you top of mind, it will be a catalyst to more speaking, networking, and publishing opportunities.

2. Secure speaking engagements. Speaking is one of the best ways to authentically engage your audience. From the moment you walk into a conference or event, others perceive you as an authoritative figure. If you tailor your speech to the right audience and have the content to back it up, your audience will walk away with a renewed level of trust in you that will drive valuable opportunities your way.

3. Network. Every leader can verify the brand-building ripple effect of strategic networking. The more connected you stay within your industry, the more your brand will shine. The cornerstone of any effective networking strategy is treating people well, helping them achieve their goals, and connecting them with other valuable people.

4. Publish books. The notoriety that comes with authoring a book can feel tempting, but this strategy should be last on your executive branding list. Until you tackle thought leadership content, speaking engagements, and networking, don’t try to justify the time it takes to write a valuable book. However, when you’re ready, there are some unique opportunities that come from publishing a book.

The objective of any branding strategy boils down to establishing a human-to-human connection. People don’t want to have a conversation, eat dinner, or share secrets with a company; they want to do those things with real people. Executive branding is the secret ingredient that will position you as a likeable industry figure and encourage prospects to always choose you first.

John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that specializes in expertise extraction and knowledge management that are used to fuel marketing efforts.

 

Forbes.com | May 3, 2015 | John Hall