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Building productive connections on LinkedIn

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LinkedIn hosts some 200 million global users as of January this year, making it the world's largest and most popular professional network. If correctly leveraged, it's also a powerful tool for B2B businesses to expand their brand awareness and generate leads. The most important component of a successful presence on LinkedIn is your business page.

More than 2.6 million companies maintain business profile pages on LinkedIn. These profile pages often serves as a background check of the legitimacy of a company, its expertise and its employees. They also provide your business with a chance to showcase your distinctive attributes and expertise in a professional platform outside your website. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your company's business page:

Tell your story. To get the most out of your LinkedIn business page, make sure your business profile is filled out in every detail, for every section. You can also utilize a few other tricks to add polish:

Customize the URL on your profile to include your actual business name, rather than sticking with the seemingly random characters and numbers automatically assigned by LinkedIn. 

Make your banner attractive and interesting by using both images and your logo, and keep your headlines short and punchy. 

Choose your photos carefully to express professionalism and credibility, but also a touch of human personality and update them regularly.

Proofread. Check and re-check your profile for grammar, spelling errors and punctuation.

A complete, well-planned profile should inspire other LinkedIn users to want to know you and convince prospective customers that you can help them solve their problems. 

Find your audience. Different social media platforms attract different kinds of users, and LinkedIn is no exception. To form the most productive and beneficial connections for your business, you'll need to clearly define both who you'd like to reach and who you'd like to reach out to you. If you haven't already done so, do some research to create a detailed persona of your ideal contacts. Advertisers on LinkedIn can opt-in to further targeting options like interest group, industry, industry role or even specific company affiliation. 

Reach out and touch someone. Any successful social media campaign depends on consistent, intelligent interaction. With a well-defined audience in mind, you can develop more customized, targeted networking tactics. Given LinkedIn's professional focus, however, it's important to build connections strategically and to be sure that all of your interactions offer value  for example:

Use LinkedIn to follow up with prospects and partners after phone calls and emails, or any time you leave a voice message or business card. This association helps reinforce your brand in the minds of other LinkedIn users, and they'll be more likely to approve your connection requests. 

Personalize your connection requests  and invitations, introductions and messages - rather than using LinkedIn's standard formats. Show other members that you're genuinely interested in connecting with them.

Respond promptly to other users' messages. Acknowledge their viability as connections, and offer ways that they can contact you or learn more about your brand. 

Give recommendations and endorsements even when other users don't specifically request them. They help build friendship and loyalty, and increase your brand's visibility. 

Don't be afraid to ask for referrals as well. You can browse other users' contact lists to find individuals to whom you'd like to be referred and suggest specific names in your request. 

Join at least two LinkedIn groups  they're a great way to beef up your presence and make new connections within a specific area. 

Don't sell! Counter-intuitive though it may seem, your LinkedIn connections aren't about you. Nothing turns off a potential contact like a constant barrage of impersonal sales messages. 

Once you've a solid networking plan, it's a good idea to coordinate those efforts among your employees to ensure that your strategies stay consistent and effective. 

Stay active. A static or stale LinkedIn account can actually be worse for your business than no LinkedIn account at all. Post new status updates often and consistently, and be sure to review and refresh your profile on a regular basis. 

Stay relevant. Any content you post should be interesting, informative, and pertinent to your audience when they view it (or useful to them in the immediate future).

Stay versatile. Promote content that you've published in other quality sources, and be sure to include content from a variety of mediums, such as videos or SlideShare presentations.

Strive to be a Thought Leader. One of LinkedIn's newest features, Thought Leader status provides the opportunity to reach and influence a tremendous range of connections. It's no secret that successful social media content should be interesting, informative and relevant to the target audience. Becoming a LinkedIn Thought Leader, however, takes this idea to a higher level. The process demands not only that you demonstrate industry expertise and a fresh perspective, but also that you educate and motivate people, or inspire them to act, change or do something better.

Once you've got a good handle on all of the above best practices, you can fill out an application to become a LinkedIn Thought Leader. Even if aren't accepted, it's still good practice toward developing compelling content and giving your contacts incentive to stay engaged with your brand.

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