A Highly Automated LinkedIn Cautionary Tale


 

I have a lot of clients who are always looking for email addresses and phone numbers for prospects, especially the prospects they find on LinkedIn. As such, when I see or hear of tools that say they can gather this type of info, I will usually check them out, as I will get asked about them sooner or later. Often they don’t live up to the hype. 

A couple months ago I attended a webinar / online demo for one such company. They’re hot, getting a lot of buzz and claim to be the first to use AI for real time results. 

The first screen they showed was one with all their high profile customers. Among them were LinkedIn and Microsoft. Well, that’s reassuring. 

Part way through the demo, the presenter showed how this tool integrates via a chrome extension with LinkedIn. How it appeared to work was you set up a search on LinkedIn and then  the tool took over. It went out on the web looking for emails and phone numbers for the people found in the search and overlaid them on the LinkedIn results screen. All very well done, good looking and all around cool. 

At this point another webinar attendee asked whether this tool was approved by LinkedIn. The presenter did not reply directly but pointed out that LinkedIn was a customer. 

Except…

It didn’t seem like something LinkedIn would be happy with them doing. Among other things, LinkedIn doesn’t like tools or chrome extensions that:

  • Take control of your LinkedIn account
  • Scrape data from LinkedIn
  • Change the appearance of a LinkedIn screen

…and this tool appeared to be doing all three. Oh, not in a major way, but it still appeared to be doing it. 

So I opened up Sales Navigator – with the presenter still droning away in another window – and contacted LinkedIn tech support. Got a very chill dude in the tech support department and asked him flat out, “I am watching a  demo right now for a software tool called <redacted name> They claim it is okay for use with LinkedIn, but I am not so sure. Can you confirm that for me?” I had to wait a few minutes for him to look it up, but he did confirm it for me. That is he confirmed LinkedIn was pursuing all avenues in going after this company and preventing them from using their tools on LinkedIn. And that anyone using that tool on LinkedIn could be doing irreparable harm to their LinkedIn account. LinkedIn appears to have no problem tossing people that don’t follow the user agreement. Because – and this is my spin on it – LinkedIn signs up two new members every second, so terminating your account or mine won’t even count as a rounding error. 

I never did finish watching the demo.

So today’s lesson is one I have been saying for a while now: don’t use automated tools that integrate with LinkedIn. And courtesy of my little adventure today I can expand on that a bit: “…even if they say that LinkedIn allows them to.” 

Why do you think I put all these funny disclaimers all over my website, on my newsletters and on my LinkedIn profile saying I am not affiliated with or endorsed by LinkedIn. I want my prospects, my customers, my readers and especially LinkedIn to know I am not claiming any special endorsement or relationship with them.

These automation companies may make the claim that LinkedIn won’t come after you, but you are taking the risk, not them. Act accordingly.

The obligatory disclaimer:

I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month.

 

What Your LinkedIn Company Page Says About You

You can infer a lot from how a company presents themselves on LinkedIn via their Company Page.
There are five “classes” of company pages, and which class you are in sends the perceptive LinkedIn user signals about your company.
Steerage class: no LinkedIn company page at all
A company with no company page presence on LinkedIn is one that doesn’t understand what LinkedIn is, and quite frankly, doesn’t care. Even a static company page only takes twenty minutes to set up (including photos and logos) and constitutes free advertising.
What conclusion would you draw about someone who doesn’t care about free advertising?
Tourist class: skeleton LinkedIn company page
Companies with skeleton pages also don’t “get” LinkedIn. These companies provide the boilerplate information LinkedIn asks for – a description of what the company does, where it is, what industry it is in, how many employees – and that’s it. Boring and old school, these types of pages look pathetic next to peers that are using  LinkedIn company pages to actively market their products and services.
Middle class: good looking page, but static and still boring
These pages look sharp, but never change. In other words, the company doesn’t use status updates. These types of pages are usually a sign that the company in question has low or no staff devoted to marketing, sales support, or inside sales.
When I am working with my customers and we see they are competing against companies with pages like those above, I start getting excited.
Second class: good looking pages with posts
This is the level where LinkedIn company pages can start to have a positive effect for a company. However, many of these second class companies make the classic mistake of using status updates as naked sales come-ons such as specials and limited time offers. These companies are so close to having it all, but their aim is way off. Blanket sales pitches are hilariously ineffective, as LinkedIn users will come back to the company page a couple times, see that it is just an advertising channel, and don’t come back again.
First class: good looking pages with regular posts that provide value
This is where a company is firing on all cylinders. The company publishes regular status updates that provide value to their prospective customers. Their followers see this and keep coming back for more. The company becomes a resource to the prospect.  When the prospect is in the market for the company’s products or services, the first class company is a natural to be invited to participate. Note that by this time though, the first class company will have likely offered an ebook or a success story or a webinar, will already have the prospect’s email address, and will likely already know the prospect and be well positioned to compete for their business.
So, be first class. It takes work, yes, but not as much as you would think, and the rewards are more than worth the effort. And sure beats competing on price like the lower classes.

The First Hour After You Publish On LinkedIn Is (Maybe) Critical

It’s an accepted best practice that getting engagement for your post in the first sixty minutes is important. But is it critical? I am beginning to wonder.

When we hit publish, LinkedIn takes our content and presents it in the feeds of a small group of our connections. It is generally accepted that the figure is five to ten percent of your connections. Typically it gets put in front of people that you share a high “Connection Strength Score” with. Simply put, these are people who you have directly interacted with lately on LinkedIn. So, in theory, LinkedIn is putting your content in front of a crowd that should be favorably disposed to engage with it.

What happens in the next sixty minutes is important. LinkedIn looks at the engagement your content generates. They don’t explain what that means, but it is widely thought to include likes/reactions, comments and shares, and that comments are weighted more heavily than the other two. If you get a lot of engagement in that first hour, LinkedIn expands the circle of people that are presented with your post in their feed. If that second “wave” gets good engagement, LinkedIn sends out more and more in further waves until the engagement waves “crest” and slow down.

Let’s dissect this a bit more because I want you to understand what’s happening here and what isn’t:

  • If you thought everyone you are connected with was seeing your content or having your content put in their homepage feeds, you’re sadly mistaken.
  • LinkedIn acknowledges their role in boosting posts, especially during the first hour, and further boosting if your engagement is good.
  • But everything else is guesswork. While it is generally accepted that Likes, comments and shares constitute engagement, LinkedIn does not define what engagement is in the context of their intent to further distribute content. And note that LinkedIn also does not define or explain what “further distribution” is – how much further? Another five to ten percent? A lower number like three to five percent? How about a larger number as your high engagement is a sign of a successful post? LinkedIn doesn’t say.

The bottom line is LinkedIn has a big hand in you going viral, or at least achieving widespread distribution on LinkedIn. But…a big hand doesn’t mean the only hand. Does a mediocre first hour doom your post to obscurity? I am beginning to wonder.

Let me illustrate why with one of my own posts. On July 14 I wrote and published a quick post about a company follower hack. In a nutshell, the only way LinkedIn presents followers to company page admins is chronologically, with the latest ones on top. So I suggested that if you were following a company you could un-follow it, removing yourself from the middle of the pile, and then follow it again putting yourself on the top of the pile. Just a simple way to take advantage of the way LinkedIn had set up company page followers.

So I published this post at 7:30am which is when I usually post. Around 8:30am I checked back in and these were my statistics so far:

Views – 104

Likes – 1

Comments – 0

Shares – 0

New profile views* – 0

New followers* – 0

(* As posts drive profile views and new followers, I have always considered new profile views and new followers to be a part of my engagement, purely because I can identify the individuals who view or follow me and contact them if I choose to.)

Well, I thought, looks like this one is headed for the scrap heap. LinkedIn had likely put my post in front of four or five hundred people, and was certainly not going to reward a hundred views and 1 like.

But then an odd thing happened. During the course of the day I kept getting notifications about people liking, commenting and sharing the post. And the commenting was lively – I had two different people who said I was incorrect and a third person questioned whether what I was suggesting was ethical. All three of these people wound up drawing more and more people to the post, as every time they argued their case, LinkedIn’s algos automatically alerted more and more people to my post.

A week later, and that same post that looked like it was headed for the scrap heap had the following statistics:

Views – 14,200

Likes – 208

Comments – 57

Re-shares – 10

New followers – 40

New profile views – 80

Oh…and three direct inquiries from people interested in talking to me about my services.

Well that sure turned out differently from what I thought was going to happen. I didn’t get a boost from LinkedIn, so where did I get it? I am thinking that it was two things: the comments and the re-shares. While there were only ten re-shares, eight of them were from second level connections, exposing my post to people who had never seen my content before. And the three people that started lively side conversations wound up unwittingly promoting the post.

So what did I learn from this? First, that while important, a lousy first hour doesn’t mean your post is toast. Second, being original starts conversations and perhaps generates more re-shares. And third, those conversations appear to drive more views and more engagement.

I have been writing and publishing for a few years now on LinkedIn, but it never gets old. I am constantly being taken by surprise and learning something new.

The obligatory disclaimer:

I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month.

The Only LinkedIn Profile Advice You Really Need

 

Yes they are nice, but be honest, they all kind of look the same.

 

This is the opportunity that more people miss on LinkedIn than any other.

And it’s partly LinkedIn’s fault. LinkedIn is the place people put their online resumes to get a better job. And what do you put in your profile? How great you are now, and how great you have been everyone else. 

This creates the missed opportunity for sales people. When someone comes to check out our profiles, they don’t want to see how great we are, they want to know what we can do for them. 

Instead, think of framing your profile so that it answers their “what’s in it for me” question. Ask yourself, “What are the benefits that accrue to someone that is a customer of mine?” After a while you will start rethinking your profile in ways that a prospective customer would appreciate. 

Here’s a simple example: 

“I made President’s Club the past three years.”   That’s all about you. 

“98% of my customers from three years ago are still with me.” Now it’s all about them. 

Small change. Big difference. 

This applies to all things you do on LinkedIn: less on your features, more on their benefits. 

 Why Writing Good Content Is Worth The Effort


Because it yields results way out of proportion to the time and effort you put into it.

When you put the time and effort into your writing, it shows in the results.

When you think hard about what your prospective reader really wants to see, it shows in the results

When you take the time to think all around the subject you are writing about, it shows in the results.

When you write from the standpoint of thinking “What’s in it for them? And how do I give it to them?”, it shows in the results.

When you get input from your readers, and take that into account when you write, it shows in the results.

When I write, I have two things going for me: After writing hundreds and hundreds of LinkedIn posts, articles, blog posts and now newsletters, I have a pretty good idea what my readers want to know more about.

The second thing I have going for me is I am willing to take the time to write it out and explain my thinking. I take my first draft and put it away for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. Then I usually take that draft and edit it again before it goes in a newsletter or on LinkedIn or my blog.

I write three newsletters a week, a blog post or two, and usually an article or post on LinkedIn. Writing, editing, and posting takes me around 12 hours a week. That is significant. And it is also untouchable. If I have work for my clients that is cramping me for time, then I write in the evening or on the weekend, but that writing is going to get done, and I am going to put the time into writing it that it deserves.

And it shows in the results. The average open rate for consulting and coaching newsletters is nine percent. The open rate for my three newsletters is just under forty percent (and by the way, thanks to all my subscribers for that).

Put the time and effort into your writing. It will show in your results.

Should You Have A LinkedIn Company Page?  

This may seem like a silly question, but there is a case to be made for not having a company page – or as LinkedIn calls them these days a “LinkedIn Page.”
Here are the pros and cons of just what you can do with a Page and what a Page can do for you. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
Con – Your reach with your Company posts will be pretty poor
The fact is LinkedIn just does not distribute company page content that much. Yesterday, I got a notification that one company I follow had published a post. This company publishes two or three times a week. This was the first notification I had received or post I had seen this year. Your organic reach just isn’t there. I have even seen conjecture that LinkedIn will go to a pay-for distribution model like Facebook’s.
Con – It takes work!
Setting up a Page is easy. Populating it with really good content – on a regular basis – is another story. Pages need content, and the more the merrier. And that content needs to do one thing: show the visitor that you have the answers to their questions. Your content should be “benefits loaded”, that is less about your capabilities and more about your customer’s results. Even for companies that have that mindset, coming up with a steady stream of that content is a lot of work.
Pro – A Page allows your Company to be found on LinkedIn
Your description and the keywords, phrases and the company specialties you list all provide “hooks” that searchers on LinkedIn can use to find your company. I think this is a vastly undervalued part of a LinkedIn Page, and many companies do not take advantage of it. And it only takes five minutes to set up or fix.
Pro – You can use it to establish your credibility
This would be the role of that content I talked about above. Establishing credibility is a missing part of many companies’ sales process. You need to have credibility in order to be considered your prospect’s purchasing team. A Company Page is a good place to start that ball rolling, because then you can send them…
Pro – You can use your Page to send people back to your website
LinkedIn doesn’t really give you much room to stretch out and write posts – the character limit for Page posts is 700 characters including spaces and punctuation, and you can’t say very much in that amount of space. The solution is a teaser for your content and then have a link back to the content on your website.
Conclusion & Recommendations
A company page is good for credibility, but not for reach. For companies with the resources to keep up with the commitment to write good content, a Page is worthwhile. If you work for yourself, I would suggest that you can do a good job building your credibility without a Page by publishing articles – which can be found via LinkedIn Search, and are also indexed by Google Search.

A LinkedIn feature that should be ignored: Your weekly search stats

Why being a grain of sand in this photo can be like being found in LinkedIn Search Results

 

This just in: No one is searching for you.

Every week, LinkedIn slips you a notification that says something like: “You appeared in 412 searches this week”. You can then click on it and go to learn more about “your searchers”.

Take it from someone who knows: “You appeared in 412 searches this week.” is about as disingenuous a statement as you will ever read. 

Here are five reasons why “Your Weekly Search Stats” should be ignored:

  1. You are not told where you ranked in those search results. LinkedIn doesn’t say whether you were on page 1 – and likely to be seen listed in the results – or on page 27, where you will hardly ever be seen. When was the last time you performed a Google search and reviewed all the results?
  2. LinkedIn shows you five companies where your searchers work. This has absolutely zero value because you don’t know what these people were searching for. Was it the HR department looking for employees? Was it someone researching an industry? A vendor doing research? A salesperson looking for prospects?
  3. LinkedIn shows you what your searchers do. Again, with no context, what am I to think of this? Six percent of the people whose searches I turned up in last week were “Founders”. Of what? IBM? Fred’s Flower Shop?
  4. LinkedIn will tell you what keywords they used to search. In my case they were VP Marketing, Coach and Consultant. The last time I was a VP Marketing was the late 90’s.
  5. And this is the biggest one, which ties all the others together:

Most LinkedIn users have no clue how to search effectively. 

They put titles in the search box instead of searching by title…they search too broadly by geography…and they get too many results, most of them garbage results. Those are the searches you showed up in. 

Let me summarize with an example: I just stopped writing for a moment, hopped on LinkedIn and did a search for people in North America. So congratulations, if you are a LinkedIn member and live in North America, you just showed up in my search results….with 180 million other people. But my search will be one of the ones you showed up in when you get your weekly search stats next week. 

You may turn up in LinkedIn search results, but that does not mean the searchers are looking at your profile. Or even looking for you at all.

I publish weekly newsletters on using LinkedIn for Sales, LinkedIn for Marketing and Advanced LinkedIn Strategies and Tactics. Each of these 3 is typically a two or three minute read and contains useful ideas you can put into practice right away.

https://practicalsmm.com/contact/

 

Four Advantages Of Using LinkedIn Inmail Over Email For Cold Outreach

I was going to write about three advantages, but I thought of a fourth as I was editing this post. It’s at the end.

The closed system

The first advantage is that InMail takes place within the confines of LinkedIn’s closed system. This makes it safer for users to open, and less likely to contain malware and viruses and other nasty stuff. LinkedIn users can be more confident opening an InMail message from another LinkedIn user.

The possible hooks

One of the great aspects of LinkedIn and Sales Navigator is that the same place you can send those InMails from is the place where you can do the research that can give you ammunition to use in those InMails.
When I am going to send someone an InMail, I am doing research in three places: that person’s LinkedIn profile, the profiles of his or her obvious company peers (that I have found using Search in Sales Nav), and their LinkedIn company page. In all of these areas I am looking for hooks, information I can use that will help me get a response. For example, I have commented on how someone took what appears to be a hard turn in their career fifteen years ago (“I see you went from IT into sales. I would love to hear the story behind that career move.”) Or I will see something on their company page such as their headcount is way up in the past year (or way down!). Either of those two extremes can give me instant ways of couching my message, appealing to their growth or their need to cut costs.
These things don’t always jump out at you, but there is usually something there you can use.

The Tacit Approval

What almost no one knows is that you can opt out of receiving any InMail messages. In sending thousands of InMails I have never run across one of them. People seem to accept that part of the price of using LinkedIn is that non-connections may send them messages. They don’t have to open them, but they will show up in their inbox.

The user who is more likely to respond

This is my secret InMail weapon. I have found that LinkedIn users who use LinkedIn a lot are more likely to “get” LinkedIn, and are more likely to be open to receiving a message from a stranger. This makes sense. So I wondered how I could identify those people and it turned out to be pretty easy. I just look for people with lots of connections  – which I can see on their profile – and even more so, I look for people that are active on LinkedIn – which I can also see through their profile.
If I find someone with two thousand connections who shows up on LinkedIn once or twice a week and comments on posts or shares other people’s posts, I like the odds that if I send him or her a message that they will read it –  and of course it will have the hooks we just talked about in it. But if I send a message to a LinkedIn user who has two hundred connections and doesn’t look like they have been on LinkedIn for months, well that person doesn’t “get” LinkedIn and my odds of them ever even seeing my message let alone responding to it are awful.
And the bottom line?
My experience is that when I send outreach emails and outreach InMails with the same message, the ones I can send to active people get a 14% higher response rate. And that makes the effort worthwhile.

One Disadvantage About Using LinkedIn InMail For Cold Outreach

No sunscreen? Yes, that’s a disadvantage.
The disadvantage is your perception of what InMail is.
Here is the awful misconception many LinkedIn users have when they start using InMail: a method for sending messages to prospects on LinkedIn that pretty well guarantees a response.
They start using InMail thinking it is some magical method that somehow – because it is InMail – will cause otherwise rational business executives to respond to a message like some kind of Walking Dead Zombie.
So thinking that a response is pretty well guaranteed, the sales type sends generic “aren’t we wonderful, let’s do a phone call” cookie cutter stuff with just the name changed at the top.
And they get no responses. And they blame LinkedIn and InMail and just about everything except the real culprit: themselves.
Simply put, here is what InMail is: a method for Premium LinkedIn users to send messages to people they are not connected with on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is like email: your message needs to be really really good for you to stand out from the crowd and earn a response.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you are willing to put the time in to do it well, InMail can be very very rewarding. How good? My response rate runs in the 60-65% range. That’s the culmination of sending several thousand InMails over the past five years and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
I am going to talk a lot about InMail over the next few months, and give you ideas and best practices that you can put into use.
And one other thing: LinkedIn has three big advantages over email. I will talk about those next week.

The Only Question You Need To Answer To Market Successfully On LinkedIn

This applies to every post, article, or company page update you publish on LinkedIn.
Ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?”
What do your ideal customers want? Why are they here on LinkedIn? What questions are they asking? What information do they need?
And then one final question,  “How can I give it to them?”
What I find many companies do is they say they are answering that question, but when you look at what they have published, it’s “what’s in it for our company?”
You get interviews with the company brass, press releases on new equipment they have purchased, list of their capabilities, and supposed benefits customers receive from working with them.
I had a client just the other week where they were putting together a piece of content on one special type of work they could do. They put together two mock pages, one with the special capabilities at the top and one with a blurb about how the company had been in business for forty years, and the other one with the company and capabilities reversed. They canvased the company management for their opinion. Here was my opinion:
“When your ideal customer is searching LinkedIn for answers, which is the burning question their engineers and manufacturing people are looking for answers to?”
a) “Is there anyone out there that can build this special requirement we have?”
or
b) “I wonder if there are companies out there that have been around for forty years?”
My opinion prevailed.
If you perpetually drive yourself to ask “what do they want? What’s in it for them?” you will come up with better content and get a much better response to it on LinkedIn.
And they will come back for more.