If you're still a linkedin skeptic, or are just gathering connections and going no further, you're letting a powerful tool slip through your fingers. Here are four simple ways to leverage linkedin, along with practical tips to create valuable business benefits -- without draining your time.

 

WIN ENGAGEMENTS AND INTROS

When pursuing a prospective client, use LinkedIn to seek out someone you know in common who can recommend or introduce you. This approach was used effectively by a consulting firm that learned, through LinkedIn, that a young associate at the firm was connected to the chief executive officer of a major prospect. The associate, who lived next door to the company's CEO and was close friends with his son, played an invaluable role in winning the client.

Practice Tip 1: Designate at least two people at your firm or office location to connect with every member or employee. When you have a lead, ask them to check the firm's connections to that prospect. It's also a best practice to ask everyone at your firm or location to connect with each other.

Practice Tip 2: Before meeting with a referral source, review their connections to see if there is anyone in their network to whom you'd like an introduction.

Of course, just because an individual is connected to someone on LinkedIn does not mean they necessarily know them. Ask your contact how well they know the individual and whether they'd be comfortable introducing or recommending you. Also, be generous in making introductions to your contacts.

While many take the view that a larger LinkedIn network is always better, especially in professional services, it's important to balance quantity with quality. LinkedIn does offer a privacy setting that allows you to hide your connections. However, because this defeats many of the benefits of being on LinkedIn, it is not widely used.

 

NURTURE VALUABLE RELATIONSHIPS

Posting content on LinkedIn gives you a unique opportunity to stay top-of-mind with your contacts while building credibility in a valuable and non-intrusive way. A corporate attorney had a prospect who decided to stay with her current lawyer. Nine months later, when she came back ready to engage the corporate attorney, she complimented him on having shared useful information on LinkedIn. While this was clearly not the only reason the prospect returned, it certainly played a role in the attorney developing familiarity and trust with the prospect.

Practice Tip 3: Connect with your prospects on LinkedIn. During the course of reading an interesting article, take an extra 30 seconds to share it on LinkedIn. Include an insight on what led you to share the article. Many people do not take this extra step, so you will stand out, while demonstrating expertise. Also, post relevant articles that you or others at your firm have written or where you have appeared.

Be conscious of how often you're sharing content and how valuable it is. Too much can get annoying (LinkedIn is not Twitter), while sporadic posts will go unnoticed. Before creating a post, ask yourself, "Would my network really care? Is this helpful?" and avoid making them mostly about you or your firm so that you don't appear self-serving. With this in mind, use your judgment, and do what feels comfortable to you.

 

STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR NETWORK

LinkedIn's news feed (viewable on your "home" page) enables you to easily see what your contacts are up to, such as a job change, a work anniversary, or a new post. An accountant recently noticed through her LinkedIn news feed that a former client she had not spoken to in over two years had started a new job. The accountant shot off a quick message congratulating her and asking her to lunch. Through this initial connection, the former client's new company eventually became a client of the accountant.

Practice Tip 4: You will receive weekly e-mails from LinkedIn alerting you to the activities of your contacts. Take a moment to scan the news feed and another few seconds to "InMail" a contact when something catches your eye.

 

BE GENEROUS

The culture of online networking is no different from face-to-face networking. The more you genuinely give, the more successful you will be. Connect and spotlight others, share information that truly brings value, congratulate someone on an important achievement. While LinkedIn does not replace a personal phone call or meeting, over time and used strategically, it can be a key complement to your other networking tools.

Jill Jacobs is director of marketing at top 30 CPA firm Berdon LLP, with offices in new york City and Jericho, Long Island. reach her at (212) 699-8830 or jjacobs@berdonllp.com.

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