How can PR people use LinkedIn

It is not uncommon for PROs to have hundreds of connections on LinkedIn, but what actual value do all these contacts bring you? According to its own blog describing the uses of LinkedIn, the first reason to have connections is to increase visibility.

If you are all over Twitter and Facebook, your LinkedIn profile may not be a priority. But LinkedIn should not be underestimated, because of the sheer number of its users. For example, with just over 200 contacts, the site claims that this could link you to over 3 million professionals, while in total the site has over 85 million members in over 200 countries.

As with any other site, the secret to using LinkedIn is to focus. Focus on specific aims and work out how LinkedIn can meet them. Whether you wish to publish client news, connect with journalists, or get another job (which might be a necessity as redundancies increase), it is important to target your audiences and tailor your messages.

“LinkedIn can be a positive benefit to PR agencies if, and only if, it is used in the right way”, says Howard Robinson, consultant at marketing and public relations consultancy Astute. Robinson warns against using it as a place to sell your business and services openly, as it is not a marketplace. He compares LinkedIn with being at a networking event, where it is important to take time to find out about the person you are speaking to before beginning to discuss how you could mutually benefit from being in contact (stress on the mutual benefit). He gives this advice: “Demonstrate what you can bring to the table, observe the 80/20 rule of ensuring that 80 per cent of your communication should be of general benefit, rather than about you, and choose your groups and your contributions to them carefully.”

As well as networking, the site is a forum for debate between professionals in PR. Although Tom Watson, professor of PR at Bournemouth University, says that in his experience the site isn’t so much good for building conversations as it is for disseminating information: “It's a bit like a restrained personal blog on which news is distributed. I have created a History of Public Relations group which has over 80 members. There's no dialogue but it was the preferred news platform, in addition to the http://historyofpr.com website, for researchers in this growing field. Many don't like the openness of Facebook and wanted a social media link that was more serious. LinkedIn fills that role.”

When it comes to getting news coverage, independent PR consultant Jeremy Walters says that the greatest problem with the site concerns its policy over company pages (rather than personal profiles), as you cannot independently put news stories onto a corporate page. This is instead left to LinkedIn, which gathers information from such news sites as CNN and Fox.

Walters complains: “This means that only companies the size of Hewlett Packard get any news coverage while medium to small companies get nothing, even big agencies like WCRS. This is a huge drawback of LinkedIn which, as it moves forward, must allow companies to upload their own news, just like it does for personal profiles.”

Tips for making the most of LinkedIn:

1. Set up a company profile as well as an individual one. And make sure that you use key industry buzzwords so it gets picked up in online searches.

2. Join or create a group. There are many groups for the PR industry including the CIPR group and the Marketing Communication group. Get involved in, and start, discussions.

3. Connect! When you meet key journalists and contacts, check out their profile on LinkedIn and connect with them straight away.

4. Get recommended. Don’t be shy about asking contacts for recommendations, and reciprocate.

5. Be active. Make sure your status updates are linked to Twitter, and regularly update your status.

6. List your events – or at least check out relevant events for your industry.

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