This is the second post in a series where I look into how you can use the four leading social media tools – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube – to advance your innovation agenda. You can read my post on Twitter here and find my free book on how to use social media for innovation efforts here.
The use of social media to promote and market the outcomes of innovation (products and services) is widespread. This is not the focus of these descriptions as I want to focus on how corporate innovation units can use social media in their efforts to create these products and services.
Here we go with LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is the largest professional network with more than 150 million members in over 200 countries and territories. Fifty-nine percent of LinkedIn members are located outside the United States, making it a truly global network. According to LinkedIn, the network is growing at a rate of more than two new members per second. Linkedin has become so pervasive in the business world that it is often the first place people search when they are looking for information on a specific person.
LinkedIn members post professional profiles and build their own networks of direct connections, people with whom they have some degree of relationship. Also in each member’s connections are the connections of each of their connections (called second-degree connections) and the connections of second-degree connections (called third-degree connections). These mutual contacts can be used to gain an introduction to someone who might be useful in job hunting, obtaining new business or other purposes.
In addition, members can join the special interest groups that have been formed on LinkedIn. There are approximately one million of these groups, covering a wide range of topics, including professional and career issues. There are also affinity groups such as alumni associations. In these groups you can share content, such as your blog posts, and also comment on content provided by other people.
• Identify and connect with people. Knowledge is the key element to innovation, and LinkedIn is a great tool for identifying people with knowledge. If you are working on a project and you need to get in touch with experts or just others with an assumed interest in your topic, you can use LinkedIn’s advanced search function to identify these people by searching on keywords. This is not the same as having access to this knowledge, but knowing who to get in touch with is the second best thing.
• Engage in special interest groups. This is a double-edged sword. There are so many groups so you are almost certain to find some that fit your needs and interests. You will most likely also be able to build relationships with relevant people in these groups. However, there is a considerable amount of spam (non-relevant information and self-promotion) in most groups and thus many good discussions almost get lost in the clutter of (irrelevant) information.
• Create your own special interest groups. If you want to create your own group, you will run into the above-mentioned challenges of spam and irrelevant information. To fight this, it helps if you consider two things. First, you need to ask yourself if there really is a need for your group and then you need to make sure you have the resources needed to facilitate and moderate the group in a way that everyone benefits if you decide to go ahead.
You might get better interaction if you run a private group in which members need to be approved to join. However, you need to bear in mind that the key issue here is time. Not many people have time to engage in such groups so if you want good results, you really need to deliver on your end.
• Use LinkedIn Answers to post questions you’d like the LinkedIn community to answer. This is a good way to draw attention to your interest in a topic and encourage people to interact with you. You also can answer questions others have posted, which is another good way to demonstrate your knowledge and establish yourself as a thought leader on a given topic. Answers get rated and a best answer chosen, so it does build credibility if you do a good job with it.
In addition, answering LinkedIn questions or posting your own questions enables you to connect with people outside your own circle of connections. Quora.com offers a similar service in which the quality of the replies seems higher.
• LinkedIn polls let you post a poll within a discussion group. This is just one more way to draw attention to your area of interest or get feedback on specific issues.
• Complete your profile. You should do a thorough job of completing your LinkedIn profile. This takes a little time, but it will establish that you’re serious about using LinkedIn as a way to connect with people.
• Get as many connections as possible. The network effects really start kicking in once you get to 150-200 connections with one example being that your searches give better results. Getting 150-200 connections might sound difficult, but you will be amazed by the number of contacts you have amassed over the years once you start to think about this. Most of these are also on LinkedIn. However, I strongly advise you not to just connect with everyone. You need a policy for connecting with others. Figure out what works the best for you.
• Develop your policy for connecting with others. Building on the above, you need to consider what your policy is going to be about connecting with people who ask to connect with you. You can choose to only connect with people you have actually met, people who you’ve exchanged e-mails or phone calls with but haven’t met in person, or with people who don’t know you specifically but who are known to several of your contacts. You can even decide to connect with absolutely everyone who reaches out to you via a LinkedIn invitation.
This is a policy that can evolve over time; you can always change your mind and broaden the range of people you accept invitations from. But the chief thing I want to recommend is that you think this through before the invitations start coming, which will make it easy to know which you’re going to accept and which you aren’t. Personally, I have so far only connected with people I have interacted with in real or virtual life, but I am about to change this as I begin to use LinkedIn for even more out-going efforts. I will still be selective, but I will also connect with people that are relevant for my focus areas.
• Upgrade your account. While using the service for free certainly has benefits, becoming a business member really kicks things up in terms of your ability to identify and reach out to other people who would be good to have in your open innovation ecosystem. One key benefit of a paid membership is that you get more InMails, which you can use to reach out directly to anyone, even if they are not included in your network of contacts.