How LinkedIn are you?

Companies are active users of LinkedIn but its workaday profile as a careers network may be blinding them to its full potential as a corporate communications tool, Rob Curran says.

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LinkedIn can easily be cast as the Cinderella of social media – the underappreciated task-driven sibling to the glitzy and headline-grabbing likes of Facebook and Twitter. While its user base is growing healthily – it claims that more than 150 million professionals engage through its network, leading to its often being called ‘the Facebook for professionals’ – it nevertheless appears relatively neglected on the corporate web.
The latest FT Bowen Craggs index of 81 of the world’s largest corporate web estates found LinkedIn to be far from prominent. Few of the sites analysed had integrated LinkedIn in any meaningful way, with most opting to feature Facebook and Twitter on their corporate sites and careers section.
This lack of LinkedIn integration on corporate sites is recognised by Peter Warne, Nestlé’s head of IR communications services, who notes that while the network is extremely useful as a means of communication with peers, it is sorely underused for corporate communications and reaching stakeholders.
So what is it that prevents LinkedIn from being invited to the corporate web ball along with its more pouting sisters and confines its talents to ‘below stairs’?

Limiting perception

Arguably, the most significant factor is LinkedIn’s biggest asset and chief selling point – namely its focus as a career-related networking tool and information exchange. Web managers and users alike are prone to viewing LinkedIn only as a place to host professional profiles and network with industry peers – not as a platform to broadcast corporate messages or engage with brand content.
In fairness to them, until LinkedIn’s launch last year (2011) of Company Updates – essential status updates for company profiles –the network was largely free from the ‘broadcasting’ elements that are so integral to Twitter, YouTube and many other ‘social networks’. Hardly a surprise, therefore, if companies discounted the platform as a communications channel.
However, companies may now be missing a chance to reinforce their messages to high-value stakeholders such as investors and influential executives through the LinkedIn connection.

Useful but low-profile tools

Where once LinkedIn certainly lagged in providing companies with tools for integrating their corporate sites with the network, it now has a number of features aimed at encouraging brands and corporations to make full use of it.
p(. One of these tools appeared earlier this year with the belated launch of LinkedIn’s own Follow button. Like the Facebook and Twitter follow buttons, LinkedIn’s version allows a company to embed the button on its site, so that visitors can indicate they would like to receive updates and news about the company via LinkedIn. For those brands that actively use LinkedIn as a means to communicate with stakeholders, the button presents an easy way to integrate the platform with the site, and start broadcasting news updates that go further than the everyday LinkedIn diet of job postings and CV updates. AT&T’s careers site was an early adopter of the button, but so far working implementations are few and far between on corporate websites.
p(. In addition to Follow, LinkedIn offers embeddable Share and Recommend buttons. These allow a site’s visitors to begin spreading content around LinkedIn’s network of professionals, in much the same way as their equivalents for Facebook and Twitter do. While the latter were noted regularly in the latest Index, there is little sign yet of the LinkedIn version being added to the mix, though it clearly offers an opportunity to promote content to a significant portion of jobseekers and the other high-value stakeholders that are common on LinkedIn, but less so on Facebook.
p(. LinkedIn also allows companies to customise their profile pages on the network, something again confined so far to the pioneering few. For example, most corporations do not communicate with stakeholders via status updates on LinkedIn. This results in the company’s Activity panel on its profile containing only fairly meaningless, automated messages about changes to job titles and such like. Where they are done well, frequent status updates produce a good level of engagement. Technology company Dell’s regular updates are often rewarded with ‘likes’ and comments that raise the profile of the brand and distribute the material around the LinkedIn network and beyond.
p(. LinkedIn’s company pages also allow for clear linking to the corporate site. Again, evidence of adoption is limited. Samsung Electronics, for example, uses its profile to offer feature panel links to product pages on its dotcom site, while Deloitte provides links and descriptions for its consulting services, many of which have been ‘recommended’ (and thus spread around) by LinkedIn users.

The time is ripe

In addition to improving communication tools for companies, LinkedIn has also done a good job of expanding its global user-base in the past year. The most notable gain has been in Brazil, where monthly visits to the site quadrupled in 2011. In the same timeframe, India has moved close behind the US and UK as the countries recording the highest number of monthly visits.
Put it another way: LinkedIn’s global reach is increasing at the same time as it expands its suite of integration and communication tools. As that message sinks in with corporate communicators, the carriage is surely on its way for the Cinderella of social media.

First published 13 June, 2012
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