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LinkedIn reaches half billion user mark – but is it still relevant for business?

Real Business finds out what value business owners place on social networking site LinkedIn, and asks a few users what improvements they’d like made.
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London has been named the most connected city in the world by LinkedIn, with a third of the UK population now having a profile of some sort.

Founded in 2002 by a team led by Reid Hoffmann, LinkedIn has emerged as the de facto online business network of choice – with over half a billion people globally now a user.

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There are a number of different ways to engage with the platform, from its free service right the way up to its Executive subscription worth £77.99 a month, but are business owners in Britain still finding it useful?

For Natalie Weaving, director at The Typeface Group, LinkedIn is still a valuable resource to businesses – especially those that are time poor and looking to pitch products or services to specific people within a company.

“By being clever with searches and looking at who is employed at your target business, you can often get the contact details for the decision maker you are looking for,” she added.

This sentiment was echoed by Jo Swann, MD at Chocolate PR. “For those with focused sales initiatives it can be a fabulous way of finding the perfect potential clients, but only if the individual combines connecting, with publishing,” she warned.

“Spam invites are not well received, and why should they be? It’s no better than cold calling. But combine targeted connecting with blog post publishing and effective use of personal and corporate updates and you can build an audience interested in your knowledge and insights as you can then demonstrate the value you can add as a connection.”

Swann has a Business Plus account, making her a paying customer of LinkedIn, but feels it would be better if the platform’s InMail offering showed how people are connected. “If someone I InMailed could see if I was connected to their connections as part of that message then it would help with credibility.”

A common complaint levelled against LinkedIn around the world is it’s moving towards becoming a platform more geared towards recruiters than actual business owners.

Keith White, who looks after SEO at Dobell Menswear, said the platform used to be a great way of creating a virtual rolodex of business contacts and finding an “in” to new potential partnerships.

“Of late, many users have reported frustrations of a constant bombardment of recruiters,” he said. “The approaches now seem to be less targeted and impersonal now. A quick scroll through received messages will often result in maybe one or two per cent of useful messages, and the rest spammy sales pitches – which is shame. It used to be the case that you’d read every message you received, but now it’s a case of selecting and deleting all, as there is little chance any are worthwhile.

“The costs needed to open up features within the premium products have been likely inflated by the commercial usefulness of LinkedIn to sales and recruitment specialists. It’s hard to justify spending between £23.99 and £74.99 to discover everyone that’s viewed your profile, or to send someone an InMail that they are unlikely to ever read anyway.”

LinkedIn trends

New LinkedIn user stats show the UK is the fourth most connected country in the world, with an average of 144 connections per user, behind the UAE (211), Netherlands (188) and Singapore (152). However, London places top of the pile for most connected cities, with an average of 307 connections. Amsterdam (288), San Francisco (241), Jakarta (225) and Milan (221) block out the rest of the top five.

So, as a nation clearly enamoured by the social media platform, what do users find particularly valuable.

Gordon Beattie, president of The Creative Communications Group, believes the Premium subscription fee is “worth every penny”.

“Linkedin makes it easy for our recruitment team to identify and connect with top talent. It’s saved us a fortune in head hunter recruitment fees. It also makes it simple to stay in touch with friends, associates, clients and prospects.”

However, he did add his frustrations with the continued work anniversary notifications that plague members. “They are irritating and should be scrapped,” he said.

Emma Cox, a business growth strategist, has over 2000 connections and thinks LinkedIn gives her access to a network unachievable otherwise.” I am a Premium user, but I would only recommend paying if you are sure you are going to actively use it as a tool to grow your business and set some measurable goals for what you want to achieve,” she added. “There’s no viable alternative to LinkedIn currently. so I will stay with it.”

Weaving is not a paid-up member of LinkedIn, as she hasn’t felt a need to upgrade, but does feel that less posts about “what others like” would be preferential – so that space for updates from the people she is connected to can be made. She’d also like to be able to edit company page posts, as right now users have to delete and re-post.

As with any marketing, sales or recruitment investment, putting together a plan for what you want to achieve and how that will be carried out is critical. Rosa Guzman, director at Curated Digital, said her company uses LinkedIn in three distinct ways. “First it is a platform where we run campaigns for our clients and for ourselves. LinkedIn is great when you want to reach your audience – you can target based on different criteria such as job title, groups, etc or ABM. As a company we also use it to attract new talent by posting our job vacancies. Lastly, we use LinkedIn to network by connecting with current and potential clients.”

David Jones, communications manager at Alphabet, finds the platform very useful for his work and had some interesting insights and advice for businesses.

“As a communication tool, it is an effective and easy way to steadily build brand awareness and engage with customers, suppliers and employees. We use the platform to celebrate the successes of the business, share content that our followers might find interesting and educate the industry about critical issues that might affect their business.

“However, LinkedIn needs to be used in the correct way. It is a business medium and therefore content should be appropriate for this audience, especially when you’re looking to engage with senior- level people. Far too often we see companies treating it like Facebook, with a tone that doesn’t fit with the audience they’re trying to communicate with, and this can be detrimental to how people view your organisation.”

However you use it, and whatever you feel about recruitment spam or Facebook-type posts, moving beyond the 500m user mark shows LinkedIn has put together a significant community.

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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