Granted, the pandemic has kept us from “business as usual” for the past couple of years, but when was the last time you exchanged a business card with a referral? Handed one to a prospective client or employee? Without golf outings, trade shows, networking luncheons or on-campus recruiting events, your box of business cards most likely sat collecting dust. Fortunately, social media did a good job of keeping us connected and will continue to do so as the hybrid work model becomes the norm – perhaps even more so.
LinkedIn, for example, has evolved into the best platform for professional engagement. In an unexpected move, it has assumed the role of the “digital business card” and the new way to get connected, develop relationships and do business.
The Case For Linking In
LinkedIn started as a social platform for professionals that enabled them to network and connect online in one place. It was to become the Rolodex of the digital generation. Historically – that is pre-pandemic – LinkedIn was known as the place to find jobs or meet recruiters and headhunters. Fast-forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was an influx of new participants, which resulted in 31% membership growth during the lockdown period alone. The onset of increased engagement started facilitating a variety of business opportunities. Frequent engagement, in the form of original articles and commentary, identified subject-matter experts and highlighted industry thought leaders who produced a 60% increase in content on the site. LinkedIn suddenly became an effective platform for customer acquisition, employee recruiting and lead generation. In fact, it is currently 277% more effective than Facebook in generating B2B leads!
The Personal Branding Movement
Your brand is the sum total of all experiences someone has with you based on the value you bring and the promises you make. Jeff Bezos has said that a personal brand is “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Parlaying that personal brand experience into an online presence can be challenging, but not impossible. Social media has helped us get very good at using digital outlets to increase visibility and expertise. In fact, personal brands can often exceed the images of corporate brands.
The new hire, the prospective client, the savvy referral — they are all looking online for someone just like you! Your profile needs to be interesting, and you have to keep the audience engaged by sharing compelling content. And if that’s not enough reason to be engaged, here’s the most compelling one: your competition is.
Keep in mind that while your profile is being perused, so are those of your colleagues, firm and competition. Prospective clients, referrals and even talent are comparing you to professionals just like you who possess the same credentials and provide the same services. When considering hiring an accountant, engaging in a referral relationship or pursuing a career, they are also looking at the profiles and attributes of competitors, both people and firms. What will make you stand apart is the alignment of attributes that match their specific needs and values. As such, your profile should reflect as much of your personality as it does your professional strengths and successes.
Open For Business
Even before the pandemic, business-to-business sales cycles were trending to be more dependent on online research conducted prior to purchases. The pandemic advanced the journey with more reliance from the beginning of the journey with buyers starting online via Google or another search engine. According to Forrester, 68% of B2B customers prefer to research independently online (prior to making a decision). Research by McKinsey & Company last year found that 70-80% of B2B decision-makers prefer remote interactions with sellers and digital self-service, citing ease of scheduling, savings on travel expenses and safety. Gartner reinforces that companies must implement a “Digital-First Approach” to align with customer purchasing behaviors. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, nearly 80% of LinkedIn members report that they use the platform to search people and companies before even engaging with them.
According to Google, 80% of people research others online before meeting them for the first time. Generally speaking, the two places those prospects will go to “get to know you” are the bio page of your firm’s website and/or your LinkedIn profile. Alternatively, they will Google your name. The search engine will rank your LinkedIn profile in the top three results because a complete profile has a very high SEO ranking authority with Google. This is when they have essentially discovered your digital business card.
The Power of a Profile
In our five years of Managing Partner Bootcamp (MPB), we’ve evolved our courses to stay abreast of the changing needs of leaders in the industry. In the last three years, we’ve put an emphasis on the value of personal branding, specifically on LinkedIn, to attract and retain both talent and clients. Last month, we convinced three approximately 35-year-old partners, each from a different firm in a different part of the country, why LinkedIn matters. Each had their reason for not participating — from “it takes up too much time” to “I’m not convinced it has any value.”
During the sessions, with some reluctance, each spent time updating their profiles to create enhanced and “completed” profiles and include the elements that LinkedIn algorithms promote. Needless to say, almost immediately they began seeing results leading to more engagement, better connections and potential possibilities they did not have the day before.
We adhere to the simple business philosophy of Apple’s first Chief Evangelist and marketing-industry guru, Guy Kawasaki, who has said, “If you are not on LinkedIn, you might as well not exist in this world. Everybody needs to be on LinkedIn.”
Ready, Set, Grow!
Executives engage on LinkedIn because it continues to be the single biggest professional networking platform and is the most trustworthy source for peer-to-peer connections and B2B opportunities. In the next year, the number of LinkedIn users in the U.S. is projected to be 66.8 million. According to LinkedIn, more than 80% will still hold senior-level positions and four out of five will continue to drive business decisions.
Professionals without a LinkedIn profile and those not engaging are at risk of being rendered invisible in an active and competitive marketplace. The more people you are able to attract to your LinkedIn profile through targeted networking and thought leadership, the more opportunities for you to connect, converse and build both business and your brand.
Ilana Isakov Katz and David Toth are consultants with Winding River Consulting where they work with accounting firm leaders to advance digital, marketing and growth.