July 29, 2009
How To

Using LinkedIn for Lead Generation: 6 Lessons

SUMMARY: Marketers frequently cite LinkedIn as one of the most valuable social networks to incorporate in a marketing strategy. But even marketers who have LinkedIn on their radar screens still wonder how to participate. What works, what doesn’t, and what should you expect?

We asked a marketer who is using LinkedIn for lead generation, to share his lessons on joining groups, sharing marketing collateral, and qualifying the leads that come through the channel.

When the recession deepened last fall, Jason Rushin, Director, Marketing, Quantivo, needed to broaden the focus of his team’s marketing efforts. The company’s behavioral analytics tools had been originally positioned for retailers, but as the economy took its toll on that sector, the team wanted to expand its focus on the Web analytics and business intelligence markets.

Rushin’s team saw social media as a means to raise awareness about the products and generate leads from these new audiences. So, in addition to using Twitter, blogs, and YouTube videos, the team experimented with joining LinkedIn groups and sharing marketing collateral there to generate leads.

On one level, the tactic was a success: Rushin has connected with a community of prospects in the analytics world, received valuable feedback from those potential users, and was routinely seeing upwards of 70-90 registrations for marketing collateral shared with his network.

"This is all gravy for us," says Rushin. "It’s essentially free, other than requiring a little bit of time, and every lead that comes through is an incremental increase."

But the team also learned that LinkedIn requires a special approach to lead generation, and presents some unique challenges for marketers. We asked Rushin to share his top six lessons for using LinkedIn to generate leads.

Lesson #1. Target groups by activity level, not just size

Rushin began his LinkedIn experiment by searching for groups related to his company’s key target industries:
o Retail
o Business intelligence
o Web analytics

The search turned up dozens of groups to explore. To winnow the list, he first eliminated any groups that were more geared toward job opportunities, rather than discussing business concerns.

Then, he examined the size of the groups, but had to actually join groups to assess each one's typical activity level. His goal was to find a highly engaged audience, rather than simply the largest audience.

"Some groups had 15,000 members, but every discussion had received only one or two comments."

For each group, Rushin spent 15 or 20 minutes reading through recent posts to assess group members’ interest areas, and how much activity each post generated. In the end, he identified 17 groups that matched his needs.

Lesson #2. Join groups under an individual name, not a company identity

Social media is a two-way channel, which makes it especially important to assign a point-person to oversee your social media initiatives, establish themselves as a community member, and respond to feedback.

Rushin joined LinkedIn groups under his own name and title, to establish a presence within the industry audiences the company targets. Joining under a personal name also helps avoid the temptation to simply push company marketing into a community discussion group.

"These are people who are potentially important in our industry, and I don’t want to horn my way into a networking group and just start selling."

Lesson #3. Place collateral in the context of a conversation

Every time the team had a new piece of collateral to promote -- such as a webinar or a white paper -- Rushin looked for opportunities to share that information with the team’s LinkedIn groups.

Rather than just posting a message that promoted the team’s marketing content, Rushin created messages that invited a conversation with group members.

- For example, when promoting a white paper, he would write a message to the group announcing the new title, sharing a link, and asking group members to provide feedback on the white paper itself.

"Just from a pure marketing improvement point of view, it’s almost like a blog where people can comment," says Rushin. "Now I have a place where people can comment on my white papers, and that’s good feedback for me."

- Rushin also monitored ongoing conversations to find opportunities to comment on other people’s topics. He would include a link to marketing collateral when appropriate, but often would just share an opinion or give feedback on other group members’ comments.

"That’s totally a conversation, not necessarily a marketing thing," he says. "People see my name as an actual contributor to the conversation."

Lesson #4. Response rate is highly variable

By participating in several groups, Rushin quickly saw that response to his lead-generation offers (in the form of landing page registrations) was highly variable. Each group has its own characteristics and dynamics, which make some white paper or webinar offers highly successful and others relative duds.

Testing content offerings among different groups is essential. Beyond that, Rushin also saw two factors that affected response rate:

- Placement in the weekly or daily update newsletters

LinkedIn group members receive either daily or weekly email dispatches that highlight recent discussion activity within that group. Rushin discovered that placement on those email lists is akin to your placement on a search engine results page: The higher you are in the dispatch, the more views your topic will receive and the more registrations you’re likely to capture.

Because there’s no way to control the amount of activity within a group, there’s no way to guarantee a topic you post will be among the top discussions listed in the email dispatch.

- White paper or webinar topic

Not surprisingly, discussion group members are more interested in white papers or webinars that address industry trends, operational issues, and other educational topics. Product-focused white papers tend to receive a lackluster response.

"Even with webinars, you want to use as little salesmanship as possible," says Rushin. "Our white papers now contain almost no Quantivo messaging in there, except for some boilerplate at the end."

Lesson #5. Create social media-specific landing pages

Rather than taking LinkedIn members to a standard landing page, Rushin created landing pages that specifically addressed the LinkedIn audience.

The tactic did not require a complete landing page redesign. Instead, the team modified the landing page text to create continuity for visitors arriving from LinkedIn, using phrases such as:
o "Thank you for your interest in this discussion"

Lesson #6. Quality can be an issue with leads from LinkedIn

Rushin’s team noticed a trend when they began qualifying leads generated through LinkedIn: Many responses came from job seekers and independent consultants looking for work.

Career networking is a major component of LinkedIn, so response from job-seekers is to be expected. However, minimizing response from these non-qualified leads can be tricky.

To discourage job-seekers, the team changed its registration form to require prospects to use an email address from a company domain -- forbidding the use of free email accounts such as Yahoo! or Gmail. The technique backfired, though, when LinkedIn members began complaining to Rushin (and sometimes to their Twitter followers) that the company was preventing unemployed people or independent consultants from viewing their thought-leadership content.

Rather than risk alienating LinkedIn members, you may have to rely on inside sales follow-up or further nurturing to eliminate non-qualified leads from your marketing funnel.

Useful links related to this article:

Lead Gen with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging - 6 Key Takeaways

More real-world advice on marketing through LinkedIn and other social media channels is on tap for MarketingSherpa’s 6th annual B2B Marketing Summit:



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