With the unveiling of The Jameson Group’s new website, it seems only appropriate that our first blog entries address the subject of social media. Specifically, how social media can be used by attorneys to develop business and facilitate more effective and efficient networking. Your options for connecting with clients and colleagues via digital media are myriad, but we’re going to start this discussion by focusing on just one service: LinkedIn. The site has grown exponentially over the past year, and if you’re not already a member, odds are you will be soon. But, despite the number of legal professionals currently swelling LinkedIn’s ranks, the attorneys we work with often express more than a little uncertainty as to the practical benefits of the site. We’ve lost count of the number of times a colleague has told us they have a LinkedIn account but they’re not sure why or how to take advantage of it. The truth is, with a little know-how, the service can be an incredibly effective means of connecting you with the people you need to reach, whether to create new client relationships or strengthen existing ones. Accordingly, our first two blog posts will focus on helping you better understand and use LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is often described as Facebook for professionals. The comparison, while certainly oversimplified, is understandable. After all, both sites allow users to create individual profiles complete with personal photos and lists of interests, each seems to have transitioned overnight from novelty to necessity and in both cases amassing as many connections as possible seems to be the ultimate goal. If we were to stop there then the comparison would be apt. Unfortunately, many professionals do just that: they stop there. But with a basic understanding of LinkedIn’s powerful search functions, turning the site into one’s own personal client-development database is only a few clicks away. Before we move on to the nuts and bolts of networking on LinkedIn, a quick overview of the site is probably in order.
Let’s consider the numbers. Since its launch in 2003, LinkedIn has grown in excess of 100 million members, over half of whom reside outside the United States. The site now gains 1 million new members every ten days – that’s one new user per second (feel free to check my math). Every one of the Fortune 500 is represented on LinkedIn. In fact, 499 of them are represented by director-level and above employees. Additionally, the site’s various users represent 215 different industries globally. With these stats, it’s hard to debate LI’s networking potential. But for many attorneys, being a member of LinkedIn can be a bit like maintaining a high-end gym membership: you initially joined because so many of your friends and colleagues were already there, you feel vaguely guilty for not using it to better results and, when you do show up, without some expert assistance, you’re not entirely sure what you should be doing. The purpose of this blog is to address that last issue. While you might not be a bona fide LinkedIn expert once we’re through, I do expect you’ll have a much better sense of the service’s value as a practical and powerful tool.
Step One: Build Your Contacts
The larger your contact pool, the more likely you are to get that sought-after introduction. So take advantage of LinkedIn’s ability to interface with webmail services such as Google, Yahoo and AOL. The site will scan your contact list, determine which individuals are currently LinkedIn members and allow you to send a request to connect via the service (simply choose “Contacts” at the top of the page and then “Add Connections”—the service will walk you through the rest). But a word of caution, your end goal here is to create a group of contacts that you can actually use for referrals, introductions, intelligence, etc. Be selective. Only send invitations to those contacts with whom you have a strong relationship. Ask yourself a simple question: Would I be comfortable picking up the phone or firing off an email to ask this person for help? If the answer is no, move on. Remember, an impressively expansive connections pool will do you little good if it largely consists of weak contacts.
Step Two: The Search For A New Client Introduction Begins
It’s time to start the search process, so let’s start with a company search. Our goal will be to find someone among your current connections who can provide a needed introduction to a target client. Odds are you will be surprised at just who your friends and colleagues know. And this is the real value of LI, allowing you to utilize contacts you didn’t even know you had, recognizing data points that almost certainly would have otherwise gone unnoticed. To begin the process, go to your personal profile page and select the blue “Advanced” search option.
You’ll find it at the top of the page quietly sitting on your task bar’s far right edge. This unassuming hyperlink (rendered in the smallest, least conspicuous text you’re likely to see on the site) will provide you with access to LinkedIn’s powerful and highly customizable search feature. Once you’ve opened the page, make sure you’ve chosen the “Advanced People Search” tab. In future blogs, we’ll touch on the site’s other search features but for now we’ll stick with a basic company search.
A quick glance at the page and you’ll see empty text fields at the top and series of categories and check boxes below that allow you to refine your search even further. Unless you have the site’s Premium pay service, the lower half of the page is largely populated by data filters appearing as ghost icons (links that can be read but not selected). While these categories allow for very specific results filtering, most searches won’t require their use. If you find you just can’t live without options like limiting search results to only those Fortune 1000 companies currently sitting in the 251-500 range, then consider upgrading to premium. For the rest of us, the non-pay search should work just fine. As mentioned, we’re focusing on a specific company here so you’ll want to find the “Company” text field at the top of the page and insert the name of the organization you’d like to reach (think Boeing, Nike, Medtronic, etc. – you get the idea).
Remember, our objective here is to determine who among your current connections might be able to facilitate contact with your target entity. We can do this by selecting “Relationships” from the “Sort By” dropdown at the bottom of the page. Now hit the blue “Search” button and we’re on our way.
You will now have a series of results. Look them over and get a sense of which seem worthwhile and which don’t. We’ll explain your results in our next blog entry which we will post next week.