If LinkedIn had been around when I was an insurance producer, there’s no telling what I could have achieved. As a former independent agent for 11 years, I know how difficult this specific sales process is, and how frustrating it can be to cultivate and negotiate meaningful business relationships that drive the buying decision. The good news is that LinkedIn is available for insurance producers in the field today and is tailor-made for them. There’s no excuse for not learning how to use it advantageously.
Optimizing and monetizing LinkedIn is not complicated, but it does require an investment of time and energy. Mastering a few basic skill sets, as well as understanding the underlying reasons why businesspeople use LinkedIn, will create the mindset necessary for you to achieve your professional goals.
Social Networking vs. Social Media
Social networking involves building like-minded virtual communities that can be leveraged for sharing information; researching people, places and things; strengthening interpersonal relationships; and ideally, creating mutually beneficial outcomes. Social networking activities (e.g., connecting with others, cultivating business opportunities, selling and marketing products and services) are accomplished via social media — Internet-based platforms that allow for the exchange of content (e.g., text, graphics, pictures, video, audio, etc.) via specific outbound links of a user profile. Some examples of good social media sites in addition to LinkedIn.com include Facebook.com, Twitter.com and Plaxo.com. Social media strategy incorporates the best features of traditional media, advertising, marketing, public relations and word-of-mouth. Yet ultimately, the real distinction between social networking and social media is that social networking is the action you take while using social media sites as a platform to conduct your business.
What Is LinkedIn and Why?
LinkedIn is the social media website dedicated to the pursuit of commerce. With more than 75 million users (as of press time) and growing quickly, it is the largest professional network in the world. Your activities on this site mirror those in the real world — namely, prospecting, research, qualifying leads, connecting with professional resources, and cementing relationships with existing clients and referral alliances. The primary goal of using LinkedIn is to identify individuals and companies to whom you can sell and market your products, services, and enterprises.
The LinkedIn Profile
The LinkedIn profile is the point at which you are accessed on the site. The profile is segmented to reveal the unique aspects of your business persona, specialties, education, work experience, affiliations, accomplishments and interests. There is also a section for displaying recommendations from those in your LinkedIn network. On this web page, you have the opportunity to broadcast your unique value proposition (UVP) to potential new connections and opportunities. In other words, what differentiates you from others who do what you do? Why should people do business with you? Your ability to monetize LinkedIn depends on the extent to which you can answer these questions and capture your brand in words. After all, content is king (or queen). When constructing your profile, your mission is to isolate your core competencies, select pertinent elements of your professional history, and communicate them in a thoughtful, orderly manner. You want visitors to your LinkedIn profile to discover your subject matter expertise, but also to view you in human terms. Other important requirements, such as sentence structure, key-wording and voicing will be discussed further in future installments.
Building a Directory of Connections
Social media was born of the basic human need to connect with others and be a part of a community. Therefore, LinkedIn gives its users the opportunity to build and develop tightly knit business relationships that can be leveraged for real-world gain. LinkedIn is not merely a virtual Rolodex or a static directory of contacts; rather, the basic premise to building your own network of business professionals is quite simple: Invite people to connect (or accept invitations from those trying to connect with you), create touch points with your connections, and ideally, move the relationship forward. Relationships on LinkedIn typically are developed through artful and diplomatic communication. You can ultimately identify prospects for your products or services, sell or market your products or services directly, cultivate referral sources, and gain favorable introductions to potential clients within your professional community. When you meet people at events or during the course of business and exchange cards, do your homework. Search for each person individually by name on LinkedIn and determine if he/she can be a worthy colleague, referral alliance, or ideally, a client, and your network will grow rapidly.
As you attract attention to your LinkedIn profile, more people will access it, and you will be scrutinized as a potential service provider.
Recommendations from clients, colleagues and centers of influence are your best gauge of credibility and are integral to your LinkedIn profile content. Other than the unsolicited recommendation (which is like manna falling from the sky!), there are two ways to receive LinkedIn recommendations: one is to write one; the other is to request one. LinkedIn has an internal engine to generate recommendations from your connections and a portal through which to provide a reciprocal recommendation in quid-pro-quo fashion. We’ll explore recommendations at greater length in a future article.
Many firms in the financial services arena are currently dealing with compliance issues that may restrict the language used on social media sites, e-mails and other correspondence and testimonials, so don’t take it personally if they can’t recommend you. FINRA has imposed guidelines regarding content for registered representatives — those engaged in the sale of equity-based insurance products or securities — and the extent to which agents can engage on these platforms.
For current information on FINRA social media policy, please visit http://www.finra.org/Industry/Regulation/Notices/2010/P120760
LinkedIn as a Research Tool
Knowledge is power (but only if you know how to acquire it!). As an insurance producer, you are well aware that prospecting for business involves a great deal of research. After you have isolated your target markets and industries, start experimenting with the powerful LinkedIn search engine. Its advanced search capability can yield promising results, both on individual and company levels.
To fully appreciate the magnitude and efficiency of LinkedIn searches, imagine finding thousands of potential clients in just a few mouse clicks. Of the various searches conducted on LinkedIn, those for individuals, companies, and keyword are most prevalent. Other popular targeted searches are by industry, position, geographical location, school(s), and LinkedIn group membership.
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