LinkedIn not working for you? Try this.

If you were to ask me which social media platform has the most untapped potential for the largest number of professionals, my answer might surprise you: LinkedIn.

While LinkedIn certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s unmatched when it comes to helping people move up in their careers, generate leads, and promote their capabilities. However, the key word here is “untapped.” Unfortunately, many LinkedIn users do little more than establish a profile and make a few connections, believing the platform is only relevant to job seekers, or because they are not sure what to do next, or — most commonly — because they don’t see enough value in LinkedIn to warrant putting in more time and effort.

The truth is, there’s unlimited potential on LinkedIn — if you’re willing to do a little work. One of the best examples of this I’ve heard recently – and there are several — is the experience of T.J. Wagner, a Fort Wayne professional who has mastered the art of using LinkedIn for networking and lead generation. Like many of us, T.J.’s work is all about relationships. He is a merchant services consultant who assists small and medium-size businesses with credit card processing. He also serves as a director consultant for Greater Fort Wayne Business Network International, overseeing nine chapters.

T.J. Wagner, LinkedIn user extraordinaire

T.J. cites several ways in which he uses LinkedIn.

“At my fingertips are opportunities to garner insight into topics of interest,” he explains, “a forum to display my business and the ways in which I can serve and add value to others in the business community and, when I need to find information on others, I can view their profile and learn about a prospective client before meeting them.”

T.J. even developed a system for getting more value out of his relationships. A few years ago, at Thanksgiving, he reached out to each of his 350 LinkedIn connections (a number that has grown substantially since), varying the message slightly based on the depth of the relationship. He wished each of them a happy Thanksgiving and expressed appreciation for their involvement in his life and work. Then he varied the message slightly:

  • Those he knew well received a simple thank you
  • For those he wanted to get to know better, he offered to learn more about how they could help each other
  • Those he knew least well were invited to meet with T.J. to talk in detail about how they could be resources to one another

He estimates that the exercise took eight hours altogether. The results, however, were beyond anything he imagined. T.J. says about 10 percent of his connections responded, “which led to a very packed two months of understanding my networks’ businesses and developing strategies to add value to one another.” Most notably, he attributes multiple deals worth several thousand dollars to these efforts. As he appropriately says, “Not bad for an initial eight-hour workday.”

A few important lessons from T.J.’s experience:

  • LinkedIn only works if you do. While it didn’t consume weeks of his time, T.J. still had to put in a significant effort. If all you’re willing to do is build a profile, make some connections, and sit back and wait for good things to happen, you won’t get very far.
  • You need to tolerate some rejection. While T.J.’s 10 percent rate of return is impressive, it also means 90 percent of his connections didn’t respond. Like so many things in our professional lives, you need to hear the word “no” often to get to the word “yes.” If you try once and fail, your process isn’t necessarily broken. You’re just not trying hard enough.
  • Our relationships are our greatest asset. All of us have heard, time and again, that’s it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. There are many people who can be a resource to you, and you to them, if you’re willing to learn more about their needs and capabilities. If you’re in the relationship business – and who isn’t – doing so is time well spent.
  • You don’t have to spend a dime. Did I mention that T.J. accomplished this without a paid LinkedIn membership? All he spent was time. That’s not to say that paid LinkedIn memberships have no value, but you can do very well with a free account. In fact, a paid account won’t help you very much unless you’ve already exhausted the possibilities available with the free version of LinkedIn.
  • LinkedIn is one tool, not the entire toolbox. Remember the call to action T.J. gave his connections: an opportunity to meet. I’d guess that most of the opportunities he unearthed came only as a result of his efforts when he was face-to-face with his connections. And that’s exactly how we all should use LinkedIn: as a means of enhancing real-world relationships, not replacing them.

So, will you get the same results if you invest more time into LinkedIn? There’s no guarantee, but it’s likely to at least deliver some value. It’s worth considering, then, whether LinkedIn isn’t working for you, or if you’re just not working hard enough on LinkedIn.

Thanks to T.J. Wagner for his contributions to this post. To learn more about T.J., visit his LinkedIn profile.

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