It also allows members to actively solicit referrals from their followers to enhance their sales prospects, going a step beyond the ”like” button of other social networks. Professional online network LinkedIn has enabled companies to capitalise on the referral trend sweeping through social networks. It has enhanced and renamed its company profiles as ”company pages”, adding a section for members to showcase their products and services and post videos. LinkedIn has brought the power of referrals to small businesses, writes Lia Timson. Better known for providing an online professional contact database for individuals and a ready-made talent pool for recruiters, it now wants to be seen as a marketing tool for companies, complete with client endorsements.
At the time of printing, they made up the bulk of PicNet’s modest 29 followers. ”This doesn’t interfere with that. ”But I hope they’d rely on more than one source of recommendation.”

A small-business marketing consultant, John Jantsch, author of The Referral Engine, says referrals are credible because people trust their friends. Facebook has more than 500 million users, mostly consumers, while LinkedIn is a business-to-business platform with some 80 million members. The software development manager at IT services provider PicNet in Sydney, Guido Tapia, is planning a marketing assault using LinkedIn’s new tool. ”It’s the old company profile on steroids,” says the managing director of LinkedIn Australia and New Zealand, Cliff Rosenberg. According to Nielsen’s NetView October statistics, LinkedIn ranked 7th among members’ communities in Australia, with 1.06 million unique members, closely behind MySpace. However, Tapia says that is unrealistic. ”Hopefully, the comment will be from someone in [the viewer's] network so they can reach out and ask more,” Rosenberg says. Next, the company will email all customers asking for recommendations ”in a way that they feel comfortable”. ”When we saw how well recommendations were working [on personal profiles], we transitioned it to companies. Rosenberg says it would suffice for those business still ”working through their web strategy”. Referees already in a viewer’s contact database appear first, adding an extra pinch of trust to their words of praise. Then, as a paid subscriber, it will exercise its ability to use LinkedIn’s InMail service to target specific audiences with direct-mail messages for its products. ”We have a sizeable website – it would be unrealistic for us not to,” he says. Facebook accounted for 9.48 million users of a total audience of 10.8 million belonging to communities. LinkedIn has automatically migrated 1 million existing company profiles worldwide to the new format but it is up to the companies to populate it with sales pitches. We also use Facebook and Twitter for publishing information and answering questions about products.”

  ”It obviously adds a lot of value because the comments are not just from anonymous people but are attached to real profiles.”

He is not concerned employees or others may post glowing references to gain favour with a company. He has encouraged his employees to update their personal profiles, which are linked automatically to their employer’s page, pre-populating it with followers. Facebook attracts about two-thirds of all social-network advertising revenue, according to researcher ”In some industries, like consulting and professional services, most companies are chosen solely on the recommendation of a friend,” Jantsch says on his blog. It was followed by blog hosts Blogger (3.79 million) and WordPress (1.8 million), then Twitter (1.34 million). ”We’ve reacted to what our members are asking for rather than what others are doing,” Rosenberg says. He denies the move is an attempt to future-proof LinkedIn against Facebook’s company pages, which are attracting increasing attention from advertisers. ”Over the last 12 months, we’ve been moving funds from other online areas to LinkedIn and it is going a lot further,” Tapia says. ”It is still early days,” Tapia says. ”I’m not sure if it will bring a return but it has shown a fit for our marketing needs.”

LinkedIn is pushing the ”company pages” to small businesses as an alternative to building a conventional website.
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