Why LinkedIn, why now

If you’re still on the social media sidelines, it’s time to get into the game

In 2009, Market Connections released the "2009-2010 Federal Media and Marketing Study," which touched on the use of 14 social media tools. According to that study, the top five social media tools were Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter.

Fast forward to the recently released Market Connections 2010 Social Media Study. This study indicates a rapidly growing acceptance and use of social media tools by both industry and government. Government is lagging behind, but federal agencies have more restrictions for everything. However, the study indicates the growing use of social media by 29 percent of feds and 55 percent of contractors, a huge increase over the previous year.

Among other findings, the study found the main uses of social networking by contractors are marketing and sales (60 percent), event information (59 percent), press releases (51 percent), job postings (44 percent), white papers/case studies (38 percent), presentations/speeches (35 percent), videos/pictures (28 percent), and product demos (23 percent).

The finding that stands out most to me is that LinkedIn has emerged as the most popular social networking site, with 36 percent of responders using it. Facebook was at 26 percent. According to Market Connections, and my observations, the use of LinkedIn and other social networks continues to grow.

Should this alter your view and use of social media?

Yes. LinkedIn has over 70 million users worldwide, with the majority in the United States, and it continues to grow. My research indicates the entire Washington Technology Top 100 are all on LinkedIn, and in significant numbers. In fact, rarely do I find a major government contractor that is not on LinkedIn.

As of July 5, if you write "government" in the search box and search on "groups" you will find 4,251 groups that have something to do with government. By the time this is published, that number will be higher. In the top 100 of these government groups, 20 to 25 focus on some aspect of government sales or contracting, including one of my groups, Government Market Master, which has more than 1,400 members.

So, again, should you alter your view and use of social media?

Yes, but do so with a plan. According to the Market Connection study, only 19 percent of the companies using social media have a strategy or social media policy in place. With no strategy or policy, there will be little or no way to measure the effectiveness of what you are doing, what messages are going out, and what image your company is presenting. There will be no direction to the program.

You need to devise a well-thought-out social media strategy with an intelligent policy behind it. Then you need to establish some initial goals and start measuring the effectiveness of various platforms. Create your benchmarks along the way, and if you use the tools properly, you will see some measurable gains.

LinkedIn can be used for numerous activities, including market research, searching for teaming and subcontracting opportunities, finding new employees, posting news releases to targeted groups, publicizing events, building relationships with potential customers, and more.

However, the Market Connections study did not mention one of the major uses for LinkedIn for small businesses: differentiation. All businesses need to differentiate themselves, but for small government contractors it is almost a “life-and-death” situation: differentiate or die a slow death. Differentiating your small company from the competition on platforms such as LinkedIn should be one of your initial goals.

Any government contracting business not currently using social media, or only using it in a limited way, is missing the major low-cost marketing tool that can truly help a company stand out in the crowd.

Mark Amtower is a business-to-government consultant and marketing expert. He can be reached at www.FederalDirect.net

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

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