Tap into the power of LinkedIn in 12 minutes a day

LinkedIn is one of the biggest social media sites on the Internet. It’s usually in the top five, depending on how you measure size. But in terms of B2B activity, sales, professional networking and careers, it’s arguably No. 1. That’s because LinkedIn was built from the ground-up as a social media site for work, not play.

Many LinkedIn users are very active – posting updates, participating in groups and building their networks. But many aren’t. Too many users treat LinkedIn simply as a place to keep their résumé and virtual Rolodex.

LinkedIn logo

But an active LinkedIn presence can do so much more: It can lead to career opportunities, help build your professional network and even tech you new things about your field. But only if you use it.

Here’s how you can boost your LinkedIn presence and get much more value out of it in just a few minutes a day.

1. Grow your network. When you meet people send them LinkedIn invitations, and spend time every few weeks going through LinkedIn’s suggested “People you may know.” Over time you’ll connect (and reconnect) with people you might have otherwise lost touch with. When reaching out to link in with someone, don’t use the generic message. Personalize it a bit to let the person know why you want to connect.

Time needed: One minute per person that you add.

2. Update your LinkedIn status once a day. You can do this more often, but once a day is a good place to start. This is good way to share interesting articles about your field or, if you’re generating content on a blog or have a company website with periodic announcements, post that. Don’t be too pushy here, but share information in the spirit of helping other people.

Time needed: Three minutes.

3. “Like” or comment on one or two status updates from other people in your LinkedIn network. The idea here is to acknowledge their activity and touch base so they remember you the next time they have a problem you might be able to help them with.

Time needed: Two minutes.

4. Choose one group (just one, to start) to participate in regularly. Choose a group that’s active and relevant to your goals on the site. You can take part in conversations, start new threads and connect with people in those groups. This is networking, not sales, so the goal here is to be helpful. You don’t need to sink a huge amount of time into this, just pop into the group, review the discussions and see where you can quickly add a comment of value.

Time needed: Five minutes.

5. Respond to people who reach out to connect with you, comment on your status updates or otherwise seek to interact. This doesn’t need to take a lot of time, but it demonstrates that you are friendly and responsive, which can open the door to future interactions.

Time needed: One minute.

This is a small investment of time – 12 minutes a day, five days a week. Over time, this can lead to new professional relationships, career opportunities and business deals.

What else could you do on LinkedIn in 12 minutes a day? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Why you should attend ConvergeSouth

Blogs and social media are great, but you can often learn more, meet more people and have a richer experience attending conferences, seminars and other events in person. There’s a big difference between skimming a blog post in your RSS reader and the immersive, interactive experience of a conference.

That’s why, if you’re interested in social media, search engine optimization (SEO) and doing business online, you should attend ConvergeSouth 2010. (Disclaimer: I am one of the volunteers helping to put the conference together. I’m involved because I’ve attended several past ConvergeSouth conferences and I think it’s a great conference.)

So far, this year’s line-up of speakers includes:

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Why you should stop trying new social media sites

Google Wave. Google Buzz. Farmville. Foursquare. Gowalla. Yelp.

Maze

Don't get lost in the maze of choices social media offers. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1093677)

The list goes on and on. There are more social media sites, social media apps and cool online things that people are talking about than I will ever have time to fully explore. Even though I make my living in part by helping companies use social media, I can’t commit enough time to explore every new thing to come along. Chances are, you don’t have the time either. And that’s OK.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying the latest and “greatest,” easy to worry that you’re going to miss out on the next Facebook or Twitter if you don’t jump on a new site right away. In other words, it’s easy to forget why we’re here in the first place.

We’re here to have conversations, to learn, to market and brand ourselves, our businesses and our causes. Actually doing those things requires work, attention and focus. But the siren song of Google’s latest project or the newest game that all your friends seem to be playing on Facebook can be all too alluring sometimes.

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Five mistakes newbie bloggers make

Road closed sign

Some blogging mistakes can block your path. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/589399)

I’ve been blogging for about 10 years now. Along the way I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes. A lot.

So, if you’re new to blogging and determined to be successful at it, here are five mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Not sticking with it.

Some bloggers see a lot of success relatively quickly, but there is no such thing as an overnight success. Even those bloggers who brag about how they took a new blog from zero to 10,000 subscribers in three months, or whatever, didn’t really go from zero to hero overnight. Chances are they put in years of work before they ever launched that “overnight success” blog, developing skills and acquiring tools to make a big splash quickly.

Whatever your goals are as a blogger, you’ve got to stick with it to see success. A good rule of thumb would be six  months of steady blogging before you begin to see significant traffic, readership or (if it’s a goal) revenue.

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Why you (or others) should make time for social media

Train

Don't miss the train on social media. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1106949)

Have you heard these lines?

“There’s so much noise and clutter out there, it seems as though social media hasn’t really matured enough to be a useful tool.”

“Social media’s fine for some industries, but not ours.”

“I just don’t have time for social media.”

Or perhaps the line is some variation on one these. There are still plenty of professionals out there who don’t think social media is that important. If you’re trying to convince someone who says these kinds of things, here are five arguments to help you.

1. Isn’t networking important to you? I would imagine there are very, very few professionals in any field who would say networking with others in their field isn’t important to them. Explain to them that social media sites are a tool to network online, and that you can network more efficiently and with more people through social media than you can with traditional methods. That doesn’t mean you should completely abandon phone calls, luncheon meetings and industry events, but social media can be a powerful tool for your professional advancement.

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How to strengthen your relationships

Handshake

Have you reached out and touched people in your network lately? (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/616726)

In social media it’s easy to get caught up in mechanical ideas of what building and maintaining relationships is about. Are you pinging your network regularly? Are you sharing content, creating value? Are you thanking people? In marketing, we start quantifying these things: How many tweets, how many retweets, how many followers or subscribers or fans?

And that’s fine. Except that it’s all just a way of dancing around the real issue: relationships.

I got an email last week from an old acquaintance (which I haven’t returned yet — sorry Jamie, I will). We’re connected via LinkedIn and she wrote to tell me what was going on with her life and to ask what was going on with mine. She said that she was trying to do a better job this year of connecting with her network. Good for her.

All of us should steal that idea and do the same. It’s not numbers of friends, followers or subscribers that are ultimately important, it’s relationships. That’s why it’s called social media, and that’s where its power lies.

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How to budget time for social media

Hour glass

You have limited time - use it wisely when it comes to social media. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1068015)

One of the challenges of social media is how to manage the amount of time that you could put into these activities. How much time, and how exactly you spend that time, will end up being a little different for everyone depending on your goals and strategy.

Here’s a framework to help you budget your time. This is especially helpful for personal branding and networking activities, where it’s harder (or seems harder) to just carve hours out of your workday for these activities.

Content creation

Do you blog? Do you write articles or white papers or create presentations that you share on Slideshare? What about podcasting? Creating original content can help you establish a brand and demonstrate your expertise and knowledge. It’s a very powerful strategy, and if you choose to use it you’ll want to set aside some time to focus on it.

  1. How much content do you want to produce each week or month?
  2. How much time do you need to devote to produce that content? How many hours is that each week and each day, on average?
  3. When will you put in that time? During your lunch hour? In the early mornings or late at night? On the weekends? Decide when and put it on your calendar.

In my case I’m probably averaging about 10 hours a week on blogging right now. You don’t have to spend that much time, but consistency is important.

Listening and reading

It’s important to keep up with what’s going on in your industry — reading blogs, articles and books, listening to podcasts, and generally keeping up with new ideas and conversation. How much time you spend on this will vary depending on your industry and goals.

Accountants need to keep up with the latest tax law changes. Doctors have to try to plough through stacks of medical journals. I try to keep up with the flood of books on social media that are being published and the many, many blogs on the subject. Since it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available, it’s a good idea to decide how much time you want to spend on this.

  1. What do you need to keep up with? Books, blogs, professional journals, other sources?
  2. How many hours per week will you devote to this?
  3. When will you keep up with these? At night before you go to sleep? Can you listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your iPod on the way to work?
  4. Do you have a system to bring the most relevant content to your attention? Google alerts? RSS feeds? Some of the tips in this post on finding and sharing great content can help.

Conversation

Of course, social media isn’t very social if you’re not talking. That could include sharing content you find, responding to others in a variety of social media channels (including commenting on blogs), and even reaching out to people via email to connect offline. It also is the tool that allows you to turn mere online connections into actual relationships (whether they’re weak or strong).

1. What social media channels are most important for you? Twitter, Facebook, a specialized social media network on Ning or a forum devoted to your industry?

2. How much time will you spend on these channels? An hour a day? Three hours a week?

3. When will you spend that time? In short 15-minute bursts throughout the day? In a longer, more concentrated period a few times each week?

More tips

All of us have a limited time and energy, but the vast world of social media can suck up an enormous amount of that if we’re not careful. So here are some tips to manage that.

Focus. You probably have limited time, at best a few hours a days, to devote to this. So concentrated on the 20 percent of tools/sites/strategies that are going to yield 80 percent of your results. For me, these days, that means Twitter, writing blog posts and reading blog posts and books get most of my attention.

Be realistic. Don’t sketch out a plan that calls for 30 hours a week (almost a full-time job) of work on this, and then find out a month into it that’s it’s just too much. It’s better to start out with very modest ambitions. As you become more fluent with the tools, you’ll be able to increase your productivity by becoming more efficient and integrating these tools into your life.

Consider the rest of your life. If you’re going through a really busy period at work, going on vacation or caring for a sick family member, some of these actvities may temporarily take a back seat. That’s OK. Don’t burn yourself out or disregard other priorities just for the sake of keeping up with some ideal social media time budget.

Got ideas or questions on how to budget your time for social media? Please share them in the comments below.

How to figure out your blog’s USP

Tulips for sale

It takes more than beauty to stand out. (Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/942854)

There are a lot of blogs out there. You’ve got to wonder — what makes your’s different? Why should anybody read it? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then your readers may have trouble figuring it out as well.

You need a USP — a unique selling proposition. Marketers develop USPs all the time for products and services. The USP helps define precise why a potential customer would choose that product or service over all the others. If you can define the USP for your blog, you’ll do a better job of persuading more people to read it and getting more people to subscribe or give you their email addresses.

Developing a USP is tough, but here are some questions to consider to get you thinking about it.

Your market

The first thing to do is to consider the market that you’re in.

What’s your market niche, topic or industry? What subject area are you focusing on? If you’re not focusing on a particular topic or theme (or at least restricting yourself to handful) it’s going to be a lot harder to define what value your blog delivers to some particular group of people.

What are others in your niche doing? Reading lots of other blogs in your niche and figuring out what they’re doing can be a bit depressing. The first time you do this, you might come to the conclusion that other bloggers are already doing everything that could be done. There may be folks writing about breaking news in your niche, some providing tutorials for beginners, others providing strategic guidance for advance practitioners. But keep looking and thinking. What’s not being done?

You

Once you’ve got a good grip on your market, it’s time to think about you (or, in the case of a company or organizational blog, your organization). You need to figure out what makes you unique, as that will probably figure into your USP.

What experiences — jobs, education, hobbies, attitude, values, experiences, nationality, skills, etc. — are you bringing to your blog? Imagine a group of new bloggers writing about fitness and weight loss. One’s a doctor, and knows how to find and cite the latest scientific evidence. Another is a fire fighter, and can talk about the challenges of eating right and exercising while working a stressful job. And another is a devout Christian, and can write about how fitness, nutrition and weight loss fit in with spiritual values and practices. Different backgrounds, and, I’m sure, different blogs.

What are you really good at? What are the things that you do that people in your life tell you you’re good at? Do any of those apply or relate in any way to your niche? (And if they don’t, do you need to reconsider your niche?) How can you bring that skill to bear on your blog? How can that skill be reflected in the content you create?

What fascinates you? A big part of a successful blog is passion and energy. Bring that to the table, and your writing will shine a little brighter, your posting schedule will be more frequent and the quality of your content will be higher. How can you incorporate what really fascinates you into your blog?

Your USP

Answer all those questions above (and maybe a few more that might occur to you along the way) and you might start to get a clearer idea of what your USP is. Here are a few more thoughts to help you crystallize your USP.

Can you combine two (or more) different elements (perhaps two parts of your background) to create a unique new persona? How about a Buddhist MBA productivity blogger, for example? Though someone probably has that one already tied up.

Is there a certain type of content not being provided (or not provided well) in  your niche? Interviews, tutorials, data analysis? What’s not being done that you could do?

Can you bring a particular style or attitude to your blog? If all the other blogs in your niche are sincere and heartfelt, bring some humor to the niche.

Is it unique and will it sell? Finally, once you start to get an idea of what your USP could be, ask yourself: Is it unique and will it sell? You want to be honest with yourself here, though not so hard on yourself that you give up. But if your USP is not unique or it won’t sell, then you don’t have a USP. Back to the drawing board.

Have you successfully created a USP for your blog? If so, how did you go through the process? What tips do you have? Please share them in the comments below.

Changing my approach to Facebook

Note: As I’ve mentioned previously, I challenged myself to write 30 posts in 30 days. I’ve not been as consistent with my blogging as I would have liked, so I’ve got to get a lot of blog posts published in the last couple of days. So, you’ll see several more posts than normal in the next couple of days. On Feb. 17, I’ll return to a normal schedule of three to five times per week. Please bear with me. Thanks!

Last year, I wrote a post called Why I’m becoming more promiscuous online, which explained my personal approach to social media and networking. Re-reading that, my philosophy and approach to social media hasn’t changed much, but I am making a tweak to it. I’m going to close off my personal Facebook account to people I don’t have some sort of real relationship with. Later this week, I’ll start unfriending people who I don’t know in real life or haven’t had some sort of interaction with. Here’s why.

Lately, I’ve started getting more and more friend invitations on Facebook from people I just don’t know. In some cases, they are friends with someone else I know, so there’s a chance I could run into them in my day-to-day life. In some cases, we don’t have any friends in common. I think some of them come from this blog. I’ve had my Facebook link posted prominently (the icon over on the right) for a while, in the last few weeks readership here has gone up dramatically. Some of those new readers have asked to connect on Facebook (and in some cases, I have).

But something else has happened in the last few months, also. My personal interactions and communications — information about my kids, my family and my connections to them — has increased. More relatives have connected with me online, and a lot of my Facebook activity has become more personal. I’m not feeling as comfortable about having that open to anyone who comes along. So with Facebook I’m altering my “promiscuous” approach and becoming more conservative.

The new MarkTzk.com fan page on Facebook

Still, I know a lot of people I might encounter online will still be interested in opportunities to interact on Facebook. So I’ve set up a Facebook fan page for that. The Facebook icon over in the right-hand column of this blog already points to it. I’m afraid there’s not much there yet, but I’ll start to gradually populate it with content over time, and I hope it becomes another place where we can talk about the topics and issues that this blog covers. I also plan to treat it as a kind of laboratory for experiments with Facebook marketing and Facebook fan page customization.

My LinkedIn and Twitter accounts will remain very open, so I’d still love to connect with you there. And if you know me from someplace other than this blog, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll remain friends on Facebook. See you at the fan page.

How to get people (or at least me) to follow you back on Twitter

I’ve recently been bumping up against the follower limits that hit when you start following 2,000 or more people on Twitter. As I understand it, once you’re following 2,000 or more, Twitter limits the maximum number of people you can follow to the number of people who follow you plus roughly 10 percent. So if you’re following 1,999 people and 1,800 people are following you — no problem. But once you’re following 2,000 people, you can’t follow any more because 1,800 plus 10 percent is equal to 1,980. To follow more, you’ve got to have more people following you. I don’t know if that 10 percent figure is precise, but it seems to be in the right place.

What that has meant is that some folks recently followed me that I couldn’t follow back, at least immediately, until my follower numbers were higher. So I started to work through this barrier by identifying Twitter accounts I could unfollow, freeing up spots for new followers. I also have been looking more selectively at the accounts following me before deciding to follow them or not.

I am basically inclined, out of courtesy and to open up the opportunities for meeting new people and having new interactions, to follow back anyone who follows me (I’m @marktzk on Twitter). But I am not following back everyone. Here are some of the reasons I might not be following you back (and if a lot of people are not following you back, chances are this applies to them, too).

1. You don’t tweet in English. Sorry, I’m monolingual. I’m not proud of it, and I would like someday to gain fluency in a second language, but it’s not happening right now. If I can’t understand what you’re saying, there’s not much point in following you.

2. There are a lot of affiliate links or ads in your tweet stream. I don’t mind you occasionally trying to make a buck through Twitter, but please do it occasionally, not frequently, and do it in a way that seems to fit in organically with whoever you are and whatever you tweet about it.

3. All your tweets are links to news and other web items. Sharing is good. Doing nothing but broadcasting stuff — basically hooking your Twitter account up to an RSS feed — is not so good. I’m looking for interaction and real human beings.

4. All your tweets are about you. Doing nothing but promoting your blog posts or nothing but making random comments about your life is just not that interesting. Those are both fine to include as part of your tweet stream, but I am looking for some evidence that if I follow you we might have a chance to interact at some point.

5. You don’t converse. Based on looking at your tweet stream, you never @reply or have conversations, you don’t retweet and you don’t seem to interact with others. All of your tweets are one way. Increasingly, I look to Twitter for interaction, sharing and at least the possibility of new relationships. In other words, if all I see is the behavior in numbers 2,  3 and 4 above.

6. You haven’t tweeted recently, or you only tweet rarely (once a week or less). Again, in my eyes this makes it less likely that we’ll have a chance to interact, so this is not good.

7. You’re account looks like it was set up to spam people. You don’t have a picture in your profile, there’s no link to someplace (a LinkedIn profile, at least?), or you have few or no tweets yet you’re following a lot of people. This makes you look like a spammer in the making, and I won’t go there.

On the other hand, the following things make more more likely to follow you.

1. You converse with people online. I’m looking for @replys, retweets and the like in your tweet stream. If I see them, no matter what else, I am much more likely to follow you back. Obviously, as you can tell from above, this is a big one for me.

2. You are (or could be) a part of my community offline. That might mean you live close to me (in the same state), or you work in the same industry (PR/marketing) or you have something in common with me that’s apparent in your bio or tweet stream (you’re a writer a or you share an alma mater with me, for example). Also, if I already know you in real life, than there’s a very good chance I’ll follow you.

3. You have retweeted or #FF’d me. Hey, I’m a sucker for flattery and attention, just like anybody else. So long as it doesn’t look you’re doing this purely for spammy reasons, I’m much more inclined to follow you if you do this. It’s just plain old reciprocity, one of the fundamental drivers of human social behavior.

4. You’ve replied to something I tweeted. Even if I wasn’t following you, you replied to something I tweeted. Maybe to comment on it, add something helpful or just say ‘thanks for tweeting that link.’ Whatever the case, this kind of personal communication lets me know that you’re into Twitter as a conversation platform, and that there’s a good possibility we’ll be able to interact.

I don’t have hard and fast rules about who I follow or don’t follow. But these are the factors, positive and minus, that usually go into my decision. How do you decide who to follow on Twitter? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.