Times Are Tough: Should You Invest in LinkedIn This Year or Retrench?

by Bruce K. Segall

Whether you’re a solo practitioner or work for a larger firm, the New Year is a good time to redouble existing commitments or refocus. One issue many choose to address in January is how active to be on various social media accounts, especially LinkedIn.
On the one hand, LinkedIn is THE place where your professional contacts network online. On the other hand, the platform has gotten very crowded. So, should you be spending more time here this year? The answer is like a lot of things—it depends.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself to Define Your LinkedIn Commitment:

  • Do you have an effective program in place outside of Linkedin to brand yourself and your firm and develop a pipeline of contacts that can ultimately become clients? If so, how well can LinkedIn supplement your efforts without too much extra time spent?
  • Do you have the time to invest in LinkedIn consistently over the year, even after an initial spurt of New Year’s activity has sputtered?
  • Is there a compelling long-term reason to engage in LinkedIn, such as relationships that need time to nurture and may lead to business in the future? If so, are you willing to invest time this year and can you afford to spend non-billable time?
  • Do you have a hunch that newer LinkedIn features such as Events and Newsletters could benefit you? For example, you may have always wanted to have a legal blog, and LinkedIn can provide a relatively easy solution for you.

Based on your answers, you can begin to see how LinkedIn might fit into your marketing plans. Another tool to help you plan is the matrix below showing decisions you might make based on (a) how you source your business currently; and (b) whether you are currently actively engaged in marketing programs for your business, such as a Google Adword campaign or blog writing.

Primary Source of Business:LinkedIn Strategy
Referral Based:Pursue LinkedIn if resources allowYES - invest
Directly from Consumers:Limit InvestmentExpend limited effort
Level of Currect Marketing:Dedicated Marketing ElsewhereLittle or No Marketing

Two implications of this analysis are:

  • Some attorneys should deemphasize LinkedIn this year because they can get business in other ways.
  • LinkedIn builds on what marketers call the “top of the lead funnel,” or potential prospects that may take a long while to turn into clients.

The attorney’s practice is also an important factor in deciding whether to invest in LinkedIn:

  • Direct-to-consumer practices may not get clients through LinkedIn (but they can nurture valuable relationships and partners).
  • Business-to-business practices are more likely to build relationships on LinkedIn that ultimately lead to business. In general, the more specific the practice, the better the chances are for success on LinkedIn. If you work in ERISA law or Maritime Law, for example, you can become a LinkedIn thought leader among a select group of prospective clients and referral sources. Litigation generalists may find it more challenging to stand out from a large number of other litigators on LinkedIn.

Bonus: Should you Start (Continue) a Paid Account?
In general, “light” LinkedIn users should not upgrade or continue their LinkedIn Premium accounts this year. I believe that the vast majority of attorneys on LinkedIn are barely using the features that come with a free LinkedIn account. So why not use those features more first and then see if a paid account might be justified?

LinkedIn Business is the logical next tier of investment for the active user to consider. At $59.99 per month (or $576 annually paid upfront), LinkedIn Business is great for those doing any volume of searching or prospecting on LinkedIn, as it allows you to conduct an unlimited number of searches. Otherwise, you risk having LinkedIn curtail your ability to search unpredictably each month. Two other noteworthy Business level benefits are:

  • 90 days’ history on who has viewed your Profile
  • Sending 15 InMails or messages to people you do not know each month

As a Business user, you also get additional insights into Companies on LinkedIn and a few less important features.

Finally, LinkedIn Business users may get early access to new Linked features, but now that benefit seems to be going to those who have selected the free LinkedIn Creator mode.

The next tier of investing in LinkedIn is with Sales Navigator, for those select attorneys who are doing serious prospecting or research on prospective partners. Attorneys should select the “Core” Sales Navigators package at $99/month (or $948 paid annually upfront). Sales Navigator allows you to search based on highly specific criteria, such as title, specific geographies, company size, and keywords (such as the practice areas referenced above). Its search filters are far more sophisticated than those available to Business or free users and allow you to save different groups of prospects and make notes on each prospect. LinkedIn enhances the “smart” interface over time and serves up logical, additional recommended prospects for Sales Navigator users.

In closing, more attorneys could be leveraging LinkedIn, especially the free features. However, please be careful not to spend an inordinate amount of time or membership fees, especially if you are relatively inexperienced in LinkedIn.

Bruce Segall is an experienced Marketing professional with 25 years of experience in large financial services companies and smaller firms before becoming President of Marketing Sense in 2010. He has recently trained 200 clients and 60 professional groups on LinkedIn. He writes frequently on LinkedIn and works with many attorneys and law firms. Bruce has a BA from Yale and an MBA from Stanford Business School.