Do I Need a LinkedIn Premium Account?

“With a premium LinkedIn account you can send InMails to reach anyone on LinkedIn, get hundreds of additional search results, save and organize profiles, and see more information about who’s viewed your profile.” (Source: LinkedIn.com)

One of my jobs is to guide, coach, and advise my clients, typically lawyers, law firm marketing teams, and admin professionals, in the use of social media for marketing and business development.

In this role, I am often asked, “Should I pay to upgrade my LinkedIn account?” Generally speaking, probably not. The basic LinkedIn features enable you to maintain a profile, connect with others, stay in touch, and move business relationships forward—albeit, somewhat superficially. Purchasing the upgrade will not make you a better networker if you are not currently using the basic free features to their full advantage. You may be inspired (forced) to use the network more purposefully and frequently if you pay, but to the level that you see a return on your investment, well, that’s debatable.

The LinkedIn Hype

While early reports (2007-10) of business connections made on LinkedIn leading to deals were promising; a closer look revealed that they were the exception, not the rule. For skilled net-workers and connectors who are committed to using the tool, opportunities do exist—depending on your industry, imagination, and luck. For the rest, it’s extraneous and it shows. As one law firm CMO recently told me,

                “Too many folks are still not as active as they should be.”

Truth be told, for all its hype, strictly based on anecdotal evidence, LinkedIn has only (so far) provided marginal value for lawyers seeking meaningful business interactions. In all fairness, it’s not the tool’s fault. The tool is just a tool until a person who knows how to use it picks it up and applies it to the task. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of “folks” who do not know how to develop leads, nurture relationships, and turn them into business in the real world. Notwithstanding, LinkedIn is also a virtual world with unique attributes; namely it is devoid of body language and other human subtleties that tend to promote trust—an important ingredient of the business development process.

High Standards

LinkedIn has, for the most part, held to it’s high standards earning a brand as a “safe” place to experiment with social media, and for lawyers who can not afford to be seen as un-social media savvy it provides a low barrier to entry—put up a profile and add some connections. Further, it adds a viable hit to public search results and serves as a de facto touch point when a Connection (accepting an invitation) is made with a referral source, other counsel, employers, vendors, or people known in real life (IRL) but not often encountered in person. All of this, however, is free.

Should I Pay the Piper

So, to the burning question: to upgrade or not to upgrade? Before paying the piper, ask yourself these important questions:

  1. Do I know my business case for being on LinkedIn?This might include something like: (1) To expand my network of referral sources; (2) to stay in touch with people I don’t see often; (3) to move marginal relationships forward; (4) to supplement competitive intelligence gathering; (5) to maintain exposure; (6) to understand my clients concerns; and (7) etc…(There are dozens others, these are just a few basic cases.)
  2. Does my business case support the extra dollars I’ll be spending? Are there other more productive means I could use to reach my goals?

Next, evaluate your current usage:

  1. How am I using LinkedIn to do basic (free) things like add connections, comment on status updates, or post my own updates? Does my blog content feed into LinkedIn? If so, how much traffic is it generating?
  2. Is my profile dynamic? Do I tweak it regularly? Does it contain keywords that accurately describe my practice specialties and do I also communicate the benefits rather than simply listing the features? (Get someone to help you with that if it doesn’t.)
  3. How often do I get new invitations to connect and am I prompt in responding? Do I add a personal note? Do I check my inMail regularly and respond?
  4. Have I identified any business leads? Have I used the site to initiate face to face meetings IRL? If so, what steps did I take? Did I pick up the phone or did I use the network to move the conversation forward?
  5. How often do I use the onsite search and what do I typically search for? How do I use the search results?
  6. Am I aggressive in expanding my connections with people I don’t know, or do I only connect with people I know?
  7. Am I ever in a position to refer any of my connections to others in my contacts? Do I use the site to do this, or do I pick up the phone or send an email?
  8. Have I ever participated in a Group conversation or am I an in-name-only member?
  9. Have I ever sent an announcement to a targeted group of my connections? What was the result?
  10. Is Linkedin on my radar? When I meet IRL, do I suggest, “Let’s connect on LinkedIn?”

You can do all this stuff FREE! If you’re not doing (using) it now, what makes you think you’re ready to ratchet it up a notch or two?

If you can’t answer that last question with an affirmative, then, submit to the REALITY TEST:

Do I really want to devote limited business development hours to sitting in front of a computer without the instant gratification of a handshake, a nod, or the offer to refresh a drink and get down to business?

If your answer was no, you’re not alone. Admittedly, I think it’s a low percentage shot for most serious business development. However, if you’ve had some success using the site and you’re looking for a few more features that will help you organize and expand your networking efforts, then you may be a good candidate for an upgrade. I recommend setting a time limit, say four months ($100.00), to evaluate the usefulness. After that time, if it’s not adding anything to your practice development, then cancel.

Deciding not to upgrade, does not give you a pass. There is a new generation that is securing employment, generating sales, and developing virtual relationships using LinkedIn. An upgrade may not be in your immediate future, but being a member of the network, at any degree, certainly deserves your attention.

Bottom Line:

If you want to become a better networker or a closer, buy a coach, not an upgrade.

For a more detailed review of the premium features, see also a companion post at the VirtualMarketingOfficer.com.