The other day I interviewed Lewis Howes, a LinkedIn networking expert. The entire transcript can be found below, while the highlights can be found at my FastCompany.com blog in a post entitled: LinkedIn Power Tips for Growing Your Network: Lewis Howes Interview.
Rich: Today I’m talking with Lewis Howes who is a social media superstar, some would say, and I would agree. He has made a name for himself in many ways. He is actually a semiretired professional athlete, but he has been very successful in using Linkedln. A lot of people don’t always think of LinkedIn when they think of social media, but it can be a great platform.
Lewis, thank you very much for making time today.
Lewis: Thanks for having me on, Rich.
Rich: Why don’t you tell us a little about how you got started using Linkedln?
Lewis: It all happened kind of by accident. I used to play arena football, got injured in a game, and then after the season, I had to have surgery and ended up being in a full arm cast. They took a bone out of my hip, put it in my wrist, and I ended up being in a full arm cast for six months while the injury was healing.
During that time, I didn’t have a college degree yet. I didn’t have any work experience because I went right from college to the pros, playing football. I realized that I needed to figure out a way to make a living – some sort of income – because I was going to have to take at least a year off from playing football and potentially maybe even retire all in all, which ended up being the case.
During this time I was recovering, I was sleeping on my sister’s couch. I was using three credit cards at the time and was in debt.
A mentor of mine introduced me to Linkedln and said, “There are a lot of quality business professionals that I’ve connected with on here. This may be a good place for you to start reaching out to potential employers and things like that to get a job.” So I said, “I’m going to tap into this, just go full steam ahead and see what I can do to find some big job opportunities,” which I really didn’t want to do. I never wanted a job in my life, but I said, “I need to get on here and at least figure it out.”
So I did that for the next six months while I was in a cast. I spent literally six to eight hours a day going through every single link, testing everything, searching, reading, and pretty much connecting with everyone. I was testing and learning everything I could about Linkedln because I had all the free time in the world and was pretty much determined to get off my sister’s couch. That’s kind of how I started out by accident because I had a lot of free time on my hands.
Rich: It sounds like you were pretty successful with building your network on Linkedln.
How does somebody build their network on Linkedln? What did you do that helped you grow your network?
Lewis: For me, I had all the time in the world, so I was basically sending one-by-one invitations to people. I was doing a lot of research. Initially, I wanted to connect with people who were just in the sports industry because that’s where I wanted to work, so I would just do a people search. In the top right-hand corner, I would just search the words sports, sports professionals, sports media, sports marketing, different keywords for people I wanted to connect with.
Then a search result would show up on LinkedIn of all these different people who worked in the industry. I started reading about them, learning about which companies they worked for and some of the success they had. Then I literally reached out one by one. I sent invitations to people to connect with me, but also to ask them if I could get on the phone with them and ask them some questions about the success they had in their business primarily in the sports industry.
From there, I also asked them to join one of my groups. I created a group for sports professionals because I thought it would be easier for me to bring all these people into one group as opposed to trying to connect with them one by one.
I created a group and allowed the community to join the group. From there, I built my network even more exponentially by creating this micro-community within LinkedIn. How it started out was one-by-one introductions, then asking them to join a group allowing the members to spread the message of the group virally to their network as well.
Rich: Was any of this done offline? You said you were talking to people and asking them questions. Was it all through LinkedIn or did you also take this into the real world?
Lewis: The first six months I connected with some people in my city of Columbus, Ohio, but mostly it was online connections at first. Then I started to build up a pretty large network, probably around 100,000 people in the different groups I have around the country and probably close to 10,000 direct connections.
I thought, “I want to meet all these people, but it’s tough to meet them all one by one. It’s really tough to do that or get on the phone one by one with these people,” so what I ended up doing in 2009 was throwing roughly 20 LinkedIn networking events around the country as well as connecting with people one by one.
I promoted these events via LinkedIn through the Events section, a platform on LinkedIn where you can promote events. Then I would send messages to the groups and to my direct contacts that were within a 50-mile radius of the city where I was throwing the event. I would go around the country, throw events, meet people, shake their hand, connect with them one by one, but at 300 to 500 people at a time, so that’s kind of how I took it to the next level.
Rich: What was the draw for some of these events? Was it just, “This is a straight-up networking event,” or was there some other type of draw you used to get people to attend?
Lewis: I charge people to come to all of my events. Usually, there’s a small fee of $5 to $20, depending on the market. These were two- to three-hour business networking events, and people would say they were the best networking events they’d gone to because I targeted only people on LinkedIn.
Professionals on LinkedIn have a different mindset than people on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites. They go on there and they think about one thing and that’s business, or building their contacts or getting a job. Something related towards business – that’s their main focus.
When I promoted these events only on LinkedIn, I was targeting qualified professionals who wanted to build their business. I was hosting business networking events—I call them LinkedIn networking events—and it just seemed like there was a great turnout because so many people knew what to expect already. I’d said there were going to be some appetizers and they could buy drinks if they wanted to, and there were usually door prizes and things like that because I had some sponsors.
But it was mostly, “Let’s come out, connect and take it offline. We’re all connected online in these groups on LinkedIn, or some of us may be connected on LinkedIn, but let’s take the relationship further. Let’s shake each other’s hands, get to know a little bit more about our businesses, and see how we can help each other offline and take things to the next level.”
What I wanted to do was bring people together as much as possible who were connected on LinkedIn.
Rich: If you do this again in 2011, I assume that Maine will be one of the places since I think you skipped over it last time, right?
Lewis: Yes, I went to New York a couple of times, but I never made it up north to Maine.
Rich: All right, we’ll let it slide this time. You talked a little bit about having these LinkedIn groups. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you used LinkedIn groups to build your network and other things you get out of having groups on LinkedIn?
Lewis: Groups are probably the most powerful thing that you can deal with and work with when using LinkedIn or any social networking site, in my opinion. You can build such a quality network through these groups. The groups continue to get better and they continue to update and expand the feature within the groups.
A group is really its own little social networking site. For example, I have a group called the Sports Industry Network. Currently there are over, I think, 32,000 sports professionals from around the world. Someone from basically every sports company you can think of is in the group. It continues to grow organically by about 150 people a day just because people are searching for it and they see their friends who are connected to it.
What I can do is send a message once a week to those members. I can create an autoresponder so every time someone joins the group, they automatically get a message from me putting them on my email list, sending them to my website, directing them to a free report or just introducing them to my business. I can also use them to, again, throw events and promote other products or services or anything that is going on.
I see a lot of people giving away free resources – free tips to basically build themselves or their companies up as kind of the expert or the authority leader in their niche or in their space. This is a great thing. People are building their business from a LinkedIn group.
Personally, I built a sports business out of this LinkedIn group by doing live events around the country and creating my own sports association where there’s a monthly membership fee to join. All I did was leverage the members in the group and use the content I shared with them over the last couple of years to launch a new business. And it definitely works.
Rich: I agree. I have found the same thing. I find that groups are really what sometimes separate the noise from the signal, so I’ve gotten a lot out of joining groups and even creating my own.
Another section that people talk a lot about is the Answers section. Is that something that you use all that much on LinkedIn?
Lewis: I used to use it a lot when I was starting out and when I was just trying to figure everything out about LinkedIn. I realized it was a great place for me to build some credibility. The more questions that I answered, specifically around the topic of LinkedIn at the time, the more people were interested in bringing me out to speak, hiring me to work on their LinkedIn profile, buying my book or whatever it may have been at the time. It was by answering specific questions around what I knew best. When I answered the question, I wasn’t being salesy or pitchy. It was more giving the best content and the best answer I could to help that individual out.
I’ve heard different stories from people in my network where they spend about 15 minutes a day, three times a week on LinkedIn just answering questions. They bring in $3,000 to $5,000 in extra commissions each month in more leads because they are just answering questions. But then they’ll follow up with a private message. What they’ll do is answer the question publicly, and then they’ll follow up with a private message saying, “Hey, I just answered your question, but if you need anything else, here are some additional resources. Feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email anytime.”
By doing that, you are basically setting yourself up for additional sales or to get one step further in that relationship where you can close someone or where you can move further in the business relationship per se. By taking those steps and answering those questions, you’re answering a question so the entire LinkedIn network can see the answer. But then if you follow up privately to the person who really needs that information, you can usually leverage that and make the most out of that opportunity.
Rich: Are there any other tools that you use within the LinkedIn universe that you think are effective tools for people to network or grow their business with?
Lewis: There are so many advanced applications on LinkedIn to really stand out, but here are so many profiles that are boring in my mind. To really stand out, I like to add a video to your profile so when someone is researching you on Google, they’ll find your LinkedIn profile because it’s usually one of the top five things that show up or they’re searching for you on LinkedIn and they find your profile.
You could have a video that plays automatically and says, “Hey, thanks so much for checking out my LinkedIn profile. Scroll down the page really quickly and check out this video. I just want to share with you a little about what I do and how I can help you.” If you had a video that did something like that or a testimonial from one of your clients that automatically played, that’s something different than basically 99% of profiles out there. You’re really the standout if you do that to increase your business.
There are cool applications like Google Presentations where you can add a video or you can use SlideShare to add a video. Again, with the Events platform, if you want to do local events, regional events, webinars or teleseminars, you can really promote an event extremely well on LinkedIn better than on any other social networking site, in my mind.
If you want to share legal documents or if you want to drive more traffic to your website, you can add your blog application. You can sync with Twitter. You can do a lot of different things with the advanced applications on LinkedIn. If you’re an author, you can add a picture of your book on your LinkedIn profile by using the Amazon application. There are lots of cool things you can do to enhance your profile, make it stand out from the rest of the profiles, and help you build a business.
Rich: This is something I did not know. You can embed a video on your profile page?
Lewis: You can embed a video that will autoplay. It has to be from YouTube, though. You have to put that video on YouTube at the moment.
Rich: Is it a YouTube application within LinkedIn that you use or is it one of the other ones?
Lewis: No, there’s no YouTube application right now. I have one on my LinkedIn profile where I use SlideShare presentations. You can embed a YouTube video into your slideshow by putting it before the first slide. You can have a slideshow of a deck that talks about something in your business. But before that, add a video before the first slide so that it will automatically play whenever someone lands on your LinkedIn profile. They don’t have to click Play. They’ll just start hearing your voice. It will be this magical voice that comes out of the air. It’s kind of cool. I get a lot of comments from having that on my profile just because people don’t expect it.
Rich: Until it becomes annoying and everybody does it, right now that’s epic and that’s the first thing I’ll do right after we get off the phone today!
We talked about LinkedIn and you talked about Twitter. What do you do to integrate the rest of your social media activities into LinkedIn or vice versa?
Lewis: I literally just use HootSuite.com. I think it is a phenomenal resource and tool, and I think they do a great job. It allows me to share my messages where I want, how I want, and when I want by scheduling them. It’s a simple way of distributing my content to all the different networking sites.
Currently, I sync Twitter to LinkedIn. I don’t sync it to Facebook or anything else. I sync Twitter to LinkedIn because when I tested it early on, I was seeing that my Twitter updates were getting more comments on LinkedIn than those exact tweets were getting on Twitter because for whatever reason they got sifted through the stream too fast and people didn’t see them. On LinkedIn, your status updates actually stay up longer. At least it feels that way because I get a lot more comments. Not as many people are updating on LinkedIn like they are on Twitter, so you’re going to get your message out there and it could stay up on top of people’s profiles longer, and you’re definitely going to get more interaction if you have good stuff to say when you update your status on LinkedIn.
Rich: Do you tend to stay on message on Twitter? Although I definitely have a lot of web marketing and social media things that I share on Twitter, I also talk about zombies and bacon. I’ve held off from integrating these two because I don’t think my LinkedIn connections necessarily care about my fascination with all things zombies and bacon.
Lewis: You can sync it together with LinkedIn and then only have it so the messages get forwarded when you use the hashtag #in. You can do it that way if you want. I’m kind of lazy and I just like to sync it. People may not appreciate some of the messaging, but the majority of my messaging is geared toward content – probably 80% – so I just let the other 20% slip through and hopefully not many people see it.
Rich: You’ve given us what I think is just an epic tip about putting video on your page. Do you have any other insider tips you can share with us in terms of really ramping up our LinkedIn networking and taking it to the next level?
Lewis: There’s a thing I always talk about which is basically allowing you to be found for your keyword in your industry. This is something I’ve talked about a lot, but I still see a lot of people don’t have this on their profile.
Basically, what’s something that you want to be known as in your industry, for example, Rich?
Rich: Small business web marketing. That’s a key thing for me. I love working with small businesses on their web marketing plans.
Lewis: So we would just say web marketing would be your keywords. If you were to rank number one on Google for web marketing, would that be valuable to you or your business?
Rich: Of course it would, yes.
Lewis: It’s pretty impossible to do that right now on Google because there are probably a lot of people who have paid and done a lot of SEO work to get that ranking of number one on Google. However, LinkedIn is a powerful search engine with over 80 million-plus targeted business professionals with the highest average household income over any other social networking site, where people focused strictly on researching and trying to find people to hire or help them in their business.
LinkedIn is a powerful search engine where you can get a lot of business by being found as an expert. In order for you to be found as a web marketing expert, you would want to maximize your profile so that any time someone searched in the People Search section on the top right-hand corner of the profile and put in web marketing, you would want to rank up in the top five.
There’s a way you can do that by updating your profile a certain way. There are five places you need to enter those keywords in your profile. Let’s use you, for example, and web marketing. You’d want to have those two words, side by side, in five places on your profile:
- Your Headline. This is the most relevant part of LinkedIn. It’s at the top of your profile. It’s the most important place. It holds the most value because it’s the first thing people see when they do any type of search on LinkedIn, so you need to have web marketing in your headline. You could say, “I’m a web marketing strategist that helps small businesses do X,Y and Z.”
- Current Work Experience. This is the second most relevant thing because it’s what you’re currently doing in business. LinkedIn puts more emphasis on this section than anywhere else besides the headline, so you need to have web marketing in the description of your current work experience.
- Past Work Experience. You have to have web marketing in your past work experience.
- Your Summary. Throughout your summary, obviously, you want to formulate and update it in a way that you’re talking about your goals, who you help, how you help them, and how people can get in contact with you. But you want to add the keywords web marketing in there throughout your summary.
- Specialties. Put “web marketing strategist” or “small business web marketing coach” or whatever else it may be, but have web marketing in there a couple of times.
In those five places: 1) your headline, 2) your current work experience, 3) your past work experience, 4) your summary and 5) your specialties, your keywords need to be throughout there. It’s going to help you rank higher on LinkedIn when people are searching for those keywords.
Do a search for those keywords and see if you even show up on the first page. If you don’t, then enter those keywords throughout your profile in those five places, and nine times out of 10, you’ll rank on the first page within minutes.
Rich: That’s phenomenal advice. When I put this up on my blog at FastCompany.com, you can be sure I’m going to leave off at least two of those things so I make sure I stay above everybody else!
Lewis, this has been great information today. I know that people are going to want to find you online. Where can we find you?
Lewis: The best place to go is www.LewisHowes.com. You can connect with me there or anywhere else.
Rich: Lewis, thanks again for your time today and we’ll be checking you out online.
Lewis Howes is the author of two LinkedIn success books, LinkedWorking and LinkedIn Master Strategies. Some of his other products include ShyNetworking (a networking course for introverts), Magnetic Webinars (helping others generate more sales through webinars) and 500 Million Strong (the complete social media training course). He has also been a featured writer on popular sites such as Mashable, ProBlogger and Social Media Examiner. Lewis is also founder of the Sports Executives Association, a former professional athlete and two-sport All-American. Connect with Lewis at www.lewishowes.com.