By Jemima Gibbons, Social Media Strategist, AAB Engage

LinkedIn used to be the poor relation when it came to social media strategy. If YouTube was the brash teenager, Facebook the student and Twitter the thirty-something professional, LinkedIn had all the glamour of your mum’s maiden aunt: staid, respectable and maybe not much fun.

But in the past twelve months, LinkedIn has upped the ante. If you’re at all active on the network, you’ll have noticed more email digests from your discussion groups, more updates about new roles your friends have moved to and more invitations to join sponsored groups such as HP Business Answers.

But the real jewel in LinkedIn’s new engagement crown is its connection-mapping tool, InMaps.

Back in 2007, Facebook stole the limelight with the Friend Wheel. This was a simple app that showed us how everyone in our network was connected. The friend wheel was multi-coloured and beautiful to look at, but it didn’t actually tell us much. It was always the same shape, with the user in the centre. And because it was made up of contacts from our social life, it didn’t tend to give us any new information – we already knew that our college or university friends hung out with each other, and that our families were related.

But the friend wheel was important because it helped perpetuate the idea of the social graph: an idea that was conceived by scientists, but popularised by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Our social graph is digital, and maps the relationships we have online (compared to our personal social network, which encompasses relationships both on and offline).

The InMap is the best representation of a social graph I’ve come across. It’s not only fabulous to look at – it can be incredibly useful. If you are on LinkedIn and have more than 50 connections, you can get your own InMap (see: LinkedIn InMaps).

Here are some key ways to use your InMap:

1. Clusters – unlike Facebook’s friend wheel, InMaps give you an immediate, graphic and in-depth representation of your key business networks – and a clear indication of where they overlap. You can give a name to each cluster. This gives you a helicopter view and helps you make sense of your entire business network.

2. Team building – the connections between people you know are important when you need to get things done. Knowing who connects with whom, however tenuous the link, means that if you’re pulling a team or project together, you can use people who already know each other (InMaps isn’t sophisticated enough to “rate” the strength of each relationship in your network; that may be something they’re working on).

3. Sales opportunities – if you have a product or service to sell, it’s likely you’ll see a distinct group of business connections clustered around the relevant knowledge area, and then other clusters completely removed. These are the people - existing contacts, warm leads - who you should consider selling to.

4. Well-connected outliers – if you know someone is extremely well-connected (any LinkedIn profile will tell you how many connections a person has) and that person appears right on the edge of your InMap, then it’s likely you’re not making the most of their business connections. It might be worth spending more time at the events and functions they go to, or simply asking them to introduce you to some people who might be interested in what you have to sell/ offer.

5. InfluencersInMaps will show you the people who are best connected within your network. They will appear as the largest “dots” within the map. If you want to get a message across, make sure these people are involved.

Bear in mind that, out of all the online social networks, LinkedIn is the one that caters most naturally to business relationships. If you ask people you’ve met professionally to accept your contact request on LinkedIn, they should be happy to do so. Keep building your LinkedIn network by collecting business cards every time you attend an event, conference or workshop.

Email: jemima@aabengage.com
Twitter: @aabengage
Facebook: AAB Engage
Website: www.aabengage.com

Watch the video below featuring Jemima Gibbons of AAB Engage discussing how social media can positively impact your business


Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness