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Bob Ulrich's Editorial

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June 28, 2011

Don't arbitrarily dismiss LinkedIn

by Bob Ulrich - Also by this author

Germano Julio Badi requested to add you as a connection on Linked-In,” read the e-mail request. The name sounded familiar, and he wanted to add me to his professional network.

I viewed Badi’s invitation, and remembered he is the Tire Industry Association’s director of international affairs for South America (his business card leaves out his middle name). I accepted his invitation, which gives me 164 connections.

Is that good or bad? How valuable is LinkedIn to independent tire dealers, or any retailer, for that matter?

LinkedIn bills itself as the world’s largest professional network. It connects more than 100 million “professionals” in more than 200 countries, either directly or in a “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” way.

It works. I communicate with Antony Powath, vice president of marketing with “Rubber Asia” based in India, only through LinkedIn.

How many of you are linked in to Linked-In, but do little more than accept the invitations because they are sent to your e-mail? I was like that at first, but have since realized how valuable LinkedIn is.

Certainly, the networking aspects of it are great if you are trying to find a job. I’ve even written a reference for a former colleague. And it works both ways: It’s  also a great place to find qualified employees.

But LinkedIn’s greatest strength may be in its business networking.

For example, if you have a business question, you have millions of people at your disposal to help answer it. “Post those vexing questions on ‘LinkedIn Answers’ to tap into the knowledge of the world’s foremost business experts,” says the site.

Alan Renzi, owner of The Tire Spot LLC in Newark, N.Y., sees the need for LinkedIn — and he has just started connecting to people. It’s all about networking, he says.

“I can see the potential value in it, but I haven’t utilized it yet. One of the three people I have linked up with so far is my former NTDRA (National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association) rep, and it was nice to know he was still around.

“He might be a potential source for information in the future for some of the resources NTDRA had. I am looking for the tire dealer survey book they put out in the ’80s. It was a dealer operations manual and workbook. It had financial ratios in it that you could compare to your own, and help you troubleshoot the financial condition of your company.”

(Well? Can anyone help out Alan? He’s also on Facebook, by the way.)

There are a lot of other ways LinkedIn can help you and your business.

In his recent Web article, “Three Ways to Use LinkedIn for Social Sales,” Jacob Morgan, co-founder of Chess Media Group, writes that he finds information on prospects before meeting with or contacting them. I would think wholesale distributors and commercial tire dealers would find this extremely helpful.

I know I do. As a journalist, I have used LinkedIn to keep up with executive titles. And you don’t have to be connected to the executive to call up his or her profile.

LinkedIn is a social network for businesspeople, which differs from Facebook. The latter says it gives people “the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

As it relates to retailers, however, Facebook is business-oriented, too, because it connects them directly to their customers.

Many of you have a Facebook page for your tire dealerships, where you can promote special offers and pile up “Likes.” I know a lot of you are nervous about giving customers a chance to post feedback on their vehicle repair experiences, but I’m sure the good comments outweigh the bad. It also gives you a chance to right any wrongs, either real or perceived.

Modern Tire Dealer has its own Facebook page, and 898 people “Like” us. (Next stop, 1,000!) We use it to post photos from the dealer meetings and product introductions we attend, and interact with our readership.

Sometimes we post news items. Sometimes we display links to fun videos, such as old tire advertising.

Although tire dealers are our customers, the MTD Face-book page is closer to a B2B site, whereas your pages are clearly B2C. Either way, as Alan Renzi says, it’s all about networking.

So when Germano Julio Badi or someone like him wants to connect with you on LinkedIn,  or a tire-buying customer decides to become a fan of your Facebook page, embrace the opportunity, and accept social networking in 2011.

Just don’t let LinkedIn and Facebook erode your face-to-face social skills.

If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me at bob.ulrich@bobit.com.

Related Topics: Bob Ulrich, Editorial, LinkedIn

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