When you think of LinkedIn, you might think about it as a tool for job hunting and professional networking. However, LinkedIn definitely aspires to be more than a community of job seekers.

With a bevy of business-friendly features — from Company Pages and Sponsored Updates to LinkedIn’s engagement-hungry Groups — LinkedIn is a prime target for businesses looking to expand their social presence. To find out just what the site can do for brands, we talked to three very different companies that have all found success in adding LinkedIn to their social strategies.

Businesses Targeting Businesses

Most social strategies include major social networks like Facebook and Twitter — both of which tout larger membership numbers than LinkedIn — but LinkedIn targets a more specific demographic. On the site, you’ll find business professionals in a wide variety of fields interested in networking, career advancement, and discussing industry news. If that happens to be an audience you’re trying to reach, LinkedIn is likely to be a better place to approach them than more general social networks (where things like cat photos compete for your potential customers’ attention).

“It allows us to reach people where they want to be reached — on a professional networking platform,” explains Brendan Shea, Director of Communications with the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago. The school has recently targeted social networking to build its brand and increase enrollment. It’s been named one of the Top 100 Most Social Media Friendly MBA Schools for its efforts. “We want to connect with people where they are, and when they are thinking about their careers in as focused of a way as possible. It’s really about starting a dialogue that ultimately will help professionals advance in their careers.”

For Shreyans Parekh, co-founder of wedding and event supplies company Koyal Wholesale, the reason the company has taken to LinkedIn is surprisingly similar: it was following its customers. “LinkedIn provides a targeted community platform of professionals who are in the event planning and catering space,” Parekh tells us. “Koyal uses LinkedIn to connect with event planning professionals worldwide to introduce them to our company and product selection. We were able to join and participate in such groups as ‘Event Planning Professionals’ and ‘Wedding Professionals Networking Group’ which enabled us to connect with active event planners and professionals.”

At Power Engineers, PR and HR have joined forces to create a LinkedIn presence that helps the company recruit job candidates — beyond just posting want ads. On the PR side, Cindy Miller maintains a LinkedIn Company Page that aims to catch the interest of potential employees. “HR is not necessarily a content creator for social media,” says Miller. “On the flip side, I have a good understanding how to represent the brand through content, images, and so on. Our HR team are recruiting experts, so they are usually found crafting job descriptions and posting opportunities on LinkedIn.”

Using LinkedIn to Power Your Business

The secret to success with LinkedIn will be familiar to social networking pros: it’s all about connecting with your audience. On LinkedIn this means having a Company Page where you post interesting content, as well as creating or participating in Groups. “Content needs to be engaging for our audience,” says Miller. “We find that posting a mix of content from our company website, along with interesting, witty, or industry-based information is what keeps our audiences coming back. We discover current news and find ways to associate ourselves with that content — like tying in a CNN Money story on best places to live with our office locations and career opportunities in those areas, for example.”

Quinlan leverages the power of its alumni group on LinkedIn. “The stronger the alumni network,” says Shea, “the better the experience for our current and prospective students. Quinlan’s alumni group provides another outlet for building engagement, making connections, driving attendance to events, posting employment opportunities, and discussing hot topics related to business. More than 1,600 members have joined us on LinkedIn, with multiple requests coming in daily.” Quinlan has a Company Page as well, where it shares the latest research from professors, need-to-know news for the alumni, and opportunities for potential students and employees.

“The ‘products’ feature is a current area of focus,” explains Shea. “It allows our alumni to write reviews of degree programs, which can be seen by others in their network and those who are already following our school.” And that kind of review power isn’t just for product offerings: LinkedIn also lets employees write reviews of the company — and Power Engineers highlights these on its LinkedIn Page to draw in interested job candidates. “Being able to use employee testimonials is a great way to promote the company at a peer level,” Miller tells us.

Instead of actively maintaining a Company Page, Koyal Wholesale works with LinkedIn’s Groups, maintaining an active presence in groups its customers frequent. “By reaching out to members proactively, especially during the peak summer wedding and event planning season, Koyal was able to attract new clientele,” Parekh says. “In addition, through ads targeted at these networks, we are able to promote specific product lines and reach clients who had never heard about us before.” Koyal has found messaging that highlights new products and offers special discounts to be particularly effective at bringing new visitors to its website and encouraging them to buy.

How Crucial Is LinkedIn to Social Success?

Not all businesses will find that their clients spend time on the LinkedIn. However, if LinkedIn’s users are your clients, it can be an important way to reach them. “We do see an increase in engagement with our company site,” Miller explains. “Watching the metrics improve with each post has helped me determine what content is resonating with our audience and how we can engage on a regular schedule.” Power Engineers had previously found it difficult to find qualified candidates for some positions, but now it has a steady stream of potential employees applying for positions posted to LinkedIn.

For Quinlan, LinkedIn has helped accelerate its recruiting cycle. “It has helped build our brand and drive our enrollments,” says Shea. “As a nationally ranked business school, it makes sense for Quinlan to be as active as possible on this professional networking platform. And as a nonprofit with a lean advertising budget, we have to be especially strategic in choosing vehicles that cut waste and provide immediate insights tied to metrics.”

Koyal Wholesale also finds LinkedIn to be an important part of its social strategy. “Koyal generally receives 8-10 new leads from LinkedIn each month and through our targeted LinkedIn ads, we receive close to 30-40 orders,” says Parekh.

Is LinkedIn part of your business strategy? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credit: Sheila Scarborough]