How Top Brands Use LinkedIn Pages to Strengthen Online Communities

April 2, 2021

A man sitting outside on a wooden bench with his headphones on while he works on his open laptop.

It's never been harder to build and connect with communities, especially during a time when we're struggling to find unity.

During a recent LinkedIn Live, Bloomberg, IBM and EY shared their vision for building communities online, and what you can learn about the three free features LinkedIn just announced to help you do that: Product Pages, My Company Tab, and Stories.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion for marketers who want to build strong communities of customers, employees, and advocates.

Rise of the Online Brand Community

“An active, inclusive, supportive online community brings tremendous value to both marketers and the audiences they serve,” wrote LinkedIn’s Alex Rynne in a blog post last year explaining why online community is more important than ever. LinkedIn is itself one giant global community for professionals, hosting more than 700 million members. The opportunity for brands on the platform is to develop focused sub-communities within this massive audience.

As Alex put it: “Think of it as a physical community, like a city, where community members congregate in all sorts of places. There are usually ample ways to serve specific interests or niche needs.”

Bloomberg is one example of a company that has embraced this paradigm to the fullest, and for them, it’s very much a matter of quality over quantity.

“Our focus isn't really on how many communities we have, or how big they are,” said Courtney Silverstein, Bloomberg’s Global Head of Corporate Social Media, during the LinkedIn Live panel. “Our main metric for success is how effective we are at engaging people in our communities.”

The rise of the online community is a natural step in social media’s evolution, says  IBM’s Global Head Brand Strategist, Ali Carlson.

“Social media started with updates, which was more of a validation medium than a community,” she observed during the panel. Over time, social feeds started filling up with saturated content and oft-irrelevant advertisements. 

“For users to escape the ads, they've shifted from this open ocean of newsfeed updates to more closed communities where they can connect and build real relationships.”

Christina Minshull, Associate Marketing Director of Brand, Content and Social Strategy at EY, added that participating in these tight-knit communities provides a chance for B2B companies to break away from promotional angles and a myopic focus on revenue, and move toward striking genuine rapports with customers.

“I think a lot of B2B marketers fall into that trap of being super sales-y and super product-focused, always thinking about the bottom line and thinking about sales and leads. Of course that's an important part of our organization as well,” Christina said. “But sometimes it's good to take a step back and think about the community, and your overarching brand awareness, knowing that when you do focus there, the leads and the sales naturally come.”

Here are a few ways their companies are following through on a commitment to community-building.

Activating Employee Engagement at Bloomberg With the My Company Tab

Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders stemming from the pandemic pushed many employees into remote work last year, making it all the more difficult for business leaders to maintain connection and camaraderie among teams. But if we’re being honest, this disruption only served to underscore the shortcomings that existed in many companies — especially large complex organizations and enterprises.

When you have a vast number of employees, often distributed in different locations and separated by corporate silos, it can be very difficult to maintain that sense of unity.

The My Company tab, a relatively recent addition to the LinkedIn Pages experience, exists as a single place for employees to come together, converse, and spread the word. Coworkers can view company updates and find curated content to share. 

At Bloomberg, employee engagement is a prime emphasis, framed around two key pillars: philanthropy, and commitment to diversity and inclusion. The company relies on the My Company tab to help keep these initiatives front-and-center for employees across its global ecosystem, regardless of where they might be working. 

“The My Company tab has been a great way to inform employees about parts of the business they might not be exposed to in their day-to-day role,” Courtney explained. “It kind of gives all employees an equal view of what's happening across the company that they might not get from not physically being in the office.”

She added that this was pivotal in helping Bloomberg’s workforce stay engaged and communicative through the turbulence of these times.

“To be honest, I really did expect employee engagement to see a dropoff in the past year, but it's actually been kind of the opposite,” she said. “Which was definitely a welcome surprise to our team.”

Developing Product Communities at IBM With Product Pages

Brand advocates are great. Product advocates are even better. They can speak directly to features and benefits of what you sell, attracting interest from those who are searching for a specific solution but may not yet be familiar with your brand.

Product Pages support this level of advocacy by showing customers your products and services in one spot where they can find member reviews, testimonials, firsthand endorsements, and more. Not only does this help elevate your super-users and customer evangelists, but also your employees who are often untapped subject matter experts.

“Your employees spend most of their time hands-on with your company's products, they know them better than any marketer ever will, and they can speak the technical language their peers trust and understand,” Ali emphasized.

Her company has begun dabbling with Product Pages (their IBM Security showcase is one example) and the benefits have been clear to see.

“With Product Pages, we can help turn our community of IBMers into a bit of a salesforce,” Ali said. “It helps our employees build their own advocacy, because they can add our products to their LinkedIn skills. It allows their peers who might be in the market for a solution to turn to their network and see who has expertise. Our staff can become a bit of a sales and support entity.”

She noted that Product Pages support an often-elusive pursuit for social media marketing.

“This also kind of creates an organic bottom-of-the-funnel solution that traditional social struggles to deliver," she said.

How EY Uses LinkedIn to Bring Its Brand to Life

LinkedIn Stories is another feature aiming to bring companies closer to their communities. If you’re familiar with “story” content on other social platforms, you probably associate it with authentic, ephemeral, short-form videos enabling people to share snapshots of their day-to-day lives with family and friends. On LinkedIn, brands can harness this convention in a professional context.

You might use Stories on LinkedIn to highlight a new employee, share a new product demo, or preview an upcoming event. This feature offers a top-of-funnel, full-screen viewing experience that can contribute tremendously to brand-building.

EY was an early adopter of LinkedIn Stories as a beta user and wasted no time in discovering impactful applications for the tool.

Christina recounted how the EY marketing team developed a series of interviews called “The Entrepreneur Shift,” tapping voices in the entrepreneur and startup communities and asking how they were pivoting in response to the pandemic. 

By design, the content was raw and unfiltered, with lower production values to better connect with viewers and their own circumstances. The videos were recorded in Microsoft Teams and edited in EY’s in-house video lab. This no-frills approach hit home.

“We created this authentic dialogue that, on LinkedIn Stories, really resonated well,” Christina said.

The Entrepreneur Shift and its deft execution epitomizes what Christina referenced earlier, and what helps make LinkedIn Stories such an intriguing tool: context.

“When we're thinking as marketers, we need to be cognizant of the context. We want to be operating in the right context and in the right way, so that people stop and listen to our message,” she said.

Where to Start?

Hopefully. you’re as excited as we are about the new era of community-driven B2B marketing. But you might also be wondering how to prioritize and identify the ripest opportunities for your brand. A few tips to get you on the right track:

  • Let your audience guide you. Find existing communities relating to your niche and become a digital citizen, listening and participating but allowing the conversations to flow naturally. You’ll likely gain a lot of insight in addition to identifying key new contacts. “Listening has to come first if you want to have an audience-first approach,” Ali said.
  • Experiment to determine what resonates. These LinkedIn features are fairly new, and even the broader concept of online community-building is somewhat nascent. Now is the time to make small bets, try different things, and see what your audience is responding to. “We thought a lot about how we were going to use this new product and really leveraged it from an A/B testing angle,” Christina said of EY’s experience with the Stories beta.
  • Train and encourage your employees. The end goal of employee and customer advocacy is really to generate a community of content marketers. But, of course, many people aren’t as naturally predisposed as marketing pros when it comes to writing, communicating, and interacting on social media. Fuel their interest by helping them sharpen these skills. “Make those communities part of their daily roles, and enable them to become thought leaders in those spaces,” Ali advised. “We hold sessions on platform best practices, and offer employees personal brand consulting and strategies.”

Here’s to building lively brand and product communities founded on authenticity, value, and unity in 2021 beyond. If you want to learn more from these forward-thinking marketers, you can watch the full LinkedIn Live stream on-demand.

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