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Branding is something that we as professionals need to take very seriously on an individual level. It’s essential to develop a unique and personal “professional brand” that communicates the value you have to offer to prospective clients. This is where LinkedIn excels. It allows you to take control of the major elements of your professional brand: the people you connect with, the groups you join, the recommendations you give and receive and how you express your skills and experience in the real estate industry. This 8-step marketing plan is designed to help you grow your personal brand and generate leads through LinkedIn.

1. Complete It!
LinkedIn is your online resume. You don’t want clients and other business contacts to see a sliver of your experience or read through a hastily thrown-together description of what you do for a living. Take the time to sit down and put some effort into filling out your experience and summary. If you ever need to see what parts of your profile you’re missing, just go to Edit Profile. The right side of the page will show what sections of your profile are blank or partially completed. Be sure to include past companies, education, affiliations, and activities. Adding these will allow you to find and connect with people who went to the same school, worked at the same company and were involved in the same activities as you were.

2. Make your profile public
This is a great way to influence what people see when they search for your name.

Making your profile public allows your information to be indexed by Google and other search engines. Since LinkedIn profiles receive a fairly high PageRank, they are typically the top search result for your name. Learn how to make your profile public.

3. Set up a vanity URL
A LinkedIn vanity URL looks like this: www.linkedin.com/in/YourName. It takes out the random string of numbers and will help boost your search results. I recommend using your business name; if your name is Robert Smith, but you go by Bob use Bob Smith for your URL. You may have noticed that I left the company absent in the URL. That is on purpose. Your URL should be set up for you as an individual so it can follow you if you move between companies. Where you work should be listed under your profile. View a quick tutorial for setting up a vanity URL.

4. Add a link to your email signature and website
There is no use putting the effort into completing your profile if people can’t find it. Putting a link and a call to action on?) your most basic tools for communication will make it easier for people to find and connect with you. It sounds so simple, but you’d be surprised how few people follow through with this step.

5. Take it offline
Everything you do offline should have a call to action online. Add your LinkedIn vanity URL to your business cards and printed materials to drive people to learn more about your experience and connect with you.

6. Connect
Reach out to your clients and connect. Increasing your number of connections will help increase your visibility and search results. Studies have proven that people would much rather work with an individual whom their friends know and trust. When sending a request, make sure to include how you know them instead of using the default invitation language.

7. Endorse
After you’ve made a connection with someone go ahead and endorse them. Trading endorsements on LinkedIn is a common practice and shows people that you respect what they do for a living. Think of it as digital karma; the more you give, the more you get.

8. Join and be ACTIVE in local community groups
This is the most important and commonly overlooked step. As a general guideline for groups, you should: Join as many relevant groups as you can.

There is an upper limit of 50 but it is unlikely you’ll have that many related to your specific community and interests. Joining groups is the easiest way to expand your sphere of influence on LinkedIn. You’re allowed to send connection requests to anyone who is in the same group as you.

Be active in a few. Strive to keep up with your five most active and relevant groups.

Lead one. Create and manage your own group for your local community. Community groups are the largest untapped resource on LinkedIn. They provide you with valuable opportunities to connect and be seen.

Start by blocking off 20 minutes twice a week on your calendar to participate in your groups by replying to comments and questions. In the groups that you lead, you’ll need to initiate the conversations and activity in the beginning.

Now it’s time to sit back and let the leads roll in. WRONG! Stay active, keep at it and don’t quit. You’ll need to nurture these connections and build a presence before you start getting a steady stream of leads. This is where a majority of people lose focus and move on but with a real commitment you can turn your LinkedIn profile into effective business tool.

Brian Geick is a social media specialist at HSA Home Warranty. Find out more about HSA Home warranty at www.onlinehsa.com. If you’d like to learn more about using LinkedIn to grow your business join us for a free webinar on May 15. Visit our Facebook page for more valuable social media training videos at www.facebook.com/hsahomewarranty.

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