How SMEs use LinkedIn

With over 100 million users, LinkedIn is the 11th most visited website in the UK and an obvious target for social media marketing. What makes it just as important as social media top dog Facebook, however, is that it’s the best placed for targeting SMEs.

LinkedIn is the one social network where the 18-24 year old age bracket is underrepresented. In fact, the most common LinkedIn user is over 35 and has a university degree.  While there are plenty of young entrepreneurs making their marks in the business world before they hit 30, the majority of small business owners fit into this older demographic.

We looked into how many LinkedIn users are associated with a company of fewer than 50 employees in the UK and broke them into two groups: SME owners, founders, directors and CXOs, and then employees and line managers. Over 100,000 LinkedIn members in the UK are linked to SMEs and just under a third (approximately 28,000) came under the first category.

Now, we know that 100,000 is just a drop in the ocean of small to medium businesses: In 2012 there were 4.8 million in the UK. That being said a sample size of 100,000 LinkedIn users in the SME category is large enough to make basic assumptions about the sector as a whole and the calculations we’ve made below are therefore approximate.

We then went even deeper and have broken down these 100,000 members by sector to find out exactly which businesses are on LinkedIn and which aren’t.

SMEs on LinkedIn by sector

Sector Owners and Directors Total LinkedIn Users
Corporate 10,072 30,375
High tech 9,874 30,000
IT services 3,778 13,769
Finance 3,796 9,462
Media 2,148 6,673
Recreation 1,565 4,948
Arts 1,741 4,823
Non-profit 1,465 4,458
Medical <1,000 3,170
Education 1,045 2,939
Manufacturing <1,000 2,756
Consumer Goods <1,000 2,567
Legal <1,000 1,704
Services <1,000 1,634
Construction <1,000 1,304
Government <1,000 1,217
Agriculture <1,000 <1,000
Transport <1,000 <1,000

We made three key observations:

LinkedIn isn’t used by SMEs in primary industries and manufacturing.

Or it’s at least not used as well as in other sectors. What we found is that agriculture and manufacturing, considering the size of their markets and importance to the UK economy, are hugely underrepresented on LinkedIn.

SME owners are out in force on LinkedIn.

Our initial observation that roughly a third of the LinkedIn SME population is made up of heads of businesses, a relatively high percentage, is true across the board when you break it down by sector.

For example, according to the figures we pulled from LinkedIn, marketers have a pool of fewer than 400 direct targets in construction to work with in the UK, but on the other end of the scale those approaching high tech SMEs have nearly 10,000 users who identify themselves as heads of businesses.

If you want to talk to small business owners, use LinkedIn Groups.

LinkedIn recommends that you look for relevant groups in order to identify your target users. Groups are an excellent resource for users to put their questions into a forum, share ideas and discuss issues affecting their businesses.

To find groups with your target audience there’s a group directory that allows you to search for relevant groups, but it’s by no means perfect and doesn’t have accurate filters on multiple keywords or regions.

Rather than just typing in your keywords – “SMEs + UK” for example – and hoping for the best (which, by the way, will yield a group called Small Business in the Ukraine), you need to put on your deerstalker and tweed and do your research. We’ve devised a time-saving way to do an efficient sweep of your target sector that will save you hours of aimless browsing:

  1. Find one good, relevant group with at decent percentage of the population for your sector (using our table above as a guide if you’re targeting SMEs).
  2. Identify five active conversation threads, preferably covering a topic relevant to your products and services.
  3. Find 10-20 participants in those conversations.
  4. Look at those users’ newsfeeds and subscribed groups and join them where appropriate.

Doing this helps you to identify which groups the active users in your sector frequently read and contribute to, enabling you to build a base of relevant, well-subscribed forums.

Now that you know how SMEs use LinkedIn and how to find them, check back with us on Thursday for a post on how to evaluate a LinkedIn group (as well as our list for top groups covering UK SMEs) and on Friday for a post on how to talk to SMEs in groups.

Please click here to read more posts from our series on marketing to SMEs.