I've always considered LinkedIn more of a place to prospect for a job than anything else. And since I haven’t been in the market for one in a while, I've paid it little mind.

Plus, if I'm being honest: I've always thought LinkedIn was kind of … well, boring. If Facebook was a rave at a cool downtown hot spot, LinkedIn was a stuffy reception with piped-in music at one of those cookie-cutter function facilities conveniently located at the end of an exit ramp.

Does that sound harsh? Perhaps.

But now I've realized that I couldn't have been more wrong.

LinkedIn, it turns out, is a happening place: It has more than 60 million members in over 200 countries, in all 7 continents. Execs from all Fortune 500 companies are there. And 81% of business-to-business marketers use LinkedIn. All this is from our latest case study collection, LinkedIn Success Stories: How 11 companies are using the global networking site to achieve their business and marketing goals.

In the collection, our own Kim Smith details LinkedIn’s slew of new features and recent applications, and gives an insider’s view of how those tools are being used by 11 organizations in four distinct ways:

  1. market research,

  2. demonstrate thought leadership and expertise,

  3. attract users to events, and

  4. win new business.

Like how, specifically? Check out these two mini case studies excerpted from the report.

Market Research. Penman Public Relations, headquartered in Austin, TX, used LinkedIn to research a client’s planned launch of a high-end gaming system.

Approach: Penman found that connecting with potential product users individually through LinkedIn offered more straightforward feedback and less “groupthink” that focus groups often deliver. To research the launch by Hardcore Computer, Penman posted short discussion posts at certain groups they were already active in (as well as solicited individual contacts), requesting a shout from those willing to provide feedback on PC gaming computer features and their advantages.

Those who responded received a more detailed message thanking them and then asked about specific user expectations for a factory-built gaming system in the $3,000+ range, as well as for one that might cost $5,000 or more.

Result: CEO Patti D. Hill said she received several hundred responses, many from people who were neither in her contact base nor members of the groups Penman targeted. Instead, they’d been forwarded her query. “This speaks to the passion of this audience, but also to the willingness of people to provide information and contribute even when they’re not directly connected,” Hill said.

By the way, one of my favorite quotes in the case study collection is from Hill, who says she likes the enduring aspect LinkedIn. “Twitter is real time, and you’re a blip on the screen,” she says. “LinkedIn waits for us. Like email, it’s there when you want it.”

Bottom line: The approach worked to not only gather insight for the new product launch, it also attracted additional traffic to the Hardcore Computer website and generated great visibility among gamers and developers for both Penman and its client.

Biz Dev. Closer to my neck of the woods, Boston’s PJA, an advertising and marketing agency, told Kim how they successfully mined LinkedIn for new business. After using LinkedIn to fill key positions within the agency, PJA VP Greg Straface decided to test how effective the network might be for new business outreach.

Approach: Investing an hour a day, Straface focused on three main activities:

Targeted searches for such keywords as “VP of marketing,” specific ZIP codes and company names, to identify key contacts to call, InMail, email, or forward the agency’s portfolio.

Tracking who was looking at his profile and those of other PJA staff, as featured on each user’s homepage. He then researched those companies in more depth, identified their marketing directors and sent out the agency portfolio by FedEx to land on their desks the next day (and again following up with a phone call, email, or InMail).

Participating in LinkedIn groups catering to CMOs to build conversations with relevant individuals. He monitored each group’s discussion posts until he thoughtfully with content, rather than a pitch. As always, the key is to engage, don’t sell.

Result: Actual business: Inquiries, agency pitches, and new accounts, including Guidewire and Chase.

Bottom line: “By using LinkedIn actively in this way, it has become a very productive channel with huge financial return,” Straface says.

* * * * *

So those are two stories that showed me how, while I wasn't looking, LinkedIn has amped up to a full-blown party—one you don't want to miss.

My bad.

Your turn: How are you using LinkedIn?

In case you missed it, LinkedIn’s Community Manager Mario Sundar last week gave MarketingProfs Pro members a tour of LinkedIn’s existing and new features. It’s a great primer on using LinkedIn, if you haven’t begun to take advantage of the goodness there.

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image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author who recently published Everybody Writes 2. She speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.