Social selling, or the use of social media to support sales activities, has been around for a while. But it’s always been a bit hard to gauge performance. How can you tell whether your thought leadership activity is actually paying off? And if you suspect that it’s not, where is the shortfall?

LinkedIn has just made that a little bit easier, by opening up access to its Social Selling Index, or SSI. This tool, which measures how well users are performing in social selling, has been available to paid members of the social network since last year. But it has now been rolled out to all English-speaking members in a move that could revolutionise social selling.

Four components of social selling

LinkedIn looked at leading social sellers, and the way that they behaved on social media, and in particular on LinkedIn. Based on survey results, the social network identified four main areas of behaviour which were closely correlated with success in social selling. These are:

Create a professional brand – Users are encouraged to complete their profile fully. But this is much more than a ‘tick-box’ exercise: the profile should be tailored to the industry, and to what your prospects want to know about you. Users are also encouraged to add videos, slideshows and other content to showcase their skills and knowledge. They should also seek out relevant recommendations and endorsements to build their own personal professional brand.

Find the right people – The next step is to use LinkedIn’s research tools to find and connect to the right people. These will include other thought leaders in your industry, as well as likely prospects within your network. Useful tools include Lead Recommendations and Lead Builder, but it’s worth experimenting to find which ones work for you and your industry.

Engage with insights – Leading social sellers join groups, and follow competitors and prospects to see what they’re discussing and posting. They also share content that will be valuable to their network. LinkedIn allows users to post their own content, and gives much more scope for publishing full-length articles than many of the other social networks. Successful social sellers don’t just watch and broadcast though. They also engage with their network, commenting, sharing and ‘liking’ content from other people to provide genuine insights. This helps them to build relationships with their network and beyond. As you develop your thought leadership, you can also reach out to prospects with ideas that may help to solve their problems and particular ‘pain points’.

Build strong relationships – You will need to build strong social relationships on several levels to succeed with social selling. Some links will be with people you already know, your immediate colleagues, and perhaps those in other companies whom you have worked with or know as friends. Make those links: make your real network your virtual network too, because these people will be able to introduce you to others. Once you have established a strong network, you can start to reach out to your prospects, focusing on senior-level people who are able to make decisions in those organisations.

Using the Social Selling Index to measure your performance

Having identified these four areas as intimately connected with social selling success and better outcomes, LinkedIn then built an algorithm to measure them. This is the basis of the Social Selling Index. Each dimension is assessed on a scale of 1 to 25, giving a total possible score of 100.

What is helpful, though, is that SSI scores are not just given out of 100, but broken down by the four areas. You can therefore see where you do better, and where you could do with improving, measured against the performance of your network, and your industry peers. It will also show you how your performance has changed over time across each element since your SSI use was activated,  and how that change compares to your network and peers.

In other words, it’s an extremely valuable tool for anyone engaged in social selling and thought leadership. It can be used to help you to improve your social selling by enabling better targeting of your improvement efforts. It allows you to measure the success of your improvement strategy, which is always encouraging.

The Social Selling Index was worth a look when it was only available to paid-up members. Now that’s it’s available to everyone, there’s really no excuse for not using it to improve your social selling technique.

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