• Inna Semenyuk

How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business

By Phil Laboon for ThriveGlobal

I had the pleasure of interviewing Inna Semenyuk, a Founder and Marketing Strategist at InnavationLabs, a full-service marketing consultancy based in San Francisco. A seasoned marketing leader, Inna has worked with Calm, Nua Group, Lightbend, DeveloperWeek, Tribe XR and other exciting companies.

Before taking her passion for helping brands find their voice and tell their story to San Francisco, Inna lived and worked in London, United Kingdom, where she completed her MBA at Imperial College Business School. Before that Inna was a VP at Grayling where she helped Starbucks, Turner Broadcasting, NBC Universal, Burger King, Facebook, Skype and other top international brands launch in the Russia.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always wanted to work in communications: when I was a teenager, I told my mum that “every tiny business in the world, even a flower shop around the corner, will need a publicist” to promote their brand. In high school, interned at a local newspaper and a youth organization and then got accepted by the best university in Russia — Lomonosov Moscow State University — to study journalism and public relations.

Through my work at a TV station as a TV reporter and a PR executive at Mmd and Grayling in Moscow, my understanding and knowledge of PR, marketing communications and digital has evolved and I discovered my passion for technology brands and the power of content and social media. I have since moved twice: from Moscow to London and from London to San Francisco, and I now run a marketing consultancy helping cutting-edge brands tell their story.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

There were so many — it’s really hard to pick one! As a marketer, I’ve worked with so many innovative creative and inspirational companies that I often had to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. At Grayling, we helped companies like Facebook, Skype, Starbucks, Burger King, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and many others inter the Russian market and find their local voice.

I thrive in creative environments and at the same time always look for the next challenge, so as I grew as a professional, I paved my own path to where I am now. When I moved to London and worked for an international PR agency there, I realized that at the peak of my career I needed to slow down and take a step back so I took a year off work and did my MBA at Imperial College. It was one of the most challenging learning experiences that got me to realize that I’m ready to start my own business. A year later, I moved to California and started InnavationLabs. Three years in, I’m as happy as ever and excited for the future of my company and the marketing space overall.

Photo by Nick Otto

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once had a client based in Dubai — a fantastic PR director at a property company. Doing my routine weekly client progress review on a Friday morning, I decided to call my client (we were in the first months of our contract) and check in with her and see if she has any feedback from us and if there is anything we could help her with. She sounded surprised as well as evidently annoyed when she picked up the phone: “Inna, it’s Friday and it’s a weekend in Dubai, I’m with my kids and it’s best to email you if you have any questions”, she fired away. (In UAE the weekend is Friday-Saturday and the week starts on Sunday.) I apologized, put the phone down and spent 15 minutes staring at the wall wondering how on earth I did not think about this and worrying if I ruined the relationship.

What this mistake taught me is to ALWAYS be aware and take into account cultural differences and personal preferences: from whether it’s a weekend or a public holiday in the country where the client is based and the time difference, to the client’s preference in communications: some require quick regular updates over email while others need face time and a detailed walk-through when reviewing a project’s progress. Since that accident, I’ve included a discussion about client’s communications preferences in a briefing session at the start of the project which dismisses any ambiguity and makes sure that my clients and I are on the same page about how we work from day one.

As for the client mentioned in this story, not only our relationship grew and we continued working with her for many years but we are still friends thanks to the social media.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

With over 2.77 billion people using social media around the world in 2019 (according to Statista), social media platforms are not simply new distribution and sales channels for brand content or goods and services. It’s the way we live our life, stay in touch with our friends, learn, consume information and entertain ourselves. Businesses that take time to understand their customers, their needs and motivations and behaviors (including their use of social media), can successfully market themselves at the channels that perform well for them.

Depending on the industry, my clients had success on a variety of social media channels, from the obvious (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube) to more niche ones (such as Quora or Reddit).

As a marketer, I have been very optimistic about Snapchat (if your core audience is teenagers and your brand’s attributes include authenticity and fun, I would strongly recommend you look into using Snapchat for your brand) and bullish on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is still an underrated platform which offers great tools for raising brand awareness, executing thought leadership initiatives, engaging with the community of like minded business professionals, employer brand and recruitment campaigns and generating leads.

Let’s talk about LinkedIn specifically, now. Can you share 5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

Fun fact: LinkedIn was founded two years before Facebook yet its growth and a product roadmap have been very different from the latter. The world’s largest professional network with over 562 million users in 200+ countries all over the world, LinkedIn is still evolving and so should be your LinkedIn marketing strategy. Here are five things to keep in mind when growing your business with LinkedIn.

1. Lead with your personal story

Without going into the weeds of the benefits of personal branding, it’s important to understand that you as an individual and your personal story and experience will generate more response and will resonate with more people rather than a typical company post. What are companies anyway if not people who generate brilliant ideas and come up with innovative products and solutions?

2. Create and share content that makes a difference

When posting an update about your company, do not simply promote your business and your services. Think about the challenges your potential clients have and how you can address these, what insights you can share that can be beneficial to your followers and what you’ve learnt on your journey that makes your brand stand out from your competitors.

When maintaining your corporate presence on LinkedIn (aka posting from your company page), make sure to tell your story through the experiences of your employees, use the tone of voice that is warm and human and always think about how your customers can benefit from your post.

3. Find your tribe in LinkedIn Groups

While LinkedIn Groups experience leaves to be desired, the company is working hard to redesign the groups so I recommend you get into it early and start building your tribe now. Facebook groups have proven to be extremely successful not only as a means to bring together like minded people but also create steady revenue streams. Many people however do not want to discuss work-related content on Facebook (and are generally feeling uneasy about the platform considering its data privacy policies and reputation) and that’s where LinkedIn can take over.

Start by creating a community of people in your space who are looking to learn and support each other via a LinkedIn Group. Curate the content and encourage others to share their insights while leading the overall discussion. Apply the same approach to your community building as you would to your LinkedIn content: do not self-promote, pitch or sell but think about the knowledge your community is looking for and offer helpful insights, best practices and space for productive and inspiring discussion.

4. Experiment and test what works for you

Just as all the other social media platforms, LinkedIn algorithm constantly evolves. Instead of second-guessing and trying to cheat the algorithm, keep track of various data points that can help you analyze and understand the performance and impact of your content. You might want to track the following parameters: views, comments, likes, DMs, leads generated, website traffic and more.

Personally, I find short status updates (rather than LinkedIn Pulse posts) to be the most effective format that works for me and my marketing business. Content performs better when I add a photo or a visual and it usually performs worse when I share a link to a piece of content outside of LinkedIn. My plan is to experiment more with the native short form video uploaded directly to LinkedIn. But again — do not take my word for it — experiment and see what works for you and adjust your approaches as LinkedIn evolves as a platform.

5. Stay clear of growth hacking tools.

You might have read about tools that let you scrape LinkedIn data and automate the process for mass outreach via LinkedIn. While it sounds like a smart way to get where you want faster, I would encourage you to be extremely careful when it comes to using the growth hacking tools and approaches.

You have to establish your authentic presence and connect with the right people in your space who can then vouch for you and generate a positive word of mouth. When you cut corners, you can come across as spammy and significantly reduce your chances for success.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m a huge fan of mindfulness and taking care of your mental health. If I was to start a movement, it would be for mindful marketing, encouraging brands and marketers to apply the fundamentals of mindfulness to the way the strategies and campaigns are designed. If we were to stop for a moment, think mindfully about our brands and the value they can bring to customers and identify authentic ways we could connect with them, the world of marketing (and world overall) would be a better place!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to invite Taylor Swift for a cup of coffee in a cat cafe! Not only is she hyper talented but she’s also a fantastic marketer and innovator: she recently turned her reputation around (look into the story of her “Reputation” album), used AI to keep stalkers at bay at her concerts and came up with a dynamic pricing ticket sales strategy, to mention a few of the exciting things she’s been up to!

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

The interview was originally published in Thrive Global.

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