March is one of my favorite months for many reasons – the first day of spring, NCAA March Madness, and the annual kick-off of the Ironman triathlon season.

It has been many years since last competing in a triathlon, but I still enjoy the three events – swimming, biking and running (only now my run is more like a jog). On a recent morning run, I thought about comparing social media platforms and multi-event sports like triathlon, and how companies and brands that aim to “win” with LinkedIn might consider a similar three-event approach.

Swim, Bike, Run

In the initial swim stage in a triathlon, most people are excited about getting underway and have a surge of adrenaline as they try to find a rhythm. Brands building an audience on LinkedIn are similar. The excitement about the early success of growing their follower count, seeing employees and followers share content from company page updates, new comments generated from engaging content, and increasing traffic from LinkedIn headed to their online properties.

In the second stage – the bike, or for LinkedIn, building community – things get a bit more complicated. Building a community on LinkedIn successfully requires careful planning to execute well. While the temptation to charge ahead and create a one-size-fits-all community (or LinkedIn Group) is enticing, the most successful LinkedIn groups build a strong following by focusing on a clear purpose with a specific audience, and designing content that maintains or increases the momentum of community engagement.

The third stage is often regarded as the most challenging – the run. For LinkedIn triathletes, this is the integration stage. This might include leveraging LinkedIn API’s for unique applications, creating targeted campaigns to increase the size of a community you are developing, or leveraging a combination of tools as part of an awareness, lead generation, or relationship management program.

Transitioning Between Audience, Community, and Integration

Most triathletes would agree that perhaps the most critical element to success is not necessarily an advantage with a particular stage, but the transitions between each stage. The more efficiently you move from the swim to the bike, and the bike to the run, the better you do overall.

The same holds true for LinkedIn. How well a brand builds and communicates with their audience on LinkedIn impacts their approach to community building on the platform. And understanding how to develop an audience or community on LinkedIn is essential to the success of any LinkedIn integration effort.

Depending on your objectives, LinkedIn can certainly be used in a variety of ways, but the key to using it successfully is how well you plan each stage according to your goals, and how effectively you move between them.

A Race Takes Less Than A Day, But Requires Months of Preparation

Like a triathlon, there are several ways for companies or brands to race effectively on LinkedIn. Focus on the stage that has the greatest potential to provide the results you are looking for based on overarching business objectives, or take a holistic view and create incremental improvement goals for each stage.

And like triathlon, the real winners with LinkedIn are not necessarily acknowledged by the limelight, but rather are determined by their commitment to ongoing improvement, and continually setting new and measurable personal bests over time.

Have you noticed a company or brand recently that excels at leveraging the LinkedIn platform? What LinkedIn function do you think most brands overlook?