LinkedIn is, without doubt, an exceptional company: with more than 10 years of steady progress behind it, no major acquisitions or scandals have made it more than a leader in its category—the professional social networks—in fact it is really the only runner. Regional competitors, new developments, similar ideas, and assorted vampires have all fallen by the wayside, unable to keep up with a company with clear ideas and the ability to convince investors to continue supporting it.
Every year, when I begin a course about social media, the same thing happens: a lot of participants, many of them of a certain age, tell me that they avoid the social networks, with the exception of LinkedIn. Why? Because it is “serious”. But what exactly are the benefits of being part of LinkedIn? To what extent do we need to factor in LinkedIn to our personal agenda?
As LinkedIn has grown over the years, with more than 260 million users worldwide nowadays, the meaning of “being on LinkedIn” has changed significantly. In the early days, it was enough to simply have an account and to be found when somebody searched for you. Then it became necessary to have some kind of profile, with a photo and a few details about your career path.
Today, “being on LinkedIn means that your page has to have a very detailed CV, with a paragraph about each of the posts you have held, what you did in each post, how many people you managed, your budget, your goals, and preferably, one or two comments from people who worked with you, whether colleagues, superiors, or customers. Today, what somebody looking for you on LinkedIn expects to find is much more than simply a means to contact you, but to see in detail what you have done, all outlined in a site that puts you at your best.
LinkedIn is a site where you are not only reachable by millions of professionals, but one that is also a fantastically efficient index. Your LinkedIn file will be the first page in your ego-search. The mix of public and private that you manage there must be carefully thought out. If you are actively searching for work, or are looking for clients, you must make your profile as accessible as possible, because your information will be feeding processes that depend on reducing uncertainty. If you prefer to be discreet, then reduce its public presence, and refine your definition of contacts.
Don’t be a bore. It might have been acceptable once to send messages to all your LinkedIn contacts, but this is no longer the case unless you have something really important to say (and if that something is that you have changed jobs, don’t bother, LinkedIn will do it for you).
Spam. Spamming people is unacceptable, and often leads simply to large numbers of contacts that you follow going to Network > Contacts, looking for the message, and then clicking on More > Eliminate connection. If you are a salesperson, work on the basis that many of the sins committed by others in your profession will prompt many of your would-be contacts to reject your advances. You will have to find quality contacts, people who know that you are not going to send them garbage.
Contact awareness: use time wisely. The moment to send somebody a contact request is when you have just met him or her, or if they have just given you their business card, not when it suits you. A network comes into play when it needs to, not when it suits you because you are looking for work. Contact requests should sound natural: “We have just met, and instead of just exchanging cards that will be lost somewhere on your desk, let’s talk via LinkedIn.” If you go about contacting people on the basis of, “we met years ago and you probably don’t remember me”, isn’t going to work. If I am your teacher, then request contact while I am still teaching you, not two years later. And for the love of God, if I have given you a miserable B or B-, then show some commonsense and don’t ask me for a reference.
Update, update, update. Nobody wants to see a photo of you at your bar mitzvah. If you have now gone grey, then put a photo of yourself as you are. And you have to have a photo: a profile without a photo is like a garden without flowers or a rose with no scent. Aside from an up-to-date photo, your LinkedIn page must be an ongoing project. That means every project, every matter that might have any kind of impact. Remember: like a CV, but on steroids, with as much detail as you want. The one-page CV rule doesn’t apply to LinkedIn.
Don’t be obvious. Keeping your LinkedIn page up to date doesn’t mean that you are looking for work. It means that you understand how to use the network. The days when HR heads looked for what you put on your page to see if you are in the market for a job are long gone. Today, the point is to be seen, whether you are looking for work or not. Don’t wait until you are looking to make a move to update your page. A continuous process of evolution is the way forward.
Ask what needs to be asked: when you need information or a contact, or whatever, then ask for it. There’s no need to hassle people, but know that a request made via LinkedIn tends to receive more attention than a conventional email. That is unless you spend your time sending people who barely know you requests along the lines of, “please assess my professional profile.” Knowing what to ask for and who to ask it from is a highly prized skill among professionals.
Be detailed. If somebody in your network changes job or says something that makes you stop and think, let them know. Nobody minds receiving a comment about something they have posted. Don’t be the neighbor who never talks to anybody in the building.
Share. Sharing news about your profile — again, in moderation — can lead you to being seen as a content curator, somebody who can help others keep up to date about what is going on in your industry. But don’t avalanche those who follow you with several entries a day. If you share things, then explain why you are doing so in a couple of lines, and what you think is important about it. Tell people about what you are doing… I’m not going to explain here how important it is, if you have a blog or a personal page related to what you do, to, well, link it, to LinkedIn… everybody knows that LinkedIn is one of the main traffic referrals for this page. But if nobody bothers to answer, then ask yourself what you might be doing wrong. If you get a good response, then think about joining a group focused on your area of interest.
Groups. These are becoming a bigger and bigger part of LinkedIn, and for a good reason. If you are looking to be taken seriously in your sector, join groups that share information about that industry. Find out who set the group up, these will be people going places, and well known. Share and take part, but once again, avoid being either the party bore, or the life and soul of the party. If you are looking for work, you need to be part of groups that have some influence in your sector.
Contacts. LinkedIn isn’t about how many people you are in touch with, it’s about well-constructed networks, based on mutual interest. You must have a lot in common with your contacts, whether they are clients, suppliers, or fellow professionals. Responding to each contact request only makes sense if you are a headhunter, a teacher, or somebody with a really asymmetric profile.
Branding. LinkedIn is the perfect place to include anything that can help to establish your own personal brand: an article by you that has been published; a video of a talk you gave; a project you were praised for; high marks in an exam (in which case ask for a reference from your teacher…). There is no room for modesty on LinkedIn, but don’t go over the top either.
Pulse. LinkedIn’s strategy is clearly to move from being a site where people are going to see your professional profile to being a destination site, a place where you will find news filtered to meet your interests. If you do things right, LinkedIn’s news should give you an idea of what is really going on in your industry. The company’s purchase of Pulse (for $90 million) is one of its most important acquisitions. Use it to your advantage. And that most certainly means that LinkedIn is becoming the site where you should start thinking seriously about posting something every day.
Premium. Paying for a premium presence make sense… when it makes sense. If you are actively looking for work, the chance to send personalized mails to people who are not part of your network could pay off very quickly, but again, don’t go overboard. If you are building something that requires visibility and reach, whether it is a company objective or your own personal project, paying for the premium service can make a lot of sense.
Being part of LinkedIn today is much more than simply filling in a few lines saying, “Hi, this is me” and leaving it at that for years on end. It is also more than, “Hi, I’m looking for a job”. Ask yourself why you are part of this network, what information is on it about you or in your ego-searches. Are you really getting the most out of the network?
And while we’re at it, I should say that LinkedIn has not paid me to write this (they haven’t even given me a free premium service!) The truth is that I am simply tired of repeating all this to students, former students, and anybody I come across at conferences, and decided to write it all down, once and for all :-)