Recently I had one of those ah-ha moments where insight forever changes the way you look at something. In this case it was how I viewed LinkedIn. Many are perplexed by LinkedIn. What does it do? It’s not as fun as Facebook and not as conversational as Twitter … How can I make it work for me? I was in this camp as well until recently.
LinkedIn was the first social network I joined but it’d also grown to become the one I engaged with least. Sure I accepted connections and wandered around once a month or so but it was always an afterthought. Then I had my moment. When speaking at a conference I got a batch of new connection requests which I accepted. This prompted me to check in on my profile where my total number of connections startled me. It caught me off guard because it was exactly equal with my total Facebook friends. Then I started thinking …
While no where near Facebook’s status of having a community so large it would be the world’s third most populous country, LinkedIn’s 100 million-strong network is nothing to dismiss. Personally speaking, my network is made up of other professionals that I’ve met or worked with or for. Qualified, working relationships versus a collection of casual acquaintances. To be clear, I’m not hating on Facebook but if you stop and think there is a big difference between a professional ‘connection’ and personal ‘friend.’
And yet I was on Facebook almost constantly and LinkedIn just barely. I was ignoring a valuable networking opportunity. In the offline world, it’s the equivalent of being at an important social event and sitting in the corner with my back to the party. That’s when I decided I would take the following actions to make LinkedIn work for me …
Ensure Easy Access
To start with, I looked at how I engage on Facebook to see if this could improve my LinkedIn habits. I was struck by how accessible I’ve made Facebook. It’s a constant tab open in my browser. I have iPhone and iPad apps keeping Facebook a quick finger tap away. To bolster my LinkedIn use, I followed suit by keeping a browser tab open and moved my LinkedIn iPhone app to the front screen making it as accessible. It sounds like a little thing but access has made a big difference and led to increased connection and engagement.
Accept any and all requests and then take it a step further by mining their connections for potential contacts. This is your network. Your crops only grow when you nurture them. The same is true of your LinkedIn connections.
Connect Online and Offline Social Networking
One great idea that I encountered during my LinkedIn experiment came from the book The Referral Engine (affiliate link). In it, author John Jantsch talks about connecting your offline and online networking by adding LinkedIn connections for each physical business card you receive. I’m guilty of collecting a mountain of cards from new contacts without a system for managing them. Let LinkedIn do this for you. Implement this habit and you’ve found a valuable contact management tool while growing your professional network.
Use It as a Personal Testimonial System
It can be hard to ask for testimonials. No worries — let LinkedIn do it for you. By requesting recommendations from your network you aren’t as much asking a colleague for something as you are asking them to play the LinkedIn game. Once you have the recommendations you can ask permission to use these on other marketing materials as well. (Many of my testimonials here on this site first appeared as recommendations on LinkedIn.) Always remember to start this process by first writing some genuine recommendations yourself.
Market Your Profile with a Custom URL
Be sure to click the ‘Public Profile’ button on your page to set your name as your custom URL to make it even easier to share and connect. (For extra points, try to make it consistent with your Facebook URL and Twitter handle.)
Optimize for Keyword Search
Like all web properties, LinkedIn is search-driven. As such you should carefully consider this when crafting your profile headline, summary, and experience. Be accurate but also work to include keywords you want to be associated with in searches.
Leverage Applications for Additional Promotion
Trick out your profile by adding applications that pull in your blog posts, SlideShare presentations, documents via box.net, and more. If you have content on the web make sure you find a way to make it live on LinkedIn as well.
Follow Organizations Too
You can also follow organizations on LinkedIn. Provided they have a good social media manager, this is a great way to keep tabs on clients, prospects, and others in your industry. (Remember to update your company’s profile too.)
Share Your News
Like Facebook, a prime place on LinkedIn for sharing content is via status updates. Start viewing your LinkedIn homepage as your personal professional news hub. Just don’t forget to contribute to the conversation.
Just like going to college, a great way to get social quick is by joining groups. Look for industry groups or associations and join up. Like all networking, you can’t get ahead by being a wallflower. In fact, I consulted a few groups in preparing this piece. A word of caution — don’t overdo and join too many groups as you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed. Find a few that are relevant to you and work on contributing and participating.
Ask Questions, Provide Answers
One of the biggest forms of engagement on LinkedIn are questions and answers. Start by getting a feel and answering questions first. From there, flip it around and start asking the questions.
Communicate Within LinkedIn
If I want to follow up with someone that I am connected with on LinkedIn but have yet to establish an email or phone rapport, I try starting the conversation within the network’s direct messaging system. This is a great way to reach out and to build more value into LinkedIn.
Embrace the Differences
Finally, LinkedIn isn’t Facebook. It’s just not as engaging on it’s own. You have to make it engaging by sharing content. It’s not Twitter, either, with rapid-fire conversations to ride like a tidal wave. You have to make the communication happen here. Why all the work? Because it’s worth it. This is your professional network and it holds incredible value. But you have to work at it. As any of the best online/offline social networkers will tell you — it don’t come easy. Human business is hard. You have to jump in with both feet and make it happen.
Are we connected? Find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/nickwestergaard.