LinkedIn is emerging as the premier social network for business professionals, among all of the major social networks.
Most business professionals that I encounter have a profile on LinkedIn, though far fewer have a clear sense of what they can accomplish with it.
Don’t mistake LinkedIn as merely an online resume and recruiting site. It is this, of course, but it is also much, much more.
Think of LinkedIn as an always on, global business networking event or trade show in which your clients, prospects and peers are all in attendance.
For the most part, the traditional rules of networking and relationship building apply to LinkedIn because they are based on human psychology. The major difference is in how you translate those traditional rules into a new communication medium of the online social network.
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The lessons compiled below cover the basics of LinkedIn and will guide you well in your efforts to leverage this social network for your business.
1. Complete your LinkedIn profile and include a smiling head shot.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and has a friendly, smiling head shot because people do business with people they know, like and trust. Test out a variety of head shots on friends and family and find the one that people gravitate to most. Your profile picture should capture your energy as a person. (See The Art of Online Portraiture and 10 terrible examples of LinkedIn profile photos.)
2. Avoid making your LinkedIn profile a boring resume.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your LinkedIn profile has to be a dry resume – unless you’re looking for a job. If you’re not job hunting, then treat your LinkedIn profile as a marketing opportunity and use appropriately engaging language to describe your skills and achievements. For instance, instead of listing all your responsibilities in a past role, describe what you accomplished or learned over that period of your employment.
3. Customize your LinkedIn profile.
Take advantage of LinkedIn’s flexibility in customizing your profile. For instance, you can easily reorder the main sections of your profile with drag and drop ease. You can also incorporate a Slideshare presentation or video into your profile to tell your story. (See Kissmetrics’ amazing LinkedIn Marketing Guide.)
4. Reach out to real life connections on LinkedIn.
Make it a habit to connect on LinkedIn with anyone you meet in real life and are genuinely interested in staying in touch with. When you go back to your office after a real life meeting, look them up on LinkedIn and invite them to connect.
5. Always send a personalized LinkedIn connection request message.
The default connection message on LinkedIn is fast and easy, but personalization helps you stand out from the crowd. For example: “Nice to see you today. I thought we had a very productive meeting. I look forward to staying connected with you on LinkedIn.”
6. Focus on connecting with your clients and peers first.
Many business people new to LinkedIn want to know how to attract and convert more leads. The answer is not to start by looking for new business leads but instead to focus on building your online network with your existing clients and peers in your industry. Your clients all have their own networks and everyone in your clients’ networks are one warm referral away from being a warm lead for you. Being present and adding value to your clients’ social networking experience is an increasingly important way to stay in touch and reinforce the value of your relationship. The same thinking can be applied to peers and fellow professionals. Be present and add value and they’ll think of you when someone from their network asks them for a referral.
7. Don’t be afraid to connect with your clients on LinkedIn.
Some professionals worry that they are exposing their client base publicly to competitors. In my opinion, this is a much less significant risk than the one you’re taking by being absent in the social networks of your clients. Face it, social networks make business relationships more transparent, but hiding from this fact doesn’t make it go away. The best defense is a good offense. Get out there in LinkedIn and remind your clients every day why they’re choosing to do business with you.
8. Beware of connecting your Google email account to LinkedIn.
I did that once by mistake and before I knew it hundred of invites were sent to every email address that was in my Gmail Contacts. I say it was “by mistake” because it was not clear to me from the LinkedIn user interface what I was doing. And since Gmail just creates Contacts from incoming email addresses, this meant invitations to connect on LinkedIn were sent to hundreds of people that I didn’t actually know that well. Many of them refused the connection and subsequently LinkedIn sent me a stern warning about spamming. Ironic considering I only made this mistake because of LinkedIn’s own poor user interface! So, I repeat, do not import your Google Mail Contacts into LinkedIn. Instead, build your network manually (see 4 and 5 above).
9. Think twice before accepting LinkedIn connection requests from people you haven’t met in person.
When a request comes in from someone you don’t know, it’s a good idea to initially respond with something like: “Can you remind me how we met?” No matter what someone might say they have to offer you, in my experience they are more often than not connecting with you in order to pitch you. It’s the new cold call. Having said that, I’ve met some very nice people who were interested in my work and reached out via LinkedIn (you know who you are) and I’m better for it. Just be careful. And remember, you can always disconnect from someone on LinkedIn.
10. Give endorsements to your LinkedIn connections, but be thoughtful.
Take the time to ensure you are endorsing your LinkedIn connections for something they are really good at. The LinkedIn site has a bad habit of suggesting inaccurate skills for some people. Take a quick look at their profile and endorse them for something relevant to your relationship with them. An endorsement is just another way in invest in your social network.
11. Write a complimentary recommendation of a LinkedIn connection without being asked.
If you have a remarkable interaction or service experience with a connection, take the time to write a recommendation. All recommendations are reviewed and approved by the recipient, so they will see your kind words immediately.
(Note to regulated financial professionals based in the US, you probably want to read this post about the regulatory problems posed by receiving testimonials then read this post about managing your use of endorsements on LinkedIn.)
12. Find and share great content on LinkedIn.
Focus on finding content that you think your connections will find value in and then share it. LinkedIn Today is a news service within LinkedIn that suggests content you and your network might be interested in. Or curate your own content from other sources. But don’t overlook sharing great content on LinkedIn – it’s one of the best things you can do to add value to your network.
13. Pay attention to your LinkedIn connections and invest time in them.
If you want to build a strong network that you can leverage, you need to invest in relationships. Pay attention to what your connections share on LinkedIn and invest a little time each day liking and commenting on what they are sharing, where appropriate. Better yet, set aside 15 minutes each day to do this for a month or two and you’ll be amazed at the conversations and engagement that it produces in your network. You have to invest in your network in order to get value from it. This could be the most important point in this entire post.
14. Seize on opportunities to engage with and help your LinkedIn connections.
When your LinkedIn connection likes or comments on or shares something you shared, seize the opportunity to engage. Engagement is the holy grail of social networking. Everything you do should be focused on creating opportunities to engage your connections in discussions and positioning yourself as a useful resource – regardless of whether the topic has any bearing on your business.
15. Mention LinkedIn connections in your posts, shares and comments.
LinkedIn, like other social networks, enables you to “mention” your connections by name when you’re posting or commenting. For instance, if you saw “Robert” speak at an event last week and he was great, go ahead and share this in an update. When you type “Robert” into the status update field, his name will appear. These mentions show up in your connections’ notifications and are appreciated.
16. Do not copy your Tweets to LinkedIn.
Twitter is a great tool, but why be limited by it’s 140 character message limit when you can express yourself in 700 characters in your LinkedIn status update? Take a minute to write a few more words in your LinkedIn updates than you would in your Twitter updates.
17. Be discerning about which LinkedIn groups you choose to invest your time and energy.
Groups can be great ways to interact with a community or they can be full of self-interested, self-promoters who are there to prey on you and waste your time. Not all groups are created equal. It may take time to find a valuable group to participate in, but it will be worth it when you do.
18. Be helpful in your interactions in LinkedIn groups.
Focus on sharing quality information and commenting meaningfully. Don’t use LinkedIn groups to promote your products or services. Instead, use groups to show people how you think and what you know and to learn from others.
19. Start your own LinkedIn group if you’re prepared to invest the time and energy to build a community.
Communities are very important to businesses, but they take considerable investment of time and energy. Do not consider starting your own LinkedIn group unless you are committed to dedicating the time to seeding, moderating and participating in the discussion.
20. Review your client’s LinkedIn profile prior to any face-to-face or telephone meetings.
If you’re not using LinkedIn to get smarter, you are missing at least half of the value of any social network. Use information and updates gleaned from your clients’ profiles as a way to connect during an in-person meeting. For instance, say your client shared a great article in the past week, then you should mention something you found interesting about the article. This demonstrates a level of attention and investment in the relationship that is very powerful.
21. Use LinkedIn Search capabilities to identify new prospects.
Use LinkedIn’s powerful search capabilities to find prospects in your target markets that are already in the networks of people you’re connected to. Then, ask your connections for a warm introduction. (See Three LinkedIn Tips to Grow You Advisory Business.)