In today’s age of algorithms, who you are is in part determined by your digital footprint, which means that if you network for business then you will need to network online at LinkedIn.
Why? Because while business is in some ways the same as it ever was (based on mutually beneficial relationships), social media has turned the way we form those relationships on its head.
You may look around and think that you (or your peers) don’t use social media and are still doing fine, but this is not looking in the right direction.
Almost two billion people use social media right now and that trend shows no signs of abating with predictions it will reach 2.55 billion by 2017.
Professionals need to look ahead and adapt the way they connect and communicate to keep up with this change.
One way they are doing so is on LinkedIn. Often referred to as the ‘new networking for business’ LinkedIn is actually not so new. In fact it’s 10 years old and has 200 million members around the world, four million of whom are in Australia.
But just signing up and doing nothing is like going to a cocktail party and standing in the corner. You’ve got to know what to do once you are there.
Naturally, how you use the platform depends on what you want to achieve and that varies widely. Businesses can use it to raise funds, for recruitment, to job search or for networking with peers, among other things.
Whatever your goal, I find that executives tend to have similar questions about what to do when starting out. While there are rarely cut-and-paste answers to what’s right, here are some valuable tips.
Should I use a photograph?
Yes, use a recent high-quality, close-up photograph. People like to deal with people. Remember too that digital does not replace real-life connections, it extends them. Many virtual connections become part of real life and this creates continuity. Faceless avatars are off-putting and on some social media platforms, like Twitter, the ‘bots’ that clean up fake accounts see them as spam.
What do I say about myself?
Your 120–character headline is prime real estate so use it to differentiate yourself. There are lots of ‘senior executives’ out there. Be the ‘not-for-profit CEO who successfully delivered a 500% increase in diabetes funding in two years’. The key words in your headline affect how you will be found, so ensure you’re happy with what you put. You can use your current job title, but think how many CEOs there are in a 200 million-strong pool. Say something about yourself.
Do I share my employment history?
Your employment history provides legitimacy, in particular if it comes with credible recommendations. You don’t need to write War and Peace though.
Who should I connect with?
You need to build strategic connections with influencers, colleagues and potential business interests.
But algorithms also work out your interests and throw unknowns in your path. How open you are to them depends on your personality. Only connecting if there’s a potential business outcome feels a bit like pyramid selling to me and I’ve met up with many people just because I found them interesting. It’s enriching and I’ve made many amazing contacts as a result.
Do I have to give recommendations/endorsements back?
Do you have to reciprocate when someone recommends you? The answer is no – as in real life, so online. Your recommendations go to your reputation so use them judiciously. But where they are deserved, go ahead.
LinkedIn also prompts you to endorse the skills of people you are connected with. Views about the value of endorsements differ. Only endorse people for skills you know they have. If you mistakenly endorse someone don’t worry, you can withdraw it.
What do I share?
You can share content from most sites by pressing the LinkedIn share button, the content will automatically show up in your stream and anyone in your network can see it. Comment on articles you find interesting – if you type the full name of a person in the text then LinkedIn will alert them to the mention, which creates a conversation. You can also use the ‘share an update’ space on your homepage to send updates or information.
What are groups and should I join them?
Groups bring together people with strong interests and can be great for exchanging views. However, some people just post links to their own content and don’t add to the community. As a result, the value varies greatly. If you are time poor, which most executives are, I’d try niche groups with members who are seriously interested in a topic. Some of the biggest ‘brand’ groups generate lots of thumbs up and ‘love it’ comments that are quite exhausting to scroll through.
Who is checking me out?
You can change the way you appear on LinkedIn in your settings. Some people like to be anonymous which means if they view your profile you’ll see something like this.
Some people find this confronting. It does have its uses though, for example, if you are researching job candidates and want to keep your search private. Many recruiters use it in this way. Personally, I don’t like it but it comes with the platform, at least at this stage.
Can I outsource my LinkedIn engagement?
Would you send your assistant to a cocktail party to talk on your behalf? I don’t think so. Why is LinkedIn different? A virtual connection is a personal connection that has not yet made its way into real life. By all means get a consultant to set up, brand or teach you LinkedIn. But engagement is about the real you.
If you want help, do your due diligence. Many people are appending ‘social media’ to their CVs without being on platforms or knowing how to use them. What’s their ‘social proof’? What’s their history? How do they manage their presence on the platform you’re interested in? Do they engage with people or just push out links to their own material? Putting someone’s name into Kred or Klout will give you a measure (albeit imperfect) of his or her abilities.
How will I find the time?
Allocate an hour a week to reading but arrange for the material to be shared across the week by using scheduling tools like Bufferapp, Sprout Social or Hoot Suite. You probably already read after hours and pass on articles, it’s no different. The reality is that networking takes time, whether it’s having lunch or playing golf or engaging online. But you do it because it’s worthwhile.
Dionne Kasian-Lew is the author of The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business (Wiley). Connect with her here on LinkedIn, Twitter @dionnelew, email firstname.lastname@example.org.