LinkedIn right now is like the Sharepoint of professional networking. It’s a common tool, and most everybody uses it, but it is often difficult to understand.
To make matters worse it’s intimidating to put yourself out there (“what if I say the wrong thing?”) and uncomfortable to be “self-promotional."
Nevertheless you have to do it - because LinkedIn, like physical exercise, healthy eating or financial planning, works best as long-term insurance not as a short-term salve. It is reputation management in the form of a living, breathing, online resume.
Note that exercise, salad and money-saving are not fun things to do. But medicine, including preventive medicine, is often bitter.
You make an upfront investment (the profile) followed by a little deposit at a time (status updates, keeping accomplishments and projects current), and in so doing establish a professional brand that is real, consistent and stable.
Plus you can export your profile as a PDF and use it as your resume, so no need for separate documents.
The colleagues you work with every day look to your LinkedIn profile to establish your credibility. Not to Facebook where you post pictures of your cute kids, cat and dog and where you don’t want them to find you. Not to Twitter which is crowded. Not to email where they’re drowning with day-to-day work responsibilities.
Why Status Updates?
Status updates are the most important aspect of your LinkedIn profile after your photo, headline and basic information. They show you’re a thinking person who is committed to their profession consistently. If you used to use Twitter for status updates, note that it doesn’t send your status updates to LinkedIn anymore, but LinkedIn goes to Twitter.
Note that status updates do not imply original thinking. They can be you sharing original thinking, too. When you come across a headline that strikes you and that is relevant to your field, share it along with the link and let it go to your Twitter. (Make sure your profile photo matches on both sites, and that your name on Twitter relates to your personal brand.)
Update your status at least once a day.
The Profile: What To Focus On, Most Important First
- Profile photo. Don’t want to think about this? Embarrassed? Choose a day when you’re wearing a grownup outfit (shirt with collar, blazer, etc.) anyway. Get a smartphone, stand in where natural light is facing you, aim the camera at yourself, point and shoot. Email the photo to yourself. Crop it. Now you can post the photo to LinkedIn. We need to see your face. Don’t be all weird and shadowy.
- Headline. This is not your job title. Make something up that describes very well who you are and what you do well professionally. I was torn between “Brand Savant” and “Problem-Solver.” I chose the former because it’s unique. Both phrases could have worked.
- Current position. If you’re unemployed, it should show that you volunteer or are engaged in some career-worthy, financially in demand pursuit. For example let’s say you are in school learning to sell real estate. This is your current position. Do not write “student of life.”
- Previous positions. Do not provide a laundry list of every single thing you’ve ever done in an unfocused way. The narrative should tell a consistent story. Mine is about breaking through barriers with communication as the tool. You’ve done amazing things. Don’t be shy about sharing them.
- Additional information. A lot of people ignore this. Do not ignore it. You have done, over the course of your life, tons of things that are professionally interesting and useful. Were you around during the Y2K computer coding crisis? Did you stay at work all night fixing things so the systems wouldn’t shut down? That is a major project! Own it.
Complex Issues and How To Deal With Them
- Personal Brand vs. Professional Brand: Representing your organization is very tricky. If you do it, you’ve just tied your personal brand with your professional brand. Only do this if you are a C-level executive or if you own your company and the two reputations are tied together anyway. (If you choose to go this route make it very clear that the profile is a hybrid and distinguish what elements of it are your own, e.g. your status updates.)
- Quality vs. Quantity of Contacts: You want to connect with the right people not the right number of people. However, keep in mind that contacts are a gateway to other important contacts you don’t even know yet. These can be people who teach you, not just people who give you a job.
- “It Doesn’t Sound Like Me”: People are very self-conscious about promoting themselves. That’s natural. But often that leads them to write very badly when it comes to their own resumes. That is essentially what LinkedIn is - a living, breathing resume. If you don’t feel comfortable promoting yourself there, find someone who can help.
- Nasty Exchanges: It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen that people say nasty things to you on LinkedIn. Usually this is when you’re participating in a group discussion. If you work for the government and participate in an open forum expect to be personally attacked. My favorite is: “Since when does the government need a Ph.D. in marketing?” (I have a Ph.D. in sociology.) You do not have to respond to these. On the bright side, sometimes a seemingly nasty person can wind up a valuable teacher. One such person wound up sharing so much genuine insight in a group that it was like attending a graduate seminar in branding - priceless information. Plus she gave me good, free advice about my profile and how I sounded online. Finally, know that most exchanges are positive.
Paying For Help
Don’t get soaked, but don’t expect to pay peanuts either. A really good profile should take about 5-10 hours to put together; an excellent writer charges about $125 an hour; so at the most expensive end of the scale you would pay $1250. It will take more time, and more money, if you want to optimize your personal brand across Twitter, Facebook, etc. and make everything consistent.
If you are an executive, and you can’t write for a hill of beans, you should consider paying for your profile like buying a good suit - a necessary expense.
If you are not an executive, but you need some help, look around you. You probably have a professional colleague, friend or family member willing to help out, if you will let them. If that won’t work, try a freelance service like Elance.com where you can get writing help for a modest charge. Any objective advice, taken sensibly, will elevate your professional presence about 50%.