Why join for business
Today, maintaining a LinkedIn profile is one of the most effective ways to manage your professional network. Having said this, doing so successfully does require a bit of effort. I will be the first one to admit that while I exist on LinkedIn, I definitely do not manage that existence as well as I should. Having studied LinkedIn for my thesis dissertation, I’m confident I can help you understand the folly of my ways.
From a scientific perspective (not boring, I promise) the “asset” that is provided to you on LinkedIn is called social capital. There are a few authors that coined and popularized the term. The most appropriate here is Granovetter, who wrote The Strength of Weak Ties in the early 70’s as well as Putnam, who introduced the concepts of bonding and bridging capital in his book Bowling Alone in the 90’s. The basic premise is that people within your social network can help you access a variety of resources. You can ask someone you know for a variety of things ranging from professional information to an introduction to someone you think is good looking.
One’s network is further broken down into strong or bonding ties, like close family and friends and weak or bridging ties, like professional acquaintances and friends of friends. LinkedIn is predominantly tailored to weak tie relationships. When you first created your profile you may have started by connecting with close friends, but they were still likely linked to you professionally. A network like Facebook is much more oriented to the strong ties of family. Here is the kicker; weak ties are known to create a greater number of opportunities. Not only can you exhaust your strong ties quickly because it tends to be smaller, but also they tend to be exposed to the same opportunities as you, and therefore the same limitations.
Understanding that LinkedIn is a network of weakly tied individuals is key to your success on the site. This is because it helps us remember that relationships that are only weakly tied require effort and work. Provide value to your connections and you will see positive returns. Tony Karg, Senior Director of Corporate Communications & Marketing of Graphic Systems at Fujifilm and avid LinkedIn user, with over 1300 connections, sums up the benefits to say that what you know today is equal to who you know. “You don’t have to know everything, just know enough to be able to find someone who can connect you with the information you need at that exact moment in time,” he explains.
LinkedIn also gives you the ability to have company pages. You may already follow a company/brand that you support on LinkedIn. If you decide to go this route, similar rules apply in that you should work to produce value for your network. The side benefit of that value can be direct contact with prospects. Using the site “you can bypass all the gatekeepers and directly reach the decision-makers for your dream clients” identifies Leslie Hughes, owner of PUNCH!media, a social media training firm.
Tips for engaging prospects and customers
Now that you are motivated to get started let’s look at some key points to remember when you are looking to reach out to other professionals either as an individual or as a company. “My #1 rule on LinkedIn is ‘be interesting’. Putting the effort into your profile so that people viewing it understand what your core competencies are and what VALUE you can bring to a professional relationship with them,” advises Karg. It is so important to remember that on the other side of the screen is a person. If you are “meeting” for the first time, albeit virtually, remember not to immediately try to sell something to the new connection. Build on fostering relationships instead.
In addition to having an engaging profile, you may want to try joining a LinkedIn group. Hughes suggests, “you have the opportunity to join up to 50 groups. Go and connect in the groups where your target audience is already ‘hanging out’ online. Join conversations and provide valuable feedback.” All too often groups in our industry are littered with companies just posting basic capabilities and contact info. Be innovative, provide something useful, create some content that will build relationships and create trust.
The following are some other small tips for you profile
Create a headline: by default your headline is your current position and place of work. You could get a bit more creative with this. If you are looking for opportunities perhaps think of your core competencies or something that would draw in the audience you are looking for.
Status updates: one way to provide value to your network is to post status updates. Perhaps link to some interesting content or announce some exciting opportunities. Moreover you can link these updates to automatically feed into your Twitter for impact in two places.
Manage your endorsements: make sure that the key words appearing as your skills in your profile are in fact what you would like to be known for. The list is auto generated from skills in your profile, but don’t let a computer determine your story. Make sure you manage the list so that you build your professional presence in the areas you see yourself.
Connect politely: when you are connecting with individuals who you’ve never met or perhaps those who may not remember you, always customize the message and explain your interest. This will show the potential new contact that you value their connection for a reason. “I’d like to add you to my professional network” just doesn’t scream value.
How to measure your effectiveness
Now that you’ve put in all this work how can you check that it’s actually worth your time? There are a few approaches to this. First, there are statistics that LinkedIn provides. You should make sure that your profile is public by going to “what others see when you’ve viewed their profile” in the account settings. Without this you will not have any statistics. Once you have done this, LinkedIn will let you know who has viewed your profile as well as letting you know how many views you have gotten along a dated timeline. This is a good indicator that your profile is coming up in searches, but may not be a great measure of the value of your network.
LinkedIn also has premium paid memberships. In fact there are several types of paid memberships. For example there is one specifically made for salespeople. The premium memberships provide you with a more robust set of statistics including identifying what keywords are being used when your profile is selected, and a segregation of people who look at you by industry and geography. I’m a bit skeptical to say that because more people look at you, your network is stronger. However if no one looks at you then your network is certainly weaker. There are many unique approaches to identifying the worth of a network, and they are usually tied to your goals on the site. “I measure my effectiveness by how frequently I stay in touch with my contacts, and by how quickly they respond when I (rarely) ask for something from them.” shares Karg. Thus before investing all of this time and effort, ask yourself what your goal is on LinkedIn.
1st connection: a direct contact or “friend”
2nd connection: a friend of a friend
3rd connection: a friend of a friend of a friend
Endorsement: a new way for your contacts to affirm that you have certain skills by opting to endorse key words.
Introduction: a way for you to reach a 2nd connection by asking to be introduced by someone that is your 1st connection
InMail: allows you to send a message to anyone on LinkedIn. Typically you may be restricted to sending messages to connections or through introductions. InMail is a paid service on LinkedIn.
Links to further resources
Videos about the benefits of a premium membership
Some common mistakes to avoid
Some great tips for personal profiles
Some great tips for company profiles (pay attention to the links within this article as well as the book reference)
A link to video content about reaching out to prospects