About a year ago, I was sitting in a college board meeting with a colleague from one of the big four accounting and consultancy firms. We reached an agenda item regarding social media and potential usefulness for recruiting new learners. My colleague leaned over to me and said: “What’s all the fuss about this LinkedIn thing? I recently joined because someone said I should, but I keep getting stuff in my inbox from people I don’t know inviting me to connect with them.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this, and it hasn’t been the last. Anyhow, chatting with my business partner Murray Carmichael-Smith, we came up with the idea of putting together a talk to help non-technical business people understand the potential of LinkedIn and give some solid practical advice on how to make the best of it.
We’ve been out and about all over the UK giving this talk for nine months now. Naturally, over this time we have wanted to keep the presentation up to date and we check the user numbers for LinkedIn. What is interesting to note is the growth. From March last year to now, LinkedIn has grown from around 70 million users to 85 million. That’s a lot and signifies a speeding up in growth and usage compared to a steady growth prior to Jan 2010.
There are certain barometers I use to see if a tool or service is gaining traction and has taken off mainstream:
- Do I use it? I am not naturally an early adopter and a tool has to add value to my day in order for me to use it.
- Are certain people in my network using it? This is important as I have a significant number of senior friends that could be categorised as technophobes who are even more discerning than I am.
In answer to the first point, I use it every day and have done business through the connections I have made and, perhaps just as importantly, I have helped others in my network on LinkedIn to do business by connecting them to others. As for point two; one particular friend of mine, who is also a trusted FD and partner in a major accounting firm, appeared on LinkedIn three months ago and says he has never looked back.
He is a consummate networker and has found LinkedIn a natural online extension to how he manages his relationships and makes new connections. It feels safe to say that LinkedIn is going to be around for some time to come. So you may as well get the best out of using it, right?
To help you on your journey towards this, here’s a summary of the advice we give in our talk:
- Optimise your profile
Complete your full history. List every position you have held and everything you have done. The more you include, the more likely you are going to appear in search results. Use your profile links to point to your website and/or blog, as this is good for search engine optimisation.
- Aim to keep your network gene pool as diverse as possible
The aim of LinkedIn is to create business for everyone and you need to know people outside your field of expertise or profession to be most effective. We give the example of an accountant, who really shouldn’t just include other accountants in their LinkedIn network.
- Check every day to see who has looked at your profile
Using the ‘Who’s Viewed My Profile’ feature you can review of list of other LinkedIn users who have looked at your profile over the past week (longer for paid subscribers). If they’re already in your network you can use this as an opportunity to say hello. And if they’re not in your network you have the opportunity to connect.
- Make good use of the ‘People You May Know’ tool to establish new connections
One of my favorite and, in my opinion, one of the most useful features, the ‘People You May Know’ tool presents a list of people who you are no directly connected to, but are connections of your connections (the 2nd tag appears next to these), or connections of their connections (the 3rd tag appears next to these). This is what LinkedIn refers to as your ‘Network’, the people you can effectively reach, as opposed to ‘Connections’, those you are connected with (the 1st tag appears next to these). To illustrate; according to LinkedIn my 489 connections link me to 4,405,624+ professionals!
- Personalise your invitations to connect
There is a default invitation text which reads “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”. Don’t use it. Start as you mean to go on, take time to personalise your message, give them a reason to accept your invitation to connect. Otherwise it’s just like walking up to someone at a networking event, handing them your card, and just walking away without saying a word.
- Post regular status updates
Your updates appear in the LinkedIn update stream of your connections, so regular posting will keep you in their line of sight.
- Keep your posts business related
We advise that you don’t post social/personal based updates e.g. “I’m walking my dog”. A real example raised in a recent talk we gave! LinkedIn is a professional network, so a good rule of thumb is to keep your post professional. The danger here is that many people who post to Twitter also simultaneously post to LinkedIn. Try using the #in feature to be selective of which Tweets you post to LinkedIn.
- Always be useful
Post status updates which share knowledge or information that may be useful to your network. Links to news, white papers, job opportunities, and new services are always well received.
Where you can, offer to help as part of your post. A great one I saw recently was a connection of mine who runs a large mobile phone operation, he posted that there were jobs available in another related venture, and offered to make introductions.
- Make use of the introductions tool
To us this is the raison d’être of LinkedIn. The introductions tool allows you to reach anyone within your network (those tagged with 2nd and 3rd) with a request for help, offer of services etc., by asking your immediate connections (those tagged with 1st) to pass on your request. You access this via the ‘Get introduced through a connection’ link on the profile of the person you wish to reach. You then fill in a simple text box with your reason for wanting to get in-touch, as well as a note to your connection asking them to pass on your request. We include a full walk through of this feature in our talk, and we’re always delighted when we hear how people have generated new business through following our advice.
We’re often invited by businesses and organisations to come in and give the full seminar from which this summary comes from. If you think you might benefit from such a seminar, please contact Murray Carmichael-Smith via e-mail email@example.com
We’d also be delighted to hear about you LinkedIn stories. So leave a comment below if you feel like sharing.