LinkedIn is one of the most widely used social media platforms on the planet (behind Facebook) and a superb tool for creating, developing and maintaining business relationships. With over 650,000,000 users, it can be used to create awareness of yourself among those who do not know you but whom you would like to know, i.e. potential clients. And, it is a very effective tool through which you can demonstrate your and your company’s competence and expertise in order to establish the trust upon which business relationships depend.
In the last few years, savvy entrepreneurs are leveraging the power of the professional community to create viable, global membership businesses through it. In short, using and leveraging the power of LinkedIn is a business model all unto itself.
To get started, I have outlined below a list of LinkedIn best practices:
• Find whom you know. Start with your existing contacts by letting LinkedIn scan your email address book to find out whom you know is on LinkedIn. Don’t worry, LinkedIn won’t automatically send requests to your contacts; you can choose to whom you want to send a request.
• Personalize your URL. Change your LinkedIn profile URL from the default set of numbers to your name. This helps people find you when they search for your name within LinkedIn as well as in Google and other search engines.
• Email marketing. Include your LinkedIn URL in your email signature.
• Add a picture to your profile. LinkedIn is about individuals so it looks odd when someone’s LinkedIn profile has a faceless silhouette rather than an actual photograph. Photographs
personalize your profile. And, given that this is a professional platform, upload a professional headshot or as professional as you can take standing against a solid-colored wall. No “couple cut off” pictures.
• Request connections. Whenever you are in professional situations, ask them if they are on LinkedIn and would like to connect. Send LinkedIn requests shortly after a networking event or business meeting, during which everyone exchanges cards. You have their email address so it will be easy to find them on LinkedIn and you’ll be able to contact them and, considering you’ve just met with them, they likely have an interest in creating a relationship. Do this in a timely manner so the connections do not grow cold.
• The more you give, the more you get. Fill out as much of your profile as you can. The more information you insert, the more connections you will make and by doing so, you’re creating more opportunities for people to find you. For example, by including former employers on your profile, you will be connected to other LinkedIn users who have worked for that company. Same with colleges: by including the colleges you attended, you’ll be connected to others who
have attended the same college. This matters to expand your network and build referral sources and prospect clients.
• Put yourself in the mind of the user. If they know you or know who you are, people will search LinkedIn by your name in order to find your profile. However, if people are looking for
expertise, they will likely be using topical searches such as “public relations professional” or “crisis communications expert”.
• Use keywords that people will likely be using in their searches. As you put yourself in the mind of the people by whom you want to be found, think about what searches they would perform on LinkedIn in order to find you. Build up a list of those keywords and search phrases and use them throughout your profile.
• Do not hide. All your search engine optimization will go to waste if you hide your profile. The two things that people do when researching business associates they have not met is Google them and search for their LinkedIn profile. Change the settings on your profile to “Full View” so your profile may be fully indexed by the search engines.
• Link to your profile. If you have a website, a blog, a Twitter account or other social media profiles, link to your LinkedIn profile from them. If possible, use your name in the text of the link. This helps the search engines find you and helps boost your rankings in the search results.
• Link to yourself. LinkedIn allows you to include links to three Web sites on your profile. The drop-down menu offers options such as “My Website” and “My Blog” but you will want to choose “Other” so you can use your own text for the link. In addition to pointing people to your LinkedIn profile, you’ll also want to point people to any other online presence you may have. Think about the keywords to use in those links.
• Recommend. Give and ask for recommendations. Nevertheless, be sincere or it will not sound authentic. When you recommend someone and when someone recommends you, that fact is displayed on your profile for all to see. (Don’t worry, you can control which recommendations appear on your profile). Don’t be afraid to ask people who you think have high regard for you for a recommendation. Recommend those you think are worthy before they ask you to recommend them. They will often return the favor. Recommendations are yet another aspect of LinkedIn that helps to establish trust.
• Update your status. Update your status regularly and strategically. Use your status update to remind your network what you do and what you know. Example: “David is writing a LinkedIn best practices piece for his blog”. You can also use your status update to share articles with your network.
If you provide interesting links, the people in your network will be much more likely to pay attention to your updates, which keeps you top of mind and also positions you as knowledgeable in your area. That trust in your ability will make it much more likely that people will consider you as an expert to whom they can refer their contacts. If you plan to do this, use a URL shortener like bit.ly. to save space in your status updates and to track how many click-throughs a given link garnered.
• Join and post in select, targeted industry groups. Search for and join industry-related LinkedIn groups, even if there is no activity within them. The icons for those groups will show up on your profile, which tells people at a glance that you are involved in your industry and presumably knowledgeable about it. It also creates a connection between you and anyone else who is a member of that group. If the group is active, join in the conversation where appropriate. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
• Post news. Many groups allow you to post links to news articles intended to spark conversation. More often than not, conversations do not arise from these links but that doesn’t mean that no one pays attention to them.
Similar to status updates, this function can be used to position yourself as knowledgeable in your field. But think before you go down this route. Before you post anything, ask yourself if what you are about to share is truly valuable to the group. If it’s sheer self-promotion, don’t do it. Only post content that you sincerely feel will be of value to your fellow group members. If your article is not going to add value, it’s spam; don’t post it.
• Ask and you shall receive. If you want to make connections with a specific individual, you can use LinkedIn’s Answer feature to try and attract them by posing a question to the LinkedIn
audience. Consider the type of person you want to reach and then formulate a question for which you think that individual would have an opinion about that they’d like to share. If you’re looking for an open source web developer, for example, you might ask “Which is better,
Drupal or Joomla?”
• Spread the love. Respond to questions posed by others. This, again, is another aspect of LinkedIn that may be used to demonstrate your competence. Only answer the questions for which you know the answer, intimately. If you use this tactic, don’t just do intellectual handstands to show off your knowledge, actually answer the question. Your attitude should be that you want to help the person who posed the question by sharing your expertise. If you are truly helpful to the person, they’ll consider assigning you as the best answer among the group. This is valuable as your answer may be displayed as the best answer on your profile.