Five ways to make LinkedIn work for you – and avoid annoying your network
Published 07/07/2016
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While LinkedIn’s share price may be taking a pummelling this month – as investors question the company’s growth prospects – the network itself continues to be an important social media tool for many people in business.

Indeed, LinkedIn has transformed itself from the days when profiles were little more than static CVs, and actual conversations took place within LinkedIn Groups.

Over time, LinkedIn has added the functionality to share updates and images, write longer posts, and follow users who you’re not (yet) connected to, alongside introducing a Facebook-style timeline – much to some users’ dismay.

The big advantage of these changes is that it’s now much easier to make yourself visible on Linkedin, and to develop new connections and working relationships off the back of that.

Some would argue, however, that the flipside of the network becoming more ‘social’ is that it’s also become less ‘professional’. Those who used to love LinkedIn because it was a refuge from cat memes, motivational quotes and “comment with the first word you see in this picture” puzzles are increasingly having to grit their teeth, avert their eyes, and – perhaps ironically – post their own status updates complaining about poor LinkedIn etiquette.

Like it or not, though, LinkedIn has changed, and our job as businesspeople or employees is to take responsibility for using the network professionally and to its best advantage – which usually involves building relationships, and, down the line, doing work with people we like.

So, to help you make sense of the new LinkedIn, here are five ground rules for building an effective profile, and striking the right balance between self-promotion and spam.

Review your profile regularly

Your profile remains the core of your LinkedIn presence, and the first thing fellow users peruse. The better and more accurately your profile showcases you, the more likely you are to receive well-targeted messages and connection requests.

Blurry beach pics and terrifying passport mugshots give out immediate bad signals, so choose a clear photograph that conveys a professional but friendly image. Above all, avoid writing your name entirely in lower case (you’d be surprised how many do that) – you’re a person, not eBay.

For the profile itself, writing in a first-person ‘I’ tends to work best. And if you think it adds value, take advantage of the opportunity to add links, images and project examples.

Most importantly, revisit your profile regularly, to check for out-of-date information or to add details of your latest work.

Tailor your connection requests

Unless you’re connecting with someone who already knows you well, the standard “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message risks being ignored.

A far better approach is to address your desired connection by name, and, having viewed their profile or updates, make reference to any obvious shared interests.

If the recipient can see the rationale of linking up with you, you’re more likely to get a positive response.

Avoid going in for the kill

If you’re at a face-to-face networking event, nothing rankles more than getting a full-on pitch before you’ve even had chance to chat and introduce yourself – and the same etiquette applies on LinkedIn.

If someone has been good enough to accept your connection request, the last thing they usually want to receive is an immediate copy-and-pasted sales pitch in their inbox.

By all means end a follow-up “thank you for the connection” message, but make it personable, human, and tailored to what you know of that person’s role and interests. You want to start a conversation with them, rather than prompt an immediate lunge for the ‘Remove Connection’ button.

Engage with other users’ updates

Not everyone has the urge to constantly share their own updates on social media, but there’s plenty of value to be had from commenting on other people’s.

Is there some key influencer in your sector who you’d ultimately like to connect with, or an interesting business owner who could be a potential client?

If so, following and responding to their public updates is a good way to get yourself on their radar, by showing that you’re interested in what they’re saying, and that you have something valid and insightful to offer in response.

it’s all about the slow burn, so just avoid pitching – unless someone’s update specifically requests that.

Remember as well that, by default, everything you comment on or like on LinkedIn shows up in your public ‘Recent Activity’ feed – and potentially in the homepage feed that your followers see – so it might be wise to avoid engaging with anything too embarrassing.

Share useful snippets of your own

Many people are happy just to lurk on LinkedIn – which is fine – but you can gain a lot of traction, and reach people you’re not connected with yet, by posting your own updates.

Just like when you comment on statuses shared by others, the purpose of posting your own updates on LinkedIn is to give readers a teaser of what you know, do and offer.

That will encourage new and existing followers to engage with you, and will help place you top of mind if and when they have a need for what you’re expert in.

So, be insightful, informative and business related – but not too salesy – with some warmth and humour preferably mixed in. It needn’t even involve much extra work – sometimes a particularly good tweet can be repurposed and fleshed out for use as a LinkedIn status update.

As for the motivational quotes and memes, a good rule of thumb is that anything you’d normally post on your personal Facebook perhaps isn’t what you want to be sharing on LinkedIn.

Ultimately, though, you need to make your own judgement about what’s appropriate to post on LinkedIn or not.

If you think your intended update will reflect well on you and your brand, and give value to other users, then go for it!

If it won’t, then it might just be best to save it for Facebook after all.

Written by Graham Soult
Photograph by Pete Linforth

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