Dubbed a social network for people with no friends, LinkedIn has never been a bastion of cool. No matter, it happily settled for ubiquity: in the race to digitize the business card, the platform emerged victorious.
For much of its life, my own LinkedIn profile enjoyed a carefree existence, as I avoided the platform at all costs. But over the past two years, I’ve become an avid LinkedIn user. Like a gaping tourist, I marvelled at the professional benefits it yielded, both to me personally, and to Copylab.
Recently, I delivered a training presentation on the marketing gains that can be generated through being active on LinkedIn. Sensing my colleagues’ exuberance levels, it seemed advisable to beef up the slides with internet cats.
Naturally, most people cringe at explaining their “professional self”, a task that feels both naff and hugely intimidating. One colleague, a successful author, said that whenever she types anything into LinkedIn, a voice in her head is yelling: “you’re doing it all wrong”.
But peel away these resistances, and invariably you hit this crux:
There’s even a start-up that spies on company employees’ LinkedIn activity to see when top employees start getting active. Deep down, many companies firmly believe LinkedIn’s main use is to trade up your job.
Leave this kind of thinking unchecked, and corporate LinkedIn training is unlikely to deliver much benefit. Ironically, it’s companies that are most hurt by this suspicion. Just look at the results of the FT survey on the skills employers want – but cannot find – in prospective employees:
Instead, companies – and the people they choose to employ – are both better off acknowledging that LinkedIn is not a zero-sum game.
When employees are seen as smart, knowledgeable, diligent and friendly, it directly reflects on the business. Even better, the ones most exposed to this messaging are your employees’ natural networks – clients and industry bigwigs.
For employees, being active on Linkedin is about breaking free from the tyranny of the two-page standard-format CV, probably the worst representation of you as person, and as an employee.
Let’s move on to tactics
LinkedIn has changed over time, its features growing ever closer to those of Facebook with each passing year. And there’s not just one method for being active on LinkedIn. Rather, there’s a double-humped camel.
We all start off with a profile, and connect with a bunch of people we happen to know, even if only vaguely. We can progressively increase our presence by adding information to our profile, and by communicating our personality and interests through our activity.
We can also become more flexible with how we acquaint ourselves with others. If traditional networking meant meeting someone at a conference once, and then never speaking to them again, online networking offers the opportunity to remain engaged long afterwards.
So if you’re looking to up your LinkedIn game, the first base is to assess where you’re at on this camel, and try to challenge yourself one level up.
A great deal of my presentation focused on the links between creating content and effective networking. Of course, if you’re hooked on LinkedIn for fun – knock yourself out. But to make the most out of advocacy efforts, it helps to remember that any content you publish only ever serves one of two objectives:
Information leaks have come to be associated with ugly data breaches, but another definition is saying something without stating it explicitly.
By making observations that will be seen by experienced professionals, you are “leaking” the fact that you too are highly knowledgeable in a given area. And by repeatedly liking or commenting on stuff others post about, say, Blockchain, you signal your interest in the topic.
As for fuelling relationships, just think of your best friend. How close would you be without stuff to talk about? Relationships are founded on information exchanges, and the content you produce needs to help generate conversation opportunities with the people in your network that you care about.
For effective advocacy, content can’t simply be a flood of marketing material. As part of the training, we looked at the types of content employees can create, and how to actively use it to initiate touchpoints with connections. Both these topics extends beyond the scope of this article (but feel free to drop me a line, if this is the sort of thing your company would like to do more of).
To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with two final tips.
One: Trust your bull***t-detecting gut.
Cut out the buzzwords. Seriously, all of them.
Two: It pays to find your voice.
Consciously or not, every knowledge worker is waging a battle against commoditisation, and accordingly, job security is slipping from our grasp.
Pinpointing what sets you apart is hardly a walk in the park. To Laozi, who observed “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened”, Benjamin Franklin might have retorted: “There are three things extremely hard; steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
So whether you’re usefully knowledgeable or conveniently skilled, being able to articulate your value in the open marketplace carries its own rewards. Financial ones? Perhaps.
But most definitely, it builds up a solid internal sense of value, as you share your gifts with those who could benefit from them most.
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