Tuesday, November 2, 2010

LinkedIn: Social Networks Aren’t Just for Socializing

Note: hyperlinks in red

I think of Twitter as a cocktail party, and FaceBook as dinner party. Both can be fun, but they can also be noisy and full of drunk people.

LinkedIn is a place where business happens.

I’ve been on LinkedIn for four years. LinkedIn is a social network that allows you to make connections with trusted contacts and essentially create a personal Rolodex in the cloud. But it's much more than that.

In addition to the convenience of finding your important business connections in one place, it offers a host of useful resources for job seekers, sales people who are prospecting, and recruiters who are looking for qualified people to fill jobs. There are too many benefits to enumerate, but it’s not just a social network—it is a database of people and companies that can be searched geographically—and most of what it offers is freely available.

In 2006 my real-life best friend and fellow graphic designer started a job at PopCap, and she invited me to join LinkedIn. At the time, LinkedIn was populated with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and business professionals, and required an invitation to join. In spite of its gated approach, its membership grew from five to eight million that year.

In 2007 when Facebook opened its doors to everyone and its membership took off, LinkedIn followed its lead, and by the end of the year it had more than 15 million users.

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, not everyone joins LinkedIn, but those who do recognize its value. Today LinkedIn has more than 80 million members across 200 countries and seven continents, and continues to grow at the rate of one new member per second.

When I opened my account, I invited a number of business associates to join me. But before I did, I spent time aggregating information, then wrote an introduction, cleaned up my resume and gathered other relevant data to populate my profile. At that time, profile pictures weren’t included, but they are now, and I think it is worthwhile to include a good photo that reflects the image you wish to project.

I'm not passing myself off as an expert, but I'm sharing what has worked for me.


Clean up your resume.
Have someone with editing skills review it for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely only on built-in grammar and spell checking tools, as they don’t necessarily detect context or poorly written prose.

Introduce yourself, including information prospective employers or colleagues would be interested to know.
Your LinkedIn page is like an agent who promotes your image to others when you aren’t there to do it yourself. Think about the kinds of experiences you have that sets you apart from others who offer the same goods or services, and make your case.

Identify your affiliations with professional organizations 

and groups.
For example, if you and a prospective employer are connected via an alumni group, that could be a point of connectivity. But LinkedIn is not Foursquare, and there isn’t a competition for the number of “badges” you display. Adding affiliations needs to be done sensibly.

If you feel you can contribute substantively, answer questions as an expert in your field.
Members can pose questions, and you can enhance your reputation if you can answer, conceivably positioning yourself as a “go-to” person in a particular discipline.

Take time to consider and make note of your achievements and honors.  Today I spoke with a friend who was cited as a tech maven in a Huffington Post story. I think most people would be interested to know about it, and it should be included in a profile.

Participating in your community as a volunteer demonstrates teamwork and good citizenship—attributes that are important to many employers and very often mirror their values. If you have contributed through volunteering, say so. 

Who should you connect with? To begin, I think you should connect to real-life current and former colleagues, associates and employers. They know you and will accept your connection request.

And finally, identify people who can recommend you.
You can ask a former boss or colleague if they will write a recommendation for you. You should ask only people who have direct knowledge of your work. 

If someone takes the time to help you—I can’t stress this enough—you MUST thank them—preferably with a handwritten note. Why do that instead of sending an email? Because few people do it and it makes you stand out. I’m often amazed at how people fail to formally express thanks when someone goes out of their way to do something for them. There is a great story about the importance of handwritten thank you notes in Chapter 41 of Randy Pauch’s The Last Lecture. Read it.

LinkedIn has led to my receiving unsolicited job offers, which illustrates what it can do for people, even passively. It provides options to link to your Twitter feed and to post status updates,
and recently partnered with Behance to link visual work samples to user profiles. But for the most part, you will find only salient information on LinkedIn. Unlike an individual web site which must specifically be sought out, when a person is searching LinkedIn, they are already in the mode to find you.

It really is a no-brainer: An investment of time on your LinkedIn profile can be beneficial on a number of levels. And beside the strictly business end of things, there can be a social aspect of joining groups where others share your interests or expertise.

When I started using Twitter in 2008, I would occasionally see people refer to LinkedIn as a network for old people. Since then, I’ve seen my kids and their friends graduate from college, and more and more of these twenty-somethings are joining LinkedIn and asking to connect.

As LinkedIn has evolved and innovated, one thing hasn’t changed: IT WORKS.


One reader mentioned he'd received a LinkedIn invitation from me, which is a concern. Please beware—it could be spam.

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