Fourteen LinkedIn Tips for (the Rest of) 2014

LinkedIn has surged past 300 million users. It remains the most popular social media platform for business and professional use. In fact, it’s becoming rare to find people in any kind of business who say that they are not on LinkedIn.

At the same, a certain sense of complacency has settled over the use of LinkedIn. We often hear people say that they’ve been on LinkedIn for a while and they haven’t found it all that helpful, especially for reaching potential customers and clients. Since LinkedIn has been around for more than 10 years, there’s also a sense of “been there, done that” about it. Some people are always looking for the next new thing in social media.

In fact, most of us have barely scratched the surface of either the features or the potential of LinkedIn. LinkedIn has steadily added new features, especially in the past year or so. This will be a great year to take your use of LinkedIn up a level or two, and increase the value and benefits of the platform to you and your business.

Here are three important big-picture ways to change your current perspective on LinkedIn.

  1. Ask “What Job Are You Hiring LinkedIn to Do?” Most people automatically see the value of LinkedIn when they are searching for a job. But when they aren’t looking for a job, people may lose clarity about the purpose of using LinkedIn. Many business owners and professionals have been told that LinkedIn is an essential new tool for getting new customers and clients. That is far different than searching for a job, and might not even be a good use of LinkedIn for you. Many professionals, for example, lawyers, simply do not see how LinkedIn can be used to reach potential clients and convert them to actual clients. We often stress that the great value of LinkedIn for most of us will come from creating and sustaining your referral networks. If that is the job you hire LinkedIn to do, your use of LinkedIn will probably make more sense to you than it does now, and you will have better ideas of what you can do on LinkedIn.
  2. Bring LinkedIn into the Real World. Many people see use of LinkedIn as a solely Internet activity. However, LinkedIn becomes especially valuable when you use it to supplement or complement real world activities, even in the simplest ways. Traveling? Search LinkedIn to find connections to visit or meet with while in their cities. Meeting someone for lunch? Connect on LinkedIn and view their photo so that you recognize them when you meet at the restaurant. You can take what you learn in LinkedIn to send congratulatory notes, call people on their birthdays or find people in common to talk about in person. Use LinkedIn to follow up with new connections to strengthen new relationships.
  3. Focus on the Three Essential Building Blocks of LinkedIn. The three essential building blocks of LinkedIn are: Profiles (who you are), Connections (who you know) and Participation (how you interact with connections).

Even if you think you have “done everything” with LinkedIn or “given up” on it, focusing on each of these elements will help you analyze your efforts and give you ideas for improving your presence, your experience and your results. Often, people need the most work on participation, but we are surprised at how many people who think that they are advanced LinkedIn users have out-of-date Profiles or have not adopted a systematic approach to adding Connections.

Spending some time thinking about these big-picture ideas should give you plenty of ideas for improving your use of LinkedIn. Here are 14 more tips to help you with LinkedIn in 2014.

  1. Link to Your Profile. Your LinkedIn Profile will probably be the best and most comprehensive biography you will have on the Internet. It will also be the place where you have the most control of the information about yourself that you present to people. It might also be the first result people find when they do a search on your name. Take advantage of your Profile by adding links to your LinkedIn Profile on your or organization’s website or blog, social media profiles, and other places you can be found on the Internet, as well as in your email signature, on business cards and other marketing materials to make it easy for people to get to your Profile and find out the information you’d like them to know about you.
  2. Add Skills to your Profile. LinkedIn has placed more importance on “Skills” in the last year or so. By identifying specific skills that you have (negotiation, public speaking, appellate advocacy, et al.), you can help paint a better picture of what types of services you actually provide and set expectations. Because Skills work with Endorsements, adding pertinent Skills will help your Connections provide relevant and helpful Endorsements.
  3. Reorder Your Profile. Obviously, updating your Profile to make it current and audience-focused should be a priority. However, you can improve your Profile’s impact by re-sequencing it. LinkedIn now lets you change the default order of presentation in your Profile. In some cases, the standard reverse chronological approach might not let you emphasize things that you want to highlight. You can also order the categories of items in a way that makes sense for you. For example, someone new to the work world or someone starting a new business might want to bring education up to the top of his or her LinkedIn Profile. As a guiding principle, try to order your Profile in a way that best presents your Profile to your intended audience.
  4. Make a Connections Plan. Many people start on LinkedIn by inviting a few people and never expanding much from their initial set of Connections. LinkedIn has great tools for finding fellow alumni, former colleagues and other relevant contacts. You can import contacts from Outlook and other sources. LinkedIn also does a great job of suggesting Connections. You also will receive invitations to connect. All of these choices can confuse people. What do you do when a client, partner, boss, competitor or someone you just don’t like wants to connect on LinkedIn? You want to think about your approach to connecting. Again, stay aware of the job you are hiring LinkedIn to do. It’s best to have at least a general plan for adding Connections (i.e., quality or quantity, local or global, inside your current organization or outside).
  5. Do Not Automatically Accept Invitations to Connect. We routinely look at the Profiles of people who want to connect with us to learn more about them and see what connections we have in common. Often, we send a personal reply to invitations and use them as an opportunity to create or advance relationships. Also, remember that nothing requires you to accept an invitation to connect. You can ignore the invitation or wait a while and think about whether accepting the connection fits your connection philosophy or plan.
  6. Personalize Your Invitations. LinkedIn lets you personalize your invitations to connect rather than relying on the default invitation language. Send personalized invitations so people remember you and are encouraged to accept your invitations. Personal invitations greatly enhance the likelihood that people will connect with you.
  7. Monitor Legal and Ethics Developments. Many professions and several key industries have ethical and legal requirements that affect the use of social media. Many employers also have codes of conduct or other rules on use of social media. Ethics issues for professionals involving LinkedIn have been rare to this point because LinkedIn focuses on your professional presence. However, you do need to become familiar applicable legal and ethical rules affecting LinkedIn participation, and monitor developments. Note that it’s easy to add any necessary legal disclaimers to your Profile page.
  8. Make Effective Use of Updates. LinkedIn Updates (similar to Twitter tweets or Facebook updates) offer a simple and easy way to increase your level of participation on LinkedIn. You can use Updates to send news and relevant links of value to your network. Consider your audience and use self-promotion sparingly, self-deprecatingly, and subtly. Always think about the actual value to others you bring and think about how you would react to someone else doing the same thing.
  9. Use LinkedIn for Competitive Intelligence. Regularly check LinkedIn for information about industries, competitors, clients, and potential clients and business partners. You can join groups or monitor Company Pages to bring you relevant information on a regular basis. LinkedIn can help you obtain a variety of competitive intelligence about other competitors or your clients’ competitors.
  10. Take Your Online Relationships Offline. LinkedIn will help you identify people with whom you can have lunch or attend a seminar or event. You can share their successes or comment on their Updates. Always keep the real-world analogies in mind when using LinkedIn. If you are circumspect in connecting with or giving personal information in the real world, you will probably be most comfortable taking a similar approach on LinkedIn.
  11. Schedule LinkedIn Time. You don’t have to spend much time on LinkedIn to get a lot of value from it. The important thing is to pay attention to LinkedIn on a consistent basis. Schedule a regular weekly or monthly time for LinkedIn activities, including visiting your LinkedIn Homepage and monitoring Updates in your network or participating in Groups.
  12. Use LinkedIn in Hiring. LinkedIn might have already become more important than the traditional resume in the hiring process. Do not interview or hire a job candidate without checking out his or her LinkedIn Profile and presence. While you can advertise job openings on LinkedIn, you might get good results by letting your Connections know that you are looking to hire someone and seeing if they have some suggestions or can get the word out to their networks. In preparation for an interview, you can use LinkedIn to get more detail than in a resume and learn what Connections you have in common with a candidate, which might help get an interview off to a good start by chatting about a common Connection.
  13. Make LinkedIn Mobile. The LinkedIn mobile app is excellent. And free. Download, install and use it on your smartphone or tablet device. Having access to information about people wherever you are might be helpful.
  14. LinkedIn Help is Helpful. Because LinkedIn has been around for a long time, many other people have had the same question you have. Check LinkedIn’s Help Forum to see if you can find the answer to your question. LinkedIn’s Help and Support materials, including starter guides, are clearly written and useful. Read the LinkedIn blog to keep up with new developments, get great tips, and learn to use LinkedIn better.

These fourteen tips will help you move to the next level—or even beyond. For most people, we emphasize that you will probably achieve better business results from LinkedIn by concentrating on potential referrers rather than potential clients or customers. In any event, there may be no better resource than LinkedIn to help you reconnect with people who were important in your career but with whom you have lost contact. Keep in mind that LinkedIn is an evolving service. Watch for new features and be willing to try them out. Don’t be complacent about your use of LinkedIn.

Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer and legal technology author. Allison C. Shields is the president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc. They are co-authors of the books LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers and LinkedIn in One Hour.

A version of this article directed to lawyers first appeared in the January 2014 of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today webzine.

Re-published with permission on LLRX.com