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Engaging with connections: Do this properly and you will build your brand on LinkedIn

By Bob McIntosh, CPRW, MBTI

This is the third in a three-part series about LinkedIn, and using LinkedIn to build one’s “brand.” In the December Messenger Bob began this series with a discussion of how to create a powerful profile. In February, he discussed the issue of connecting with the right people – and the right number of people.

 

linkedinSo let’s say you have a finely crafted profile and you’ve started building your connections. Good job! But you are just two-thirds of the way to your goal of creating a personal brand using LinkedIn. The final component of your effort is to engage with your connections.

I’m often asked by my clients how often they should use LinkedIn. My inclination is to tell them that, like me, they should use it at least two hours every day. But I know that is unreasonable for most busy professionals. In fact, it borders on insanity.

So I suggest they do at least half an hour, four days a week. Still, their eyes glaze over and I hear groans of protest. But I stay firm on this requirement.

Why is it important to be on LinkedIn so much? It’s important because if you want to be “top-of-mind,” you need to be present. In other words, you must consistently communicate with your connections to successfully brand yourself as an active and thoughtful professional in your field.

Here are seven simple ways to communicate with your connections:

1.  Share Updates

This is the easiest way to communicate with your connections and brand yourself as a thought leader in your LinkedIn community. However, what you write must be carefully thought out and add value to people’s lives.
So I’m not talking about tweet-like updates (although you can share updates on Twitter) every day stating you’re looking for work. I’m talking about illuminating updates that prompt participation.

Your updates might be about what’s going on in your industry. You can provide important tips (remember, you’re still an expert in your occupation). And/or you can share inspirational quotes.

2.  Publish Posts and Share Articles

By using LinkedIn’s “Write an article” feature to share your writing, you are gaining visibility and, therefore, enhancing your brand.

Again, it’s important that your writing provides value. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting the time of your connections.

Another great way to supply useful information to your connections is by acting as a curator. A curator is a selfless LinkedIn member who shares the writing of other LinkedIn members. In addition to educating others, you are building relationships with fellow writers by sharing their work.

Don’t forget to “like,” “comment,” or “share” your connections’ updates. This shows you appreciate the efforts they’ve made to contribute on LinkedIn. That said, in my mind, it is far better to provide an intelligent comment than just to “like” someone else’s article.

Even if you’re unemployed, you should take advantage of this feature. You can demonstrate your expertise within your industry, thus strengthening your brand.

3.  Participate in “Groups”

“Groups” went through an overhaul more than a year ago. Some believe this feature has suffered from LinkedIn’s attempts to enhance it. (Not sure what I’m talking about?  Read LinkedIn Announces Major Changes to Groups by Greg Cooper, another LinkedIn coach and trainer, for an explanation of the enhancements.)

Nonetheless, it’s important to participate in conversations that are going on in your particular groups. When you participate in a group discussion, your connections will see your input streaming on their home pages.

To brand yourself effectively, be certain that the conversations you start – or the contributions you make – add value. Don’t indulge in the silly arguments that pop up in some groups.

Remember: Recruiters could be members of groups that you are in. They may read your contributions to the group. Make sure you write intelligent, non-negative comments. This is all about branding yourself as a capable, positive job candidate.

4.  Send Direct Messages to Your Connections

LinkedIn recently made another change in the way you communicate with your connections. Now, instead of sending individual messages, all your communications are grouped together in an endless stream. It takes some getting used to, but it has proven to be an effective change.

Every once in a while you should ping your connections, letting them know how you’re doing in your job search. This is another way to stay top-of-mind.

Keep in mind that your messages don’t have to always be about the job search. Sometimes, it’s nice to send an informal message, commenting on something like your connection’s daughter’s soccer game, or send a link to an article you think your connection might appreciate. Doing this will brand you as a concerned connection, not someone who thinks only of themselves.

5.  Endorse Your Connections for Their Skills

You’ve probably read many opinions from people on the topic of endorsements. Well, here is another: Add me to the list of people who prefer receiving or writing thoughtful recommendations. And I’m not alone.

So, in particular, don’t get click-happy when endorsing connections. This will make you appear disingenuous and damage your brand.

Endorsements have a purpose greater than simply showing appreciation for someone’s skills; they act as a way to touch base. In other words, they are another way to communicate with your connections.

6.  Use the “Companies” Feature

I saved one of the best features for number 6. The “Companies” feature epitomizes networking on LinkedIn. It allows you to find people who are in a position to help you. It encourages you to be proactive.

In my LinkedIn workshop I tell attendees they should have a list of companies for which they’d like to work. Next, it’s important to build foundations at these companies before applying for jobs at them. This means building a network of key connections.

Once you’ve located the person with whom you’d like to connect, you manually connect with said person by going to their profile, clicking “Connect,” and writing a personalized invite. Failure to send a personalized invite will hurt your brand. You’ll be seen as lazy.

7.  Use the “Jobs” Feature to Network

Using LinkedIn’s “Jobs” feature is not your best way to land a job. It is, after all, just a job board. (A very low percentage of job seekers are successful using job boards.) But I wouldn’t discount LinkedIn “Jobs.” Use it in conjunction with your networking efforts.

In many cases the person who posted the position is revealed, providing you with the option of contacting them. My favorite feature of “Jobs” is the ability to see which of your alumni work at companies of interest.

Engaging with your connections is the only way to stay top-of-mind on LinkedIn. You may have the best possible profile and 5,000 connections. But if you are not active on LinkedIn, your results likely will be disappointing.

 


Bob McIntosh is a career workshop specialist, LinkedIn trainer, and LinkedIn profile writer. He taught the PDC class last December in “Mastering the New LinkedIn for Job Search & Professional Success.” Visit his blog:  Things Career Related.

Making connections: A big part of how you brand yourself on LinkedIn

By Bob McIntosh, CPRW, MBTI

This is the second in a three-part series about LinkedIn.  In March Bob will address the topic of how to engage with connections made on LinkedIn. (In the December Messenger he began this series with a discussion of how to create a personal brand on your LinkedIn profile.)

 

linkedinSo you have a great LinkedIn profile that supports your personal brand. You’ve posted an attractive photo of yourself and a keyword-packed descriptive Headline.  You also have Summary and Experience sections that successfully sell your talents. You’re golden.

But unfortunately, you only have 70 connections. This is not good because, first, a paltry number of connections limits your reach to other LinkedIn members – essentially, you’re a nonentity.  Second, your small network is telling hiring authorities that you’re not embracing LinkedIn; unlike other skilled professionals, you are have not taken the time to participate.

In short, your low number of connections is harmful to your personal brand.

With whom do you connect?

In my workshops and during individual counseling sessions, many people ask me with whom they should connect, how they should connect with people they don’t know, and how many people they should connect with.

When people ask this, I explain they should look at potential connections as a pyramid. In the pyramid graphic below I show exactly how professionals should focus their efforts to connect.

The bottom level of the pyramid represents the most fundamental and important connections to make – connections with former colleagues. And from there the levels represent each next step necessary to build a complete structure enabling you to use LinkedIn as the powerful networking device it is meant to be.

An underlying goal is to connect with as many second- and third-degree connections as fit in a meaningful way into your professional network – although third-degree connections should be the last ones with whom you make an effort to connect.

Linkedin Connections Pyramid diagram

BOB’S PYRAMID OF LINKEDIN CONNECTIONS

 

The bottom level, again, is the most important tier of the pyramid.  It is composed of people with whom you have worked, e.g., former colleagues and supervisors. It is the most important because they know you and are entrenched in the industry in which you’ve worked.

The second level contains people who share the same occupation and same industry. These people are like-minded and have similar aspirations to yours.

The third level is composed of people who share the same occupation but work in different industries. So, if you’re a marketing specialist, you want to look for other marketing specialists in industries outside of your own.

The fourth level is people who work in other occupations but the same industry. Connecting with these people will provide you with possible entries into your target companies. Connecting with an accountant, for instance, may give you access to the hiring manager of marketing at a desired company.

The fifth level adds people in other occupations and other industries. This may seem an unnecessary category, but consider that the V.P. of a manufacturing company that is on your target employers list may need an accountant. You’re not a V.P., and you don’t work in manufacturing, but you are an accountant.

The last level consists of your alumni group or groups, who are people likely to connect with you because you attended the same school at some point.

How to Connect with other LinkedIn Members

There are three ways to connect with LinkedIn members. The first, and simplest way, is to use the search field to find potentially helpful connections. Second, you can search for LinkedIn members at organizations that interest you with the Companies feature. And third, you can search for alumni from where you went to school with “See Alumni.”

Search field. In my LinkedIn workshop, I tell my attendees that typing an occupation title in the search field is an important step toward finding people. (For example, if you’re looking for connections with software engineers, you type: “software engineer.”)  From there, you select second- or third-degree connections, location, and then read through their profiles. See if they might be people you’d like to have in your network.

LinkedIn supports Boolean searches, which can give you a more focused search. For example, you type in: “software engineer” AND “manufacturing” AND “greater boston area” to find software engineers in manufacturing who reside in the Greater Boston area. Or you can use the “Filter people by” feature on the right of your screen, which will help you refine your search.

Search Companies.  Probably the best way to connect with someone is by selecting a company that you’re targeting and finding an employee at said company with whom a connection would be worthwhile. As an example, you might want to connect with someone in Finance or Marketing. This is a great way to get your foot in the door for an open position – or, better yet, to start building your networks at target companies before jobs are even advertised.

How: In the search field, type the company name. IBM is an example. There are many companies with IBM in their title, so you need to select the IBM you’re targeting. On the company page, click on “See all XX employees on LinkedIn” Then, after the list appears, use “Filter people by” to refine your search. In “Keywords” type the occupation you’re seeking in the “Title” field. I chose marketing as the title for IBM and came up with 20,478 people who work in marketing.

See Alumni.  Another way to look for valuable connections is by using the “See Alumni” feature, which is a great way to connect with LinkedIn members who are more likely to accept your requests than strangers. After all, you attended the same university or high school.

How: Finding your alumni is similar to finding people at a company. In the search field, type the name of your alma mater and then choose “School” from the drop-down bar that appears after you click the magnifying glass. Select your campus, which brings you to its school page. Click “See Alumni.” From there choose the criteria, or filters, you need to find your ideal alumnus.

An import tip is that when asking someone to connect with you, make sure your note is personal and not the default message LinkedIn provides.  A default message indicates this connection is not important enough for you to bother to customize your request.

I’m also not a fan of connecting with people on LinkedIn by using your smartphone, or trolling your email contacts and sending mass invites. I see this as lazy.  And it also can send out an impression that doesn’t compliment your brand.

How Many People to Connect With 

The answer to the age-old question – quality or quantity? – comes down to personal preference.

I myself aim for a combination of both – that is, 300 or so quality connects with people who share my interests and/or goals. If you look back at the “pyramid” above, you’ll see that focusing on connections in the bottom three levels is a good way to achieve a quality and quantity goal.  These are people with whom you worked, people who share the same occupation and industry, and, third tier, people who share the same occupation but are in different industries.

When you build connections in this way, you solidify your brand as someone who is focused on a specific audience. You have the opportunity to build a tight-knit network of professional connections.

Meanwhile, if you focus on quantity, you’re likely to be less selective. You may come across as having little direction and less focus. In my mind, this is not a good way to brand yourself.

In fact, recruiters and hiring managers may take notice of your connections on LinkedIn and look to see what kinds of people you connect with.  They may even go to your connections’ profiles and by chance notice some that are not-so-savory. In other words, you could be found guilty by association.

Let’s say, for example, one of your connections is affiliated with someone in a controversial group. This could look make you look bad.

On the other hand, focusing too much on quality does limit your number of connections, which means you’re limiting your access to other LinkedIn users who could be of assistance.

For some people, quantity has other benefits, particularly if you are a business owner and want to advertise your products or services.

Meanwhile, there is the extreme quantity strategy: the LinkedIn Open Networker (L.I.O.N.) strategy. L.I.O.N.s are LinkedIn members who are interested in collecting as many connections as possible. They believe that more people create opportunities. They also are more likely to be victims of spam.

Bottom line, because you are responsible for choosing connections that support your image, you must also consider how each and every connection may affect your personal brand.

 


Bob McIntosh is a career workshop specialist, LinkedIn trainer, and LinkedIn profile writer.  He taught the December 15th PDC class “Mastering the New LinkedIn for Job Search & Professional Success.” Visit his blog:  Things Career Related

Create a personal brand using your LinkedIn Profile

By Bob McIntosh, CPRW, MBTI

This is the first of a three-part series about LinkedIn. In the February PDC Messenger Bob will discuss how to connect with the right people using LinkedIn. In March he will address the topic of how to engage with these connections.

 

linkedinFor years, professionals have been told to create a personal “brand” to stand out from the crowd. This is excellent advice.

One of the most critical components in creating a personal brand online is your LinkedIn Profile. But many skilled professionals don’t know how to corral the range and depth of their talents into a compelling presentation.

 

In an article in Entrepreneur magazine, author Thomas Smale stresses the importance of having an effective online presence: “Do you have social media profiles? If so, are they fully fleshed out with all of your information? Do they present you in the best light possible, and make you look professional? Are you using high-quality professional photography? Are you interacting with others and sharing their content?”

So let’s look at some major sections of your LinkedIn Profile and examine how they can better help you create your brand.

But first I want to mention – as undoubtedly most of you have noticed – that LinkedIn has gone through important changes. Some of these are welcome; others are not.

Perhaps most notably, you cannot move your LinkedIn sections around as you were able to before. This change is disconcerting because, in essence, LinkedIn has unilaterally decided how your Profile is structured.

Regardless of how you feel about these changes, you will have to adapt to them in order to be successful in your LinkedIn campaign. My discussion of Profile sections will include an examination of some of these changes.

Snapshot area

I call the first Profile section the “Snapshot,” because that’s exactly what it is: a snapshot of who you are. The Snapshot features your photo and your headline. Your headline provides descriptive words about you that appear directly below your photo.

Failure to impress viewers in these areas will hurt your brand.

A photo that is unprofessional is an immediate turnoff. Even more damaging is a non-photo. It’s believed that a Profile with a photo is 14 to 21 times more likely to be read than one without one. Your photo is the first area of your Profile that brands you.

Headlines that say things like “Seeking Employment” or “Finance Manager at Company X” are ineffective. They fail to show value.

Rather, your Headline should read like this: “Finance Manager at Company X | Financial Planning and Analysis | Auditing | Saving Organizations Millions.” This headline shows your value and brands you. It also adds keywords, making it easier for hiring authorities to find you.

Changes: The photo no longer is square and situated to the right. It is in the center and round and smaller. Therefore you need to make sure your face and a portion of your shoulders are captured in your photo as it’s now cropped.

Other changes include: We only see a person’s current place of employment instead of current and previous. In addition, the “relationship” section has been removed; there no longer is the ability to tag connections. Most notably: the Summary section is located at the bottom of the Snapshot.

Summary

Support your brand by creating a compelling Summary. This is where you tell your story, which can include the passion you have for your occupation, a statement about your expertise, and, if applicable, a characterization about how you are changing your career.

You’ll want to use close to the 2,000 characters allowed in the Summary to include keywords your Profile needs to boost your visibility. But your Summary in its entirety also must be powerful. It should mention accomplishments that will capture the reader’s attention.

You should write your Summary in either first- or third-person point of view. Don’t simply copy the Summary from your resume for this section.

Change: As mentioned above, the Summary now is located in the Snapshot area; it no longer has its own section. Also, only the first two lines (approximately 39 words) are revealed. Visitors must click “See more” to view your full Summary. Therefore, these lines must immediately sell you. I suggest a branding statement.

Experience

I’m often asked by job seekers how they should create the Experience section of their Profile. I tell them they have two options: They can either write a section that resembles the work history found on their resume or they can use Experience to highlight only their most important accomplishments.

I favor the latter approach. Nonetheless, I can understand the concern some people have that their profile may be the only document an employer sees, and so they believe showing a more complete view of their experience is the way to go. Bottom line: what’s most important in building your brand is listing accomplishments with quantified results. Here is an example:

Good: “Increased productivity by implementing a customer-relations management (CRM) system.”

Better: “Initiated and implemented – before deadline – a customer-relations management (CRM) system that increased productivity by 58%.”

To highlight your accomplishments, use bullets. Because LinkedIn doesn’t provide easy commands for creating bullets and other symbols, you need to cut and paste them from a non-LinkedIn document.

Change: LinkedIn automatically now provides a full expansion of only a few positions you’ve held. For the others, visitors must click “See more.”

Education

Many people neglect this section, choosing simply to list the institutions they attended, the degrees they received, and their date of graduation. This might be the norm for resumes, but LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to further support your brand by telling the story of your education.

Take Mary, who completed her bachelor’s degree while working full-time – a major accomplishment in itself. If she wants to show off her work ethic and time-management skills, she might write a description like this:

University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering, Magna Cum Laude

“While working full time at Company A, I attended accelerated classes at night for six years (two years less than typically expected). I also participated as an instructor in an online tutoring program, helping first-year students with their engineering classes. I found this to be extremely rewarding.”

Volunteer

Build your brand by showing visitors you are using your skills and developing new ones. It’s fine to volunteer for what I call “a good cause,” but to show people you’re serious about your occupation, you’ll volunteer in a way that requires your expertise.

(If you volunteer for a significant amount of time, it’s fine to list this in your Experience section, as long as you write “Volunteer Experience” beside your job title.)

Featured Skills and Endorsements

A healthy Skills section consisting of 30 to 50 skills is another way to strengthen your brand. The skills you list should demonstrate your expertise. Do not list skills you simply are familiar with. To further enhance your brand, the skills may be endorsed by your first-degree LinkedIn connections.

Change: The Skills & Endorsements section shows only your three top skills and one person who has endorsed you. Previously it showed your 10 top skills and more than 10 people who endorsed you. Visitors need to click “See XX (number) more skills” to see all your skills.

Recommendations

It is very important to receive recommendations and write them for others. By receiving recommendations, you show the value you bring to employers. Meanwhile, writing recommendations demonstrates your authority and what you value in others.

 


Bob McIntosh is a career workshop specialist, LinkedIn trainer, and LinkedIn Profile writer. He will be teaching the December 15th PDC class — this Friday — “Mastering the New LinkedIn for Job Search & Professional Success.”  Visit his blog:  Things Career Related.

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