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So, when I sat down to write this post on building a personal brand using LinkedIn, I had a few false starts. Over the course of the past few months, LinkedIn has played a pretty big part of my activities online, so I needed to find my focus before writing about how I actually utilize this network. First, it started with someone sending me information about a job that I should apply for. Then, a friend asked me about how to beef up her profile and another asked for help on using the LinkedIn advertising network. Finally, last week, I got a promotion at work. Needless to say, my profile needed to be spruced up.

As for what to do with your LinkedIn profile, well, therein lies the challenge. If you’re already active on Facebook and Twitter, you might not want to jump right in to being active on another network. But if you’re job searching and want an opportunity to get some attention, you should absolutely be a presence on LinkedIn. For me, LinkedIn is where I get my industry questions answered. It’s also a place for me to establish a bit of credibility because really, at the end of the day, that’s what your online reputation is all about.

So, let’s dive into the three main parts of LinkedIn that I think are critical to personal branding: your profile, LinkedIn Answers, and LinkedIn Groups.

The first thing that you should know about LinkedIn is that it allows for you to announce your skills to the world, as well as the network you’ve built on there. Skills such as public speaking, writing, and marketing are just a few of the things you can emphasize when you put together your LinkedIn profile and luckily, this is a network that is very flexible. With tons of apps to be added to your profile, searchable skill sets, a resume-like setup, and the option for people to recommend you with testimonials, LinkedIn is a job searcher and networker’s best friend.  This is where professionals find each other. 

So, if you:

  • Are looking for a job,
  • Want to expand a skill set,
  • Need to build up your network,
  • Just graduated and need to start building a personal brand,
  • Want to improve your online visibility and reputation,
  • Want to establish yourself as an industry expert,
LinkedIn is the place to be.

LinkedIn Answers

One of my absolute favorite features of LinkedIn is the answers community. It’s sort of like Yahoo! Answers, only without the teenage drama. Most of the questions are industry or professional base, so in a way, you get to use this feature to pick the brains of people in the business without having to pay for a consulting fee. In the past, I’ve asked questions about copywriting, public relations pitching, and what books I should be reading outside of school, but really, you could ask about anything. If you have a question about what you should be doing or how to handle a professional or work-related issue, then this is a wonderful and free resource to consult. Plus, it’s a great way to expand your network.

When you participate in the LinkedIn Answers, you have the option to not just ask questions – you can answer them too. Answering questions and connecting with other professionals in this community is a great way to expand your personal network and show off your expertise. If someone sees that you’re a frequent presence in the Answers, they may come to know you as an expert in a particular subject or a resource in another. If they see you asking lots of questions, they may think that you’re someone who is always learning and inquisitive – two skills that can be a great match for a variety of positions. I mean, there’s no way to really tell how you’ll be perceived, but one thing is for sure: activity on LinkedIn will keep you at the forefront of your network’s minds and if you’re looking for a job, being on someone’s mind is a good thing.

Also, people want to connect with other knowledgeable people in their industry. When you show that you’re knowledgeable, people notice and may seek you out to connect with you to pick your brain, offer you a job, or just say, “hello.” All good things.

My Profile

Now, when it comes to your LinkedIn profile, this is where the personal branding business comes in. If you look at my LinkedIn page, you’ll see that I’ve filled it out almost in its entirety. Taking advantage of the space it offers is a good thing for me, since it gives you a much more well-rounded and complete picture of someone. There’s only so much a resume can tell you. LinkedIn lets you be creative and more importantly, expand upon those resume items that you usually note in your online profiles: position name, company, dates worked.

As for best practices, here are my biggest takeaways:

  • Underneath your name, in the headline, that’s reputation gold. Most LinkedIn users will notice your headline, name, and photo in quick succession and those are the things they remember (in my ultimate geekyness, I actually read a study about this a few weeks ago). So, for that headline, make it count. Most people go with their current job title, but you can also get creative with it.
  • In your profile, I think it’s also good to list some of your responsibilities and experiences to go along with your job, just like you would a resume. Maybe put 3-5 or so points below each position held, detailing what you did as well as any significant successes (e.g. Aided in coordinating Project X; grew budget by 50%, etc.).  This gives dimension to the jobs you’ve listed and can be a great way to emphasize what you can do.
  • Don’t forget about the Skills section. Add in specific skills, like Microsoft Word, as well as more “abstract” skills, like marketing, communication, project management, organization, public speaking, etc. These are things that people look at and say, “Hey, this is someone that could really fit well with the organization.”
  • Choose a professional picture. For the love of God, this is not Facebook. A simple head shot where you can clearly make out that it’s you will do. Aside from the headline and your name, this is one of the most heavily viewed areas of your LinkedIn profile.
  • Beef up your additional information too. Don’t be afraid to share a wide array of interests. If you love cake decorating, say so! Really into yoga? Note it! Again, this is something that people can connect with you over. Plus, it gives a much more “human” side to your professional achievements.
  • Link to your Facebook, Twitter, website, etc. If content is part of what you do,  having touch points for people to find it is important.

You can also play around with different LinkedIn add-ons, like WordPress, SlideShare, Amazon Book List, etc. to add dimension as well as portfolio material. Anything that you can share to show another user who you are and how you’d fit in their network makes a difference.

Using the SlideShare LinkedIn app, I’ve added a copy of my portfolio. Granted, my portfolio is always a work in progress, but this was a great way for me to show a little bit more about the work I’ve done without cluttering up the page. My portfolio is just your basic PowerPoint presentation. I’ll get into my portfolio in more detail in another post, but the goal is to convey examples of some of my best work in a variety of media. That media option is HUGE when  you’re job searching because it eliminates that extra step for people finding your work. You put everything you want right in front of them. Convenience is a powerful thing.

Finally, get some recommendations.  People may give these to you without asking, but don’t be afraid to ask for them if you need them. You’ll want to reach out to your connections and try to get recommendations for your work personally, academically, and professionally. There’s a reason that word of mouth is so powerful. Recommendations make you more than a resume – they make you a person. They establish trust. They give a feel for what you’re like.

LinkedIn Groups

I love the groups feature. Just like Facebook Groups or Facebook Business Pages, LinkedIn groups is a place where you can connect with others, expand your network, and again, show off your industry expertise. If LinkedIn Answers is like the library, then LinkedIn Groups is like that coffee shop you really like. Conversation is the name of the game in Groups, so if you want to have some more in-depth discussion on a particular industry issue or get some thoughts or feedback on some of your recent work, a Group may be the place to do it.

Most groups are divided into categories based on geographic location, industry, interest, professional society, etc. There is no shortage of opportunity for you to connect over something you have in common with others. Groups (as well as Answers and your profile) can sometimes lead to job offers or introductions to new people. They can also result in real-life connections, speaking invitations, collaborative projects…the list really goes on and on.

I’m sometimes bad about participating in groups. I would say about 80 to 90 percent of the time, I’m a lurker. I’m observing the conversations taking place. I should really chime in more, but sometimes, it’s just nice to listen.

As for developing your LinkedIn presence, I could write about how I manage my page, how I expand my network, etc. But I’ll save those topics for other posts in the future. These are really the three core features that I feel are most important if you’re just getting started with LinkedIn or want to start making something of your page.

Thoughts? Feedback? Discussion is welcomed!

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