Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Best Practices for Gen Y on LinkedIn

By Ed Han

If you’re like the vast majority of people, you probably are not getting the most out of the website that had the biggest technology IPO since Google back in 2004: LinkedIn.

As a LinkedIn trainer, when I begin any training session, I start by surveying attendees’ familiarity with the site. Without fail, at least 95% of responses are something like, “I’ve heard of it but haven’t really done anything with it”. And I know why: it’s because you haven’t seen a whole lot of reason or benefit in it.

Well, I’m here to tell you the reason and benefit in using it. It all comes down to one word.

A brand can be a very powerful thing.

When we talk about brands, it’s only natural nowadays to think both of household names such as Coca-Cola® but also of people like Apple CEO Steve Jobs. But this wasn’t always the case: most people needed to learn about personal branding in 1997 from Tom Peters in an incredibly influential Fast Company article, The Brand Called You.

When you Google (or search via Bing) for anything, very few people go beyond the first few links, never mind the first page. There may be millions of search results that extend for thousands of pages—but the 3rd page might as well be the 103rd page, for as often as people see it. And the truth is that very often, those first few results are all that you need. People put great trust in those first few links.

What happens if someone searches for your name? Try Googling yourself right now. Are you on the first page? For the vast majority of people, the first few results will be for someone else with the same name. That isn’t a desirable state of affairs.

LinkedIn provides a great way to place higher in the results—and in a way that not everyone is using. Social media is a great way to do so and you probably have heard that Facebook’s got nearly 700 million users. But this doesn’t mean you should invest more time in Facebook, because everyone is on it already. Using LinkedIn will help you stand out from the crowd.

As for how to do that, we need to start with your…

The basis for any LinkedIn account is the profile: the information you put out there about you. It goes without saying that you should add your educational and employment details, but the reason for doing this isn’t just for completeness: you can usually invite people to connect on the basis of having been classmates or colleagues. Therefore, more complete details make it easier to build a network.

There are three simple but often missed ways to make your profile stand out:

Profile pictures
A massive amount of the human brain is devoted to recognizing faces and interpreting what it sees there. I suggest leveraging that by giving them something to remember: your face. The LinkedIn Terms of Service require your profile picture to be a photograph, and specifically a headshot. Just remember to smile: a smile is engaging.

On the LinkedIn site, your name and picture will always be accompanied by this text. In short: it’s a billboard that appears with your name and face in highly-visible space. Treat it accordingly.

Status updates
You can post them on Facebook, Twitter, and you can do so on LinkedIn. I recommend posting at least once every two days, because it’s the only way to show someone viewing your profile how often you might be visiting. However, please note that people on LinkedIn expect updates no more than once or so per day. Updating your LinkedIn status as fast as some people use Twitter is a sure way to make sure people stop reading your status updates—or anything else you may post.

LinkedIn will let you join as many as 50 groups. It should go without saying that you should join groups for your alma mater and where appropriate, any other groups or organizations that apply. But also be aware that many large employers also have LinkedIn groups for current and/or former employees. This matters because you can usually invite someone to connect or send someone a message on the basis of shared membership in one (or more!) groups.

But groups aren’t just useful for broadening your list of connections. Indeed, groups are a great way to network. Industry or job-specific groups allow you to stay informed about new developments—or in some case, changes in legislation or major legal decisions that significantly impact the operating environment for anyone in that industry or performing that role. HR is certainly one field heavily impacted by legal decisions or legislation and it’s far from alone.

For as helpful as reading these discussions may be, it isn’t enough. A LinkedIn group allows any member to post a discussion or participate in one, and activity here can be tremendously helpful in raising one’s visibility. So become visible and participate in these discussions. If you can establish a reputation in a few groups for consistently providing insightful observations, that absolutely adds to your personal brand.

LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for branding and there is so much more that could be said about it. But don’t forget the most important lesson of social media. Social media differs from traditional media because it’s a two-way street: talking and listening. When you talk a lot, it’s hard to do a lot of listening.

Ed Han is a wordsmith with a passion for networking and helping job seekers optimally leverage opportunities. The holder of a B.A. in English literature from Albright College, Ed is a collaborative client champion with particular expertise in online communities, relationship management and influencing skills. As a veteran of several industries, including publishing, financial services and fashion, Ed has honed these skills and traits in many environments, from a major Wall Street firm to a small financial services start-up to a sales office for an overseas fashion brand.

Active in the community, Ed is serving as one of several facilitators for a confidential job search group in Princeton and as the Executive committee chair for the Professional Service Group (PSG) of Mercer County. Ed is also a LinkedIn trainer.

Lastly, Ed is active in major social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn, and writes a monthly column for the PSG of Mercer County newsletter geared towards job seekers, Staying Focused. You can follow Ed on Twitter here, see what he is doing on LinkedIn here or check out the weekly updates to his blog.

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