Forming the final part of the trilogy, earlier episodes being:
Having recently published an entire trilogy whose gestation had consumed more than three times that of a human infant, I am now returning to another troika whose first part I published back in July 2009. Before starting, I’ll repeat something that I mentioned at the beginning of both of the previous articles; I am not a great believer in Recipes for Success, this piece reflects my journey within LinkedInLand and your path may be very different. The intention is to provide some ideas, not to offer a foolproof set of steps that will lead to instant success in the media.
I should also stress that the suggestions that I present here are related to the professional aspects of Social Media. The personal aspects are different and, while there may be some overlap, please don’t expect my recommendations to wow your friends and relations!
It may have occurred to some readers that my trilogy is winding to a close without encompassing the doyen of dozens of SM mavens; Facebook. I am probably exhibiting my occasional Luddite tendencies here, but I have always rather struggled to form the equation:
Facebook = Professional
To me throwing farm animals at other people is not 100% consistent with a medium for raising your industry profile (unless you are in on-line games development that is). If you are a B2C organisation, then I can see the point (The Arch Climbing Wall in London is a good example of a small business using Facebook well). If you are a B2B behemoth, then a Facebook presence seems more like a wheeze dreamt up by those awfully creative people in Marketing.
I do use Facebook, but used to 100% separate this from professional networking. Because I interact with a number of people that I have met through Blogging / LinkedIn / Twitter in areas outside the strictly professional (and also if I am honest as clicking the thumbs-up button is rather easy), I have strayed somewhat from this purist path of late. However it remains true that I have one sixth of the Facebook friends as I do LinkedIn connections.
Maybe at some point in the not too distant future my trio of professional Social Media outlets will become a quartet, but for now Facebook remains a peripheral business activity for me.
I joined LinkedIn in July 2005 and so have been engaged in it for much longer than I have either blogged or tweeted. However, me devoting any real time to this area dates to around the same time that I embarked on these other activities; late 2008. At that point I was looking to achieve a few, fairly limited things:
- To build on my public speaking to establish a profile in the IT industry
- To develop a network of fellow professionals, both in my native UK and more widely
- To create another platform from which to showcase my abilities and experience
- To reconnect with past colleagues
- To try out what was – even at that point – an emerging media
It is perhaps odd to think, but I believe now that item five was probably much more influential that the others back then.
Over time these objectives have morphed as I have become more familiar with LinkedIn. Today the list would more often mention either “grow” or “maintain” than “develop”. Also LinkedIn has become the main channel through which my content – such as this article – reaches people who may be interested in reading it. This is one notable aspect of LinkedIn and the observation raises two points that I will come back to later in this article. First, that LinkedIn is a great way to find, or even form, groups who are interested in niche subjects (and I am not as yet arrogant enough to think that much of what I write is in the mainstream). Second, that LinkedIn tends to work best in conjunction with other elements of Social Media; for me at least the two that I cover in the earlier articles in this series.
The Seven Habits of Highly Connected People
I tend to have an allergic reaction to articles entitled “10 steps towards successful X”. I certainly don’t have all the answers and the last thing that I would ever want to do is to stop readers thinking for themselves. However, the material I will cover in this piece, which is based on no greater insight that my own experiences, is inevitably going to fit fairly and squarely within this blogosphere cliché.
- Your page – a shop window
First things first, once you have signed up for LinkedIn, you will need to build your own page. This is not as daunting as it might seem and LinkedIn have done most of the hard work for you. Also they are always coming up with new sections and new features that will allow you to position snippets of information about yourself. However, in essence, your LinkedIn page is your shop window and it is important to realise that developing its contents merits some care and attention.
It is useful to bear in mind your main objective for using LinkedIn. If this is to get a new job, then – much like a CV – you should be looking to highlight the same things that you would highlight in a CV (try Googling “10 steps towards writing a successful CV”). However remember that you can also easily host your actual CV on LinkedIn, so it will probably be productive to take a slightly different slant on your page itself. If you are a consultant and want to generate new clients, then explaining what you offer and why it is different from others will be valuable. If you are simply interested in connecting with like-minded individuals, with whom you can converse about issues and trends in your industry or sector, then perhaps listing the types of areas that you would like to talk about is a good idea. Of course, most people will have multiple and overlapping reasons for being on LinkedIn and – if so – a measured and blended approach will probably be best.
As with a CV or a static advert, you probably have only a fleeting amount of time to engage the reader’s attention before they move on elsewhere. Given this, it makes sense to make use of things like your Professional Headline to pithily pitch yourself. It does no harm at all to also have a decent photo posted. My opinion is that a business-related one sets the right tone, but others think differently.
If you catch the eye of passers-by, then your next hook is your Status – this can be something that you type in yourself, an update from your activity on a group, recent Twitter postings, or a link to other content. Again a little thought here will pay dividends. This is a chance to convey something distinctive to your readers, so do your best to take advantage of it.
After the summary of basic career details that LinkedIn auto-generates, your next opportunity to engage with readers is the experience section. Here (within a limited number of characters) you can build on what you have led with in your Professional Headline and Status to provide a more rounded perspective of you as an individual.
Although it makes most sense to get the upper pieces of your page just right (whatever that means for you), I would recommend also paying close attention to each of the details of your career (or those that you choose to post anyway) and even interests and other information. If you do manage to engage a reader and they invest the time to go through all of your information, then the last thing you want is to put them off right at the end with a glaring typo or inane comment. Whatever your reasons for being on LinkedIn, you probably would like readers to take away the idea that you are professional in what you do and a little thoroughness never hurt anyone.
I will cover other ways in which you can use your LinkedIn page to greater effect later on, for now – as with most things in life – the more time and thought that you spend on this area, the better the results are likely to be.
- Who will you look to connect with?
There are two ways that connections are forged, you initiate the bond being formed, or someone else does. I’ll consider the second area in the next section, what type of people does it make sense for the LinkedIn user to try to actively connect with? There are a number of obvious categories:
- Current colleagues or business partners
It is becoming increasingly prevalent that connecting on LinkedIn plays the role that exchanging business cards used to in previous times (it is actually not that uncommon to see LinkedIn details on business cards either). This is the most obvious source of connections and LinkedIn will helpfully suggest people who work for your organisation as candidates.
Having recently started at a new company, I would not suggest indiscriminately inviting everyone at your place of work to connect. As and when you meet people face-to-face and begin to interact more, a LinkedIn invitation can help to expand your relationship (and also potentially showcase aspects of your experience that have not formed part of your day-to-day dealings with someone). If you gave new colleagues or business partners a copy of your CV, they would probably never read it. People do however seem to have the habit of checking out LinkedIn profiles, no matter how similar the two activities would appear to be on the face of things.
Anyone that you work with extensively at the current moment is a prime candidate for a LinkedIn contact; not least as you may be able to call on such people to recommend you at some later point (see below).
- Former colleagues or business partners
The same comments apply (and the same LinkedIn suggestions), but it may pay to be a little more discerning with this group. It might even make sense to be a little hard-nosed – think about what such a connection might do for you and what being connected to them might say about you. Of course where you have enjoyed a very good and mutually productive business relationship with someone, why would you not want to connect? If you instead occasionally came across someone in an old organisation and you don’t have much in common, the case for sending out an invitation may be much less strong.
Don’t get caught in the trap of chasing connections just for the sake of it; there are better ways to receive validation in life than via the cardinality of the set of people you are linked to!
- People who you have never met
This is a strange one. Typically the advice from LinkedIn gurus – and from LinkedIn itself – is not to make such connections. I am actually in rather close connection with several people I have never met via the combination of Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, but they generally all fall into the next section. Approaching people that you really have no business approaching is probably just as much of an antisocial behaviour on LinkedIn as it is in real life.
Unless you share a group (or pay to upgrade to a premium account), you will need the e-mail of a target connection in order for an invitation to reach such a person. If you find yourself trying to Google this, you have probably crossed a line and should carefully consider if you really want to continue in this way.
- People who you have never met, but with whom you have some other connection
What you have in common could be anything from both being members of a group on LinkedIn (see below again), to having read one of their blog articles, which you found interesting. Best is if you have actually “met” them virtually, e.g. struck up a discussion on LinkedIn, or via Twitter, or on the comments section of their (or your) blog. There are any number of people who I first “met” virtually and then physically later (see A first for me…, Another social media-inspired meeting and Some thoughts on the IRM(UK) DW/BI conference for some examples), most also were LinkedIn connections before we met face-to-face.
Aside from showing other people that you are not a sociopath (and excepting the case where friends are in a similar line of business), I’m not sure what value having cohorts of friends as connections serves. Returning to the box at the beginning of this article, maybe Facebook is the place for this.
Finally in this section, asking someone to connect doesn’t have a major downside. At best they accept. At worst they ignore you (actually at worst they write to you and say how they would love to connect except for issues A, B and C and how this is all very unfortunate, but have a nice life). If you do get snubbed, you can comfort you self by thinking that probably no one else will ever know, or indeed care!
- Current colleagues or business partners
- Who should you accept invitations from?
This is a shorter section than the previous one. The answer to the question is “all of the above”. The only exception is in the People You Have Never Met section. I used to follow the received LinkedIn wisdom of only connecting with people with whom I had had some previous interaction (either on-line or IRL). Latterly I have come to the conclusion that if someone has gone to the substantial trouble of finding, or figuring out, my e-mail and then asking to be my connection, they must have some valid reason and who am I to deny them? Of course if the valid reason is wanting to sell me something, then it is not too onerous to disconnect. This actually seems to happen less frequently than one might think.
- Groups and what to share with them
As alluded to above, groups are one of the strongest points of LinkedIn. It could be argued that they have proliferated and splintered too much since their inception, but they remain a great way to interact with people who share your interests (for me everything from Mountain Biking to Data Warehouse Architecture). Joining a group both flags your areas of enthusiasm or expertise to the reader of your profile and provides a mechanism to connect with people via just what you have in common (you can generally send an invitation to the members of one a group you belong to without needing to know their e-mail address).
However the greatest benefit of joining a group is that you can get involved in discussions. These may be responding to topics that others have raised, or web-pages that they have shared, or you may choose to initiate discussion threads of your own. For example, and anticipating the final part of this piece, I have lost track of how many of my blog articles had their genesis in LinkedIn group discussions. Of course when a group inspires you to write, you can then share the results back with the very people who provided the inspiration; a virtuous circle. You can learn a lot by just reading, but even more by jumping in and getting involved.
Particular LinkedIn groups that have inspired me to write include:
- Business Intelligence Group
- Chief Information Officer (CIO) Network
- CIO Forum
- TDWI’s Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Discussion Group
Nowadays, of the above, you are most likely to find me hanging out here:
At the time of writing there is a limit of 50 groups to which a LinkedIn user can belong. I am at that limit and probably need to do some weeding out in order to focus on the truly useful versus the mildly interesting. A final suggestion here is to – unlike me at present – devote your time to a smaller number of groups, giving each the attention that it deserves.
A final recommendation under this sub-heading: don’t get into discussions with Young Earth advocates, especially those who somehow managed to graduate from your science-based alma mater – you have been warned.
- Recommendations – giving and getting
Recommendations are another tricky area. Ideally you will receive these spontaneously, but back in the real world you may need to ask. As ever the praise of the praiseworthy is the most treasured of all, so I would strongly suggest that you do not ask for recommendations from all and sundry. Qualifications should be a) that you respect the person you are asking to recommend you, b) that you did substantive work together, c) that the person’s recommendation is pertinent to whatever you are trying to achieve on LinkedIn and d) [sadly this one is not within your control] that the recommendation conveys something other than mere platitudes. You can of course ask people to edit their recommendations, but maybe at that point the trickiness becomes terminal.
Some people suggest that recommendations from superiors, or customers are the only ones that are worth having. I say poppycock! Two of the LinkedIn recommendations that I am most proud of come from colleagues who worked for people who worked for me. If displaying man-management or leadership skills play any part in your LinkedIn objectives – and of course if such recommendations appear genuine – then surely there is an awful lot of value in any recommendation from a colleague. Perhaps solely having testimonials from people who have worked for you might not set the right tone, but having none also says something in my opinion.
- Applications – closing the loop
I mentioned above that there are other ways to jazz-up your LinkedIn page. Amongst these are add-in applications. The number of these has increased of late, but don’t expect the Apple or Android app stores. There are apps that will let you share presentations, tell people what you are reading (via Amazon), or flag your travels around the globe (useful if you are a rock band on its world tour, less helpful for a humble ITer like me). I only use a couple, but they both seem to add value.
First I use Box.net, a cloud-based document repository on which I store nothing more exciting than my CV and some other career documentation. The app tells you when a document is downloaded (though obviously not who has downloaded it) and I am surprised how many readers have taken advantage of this. I hope that they found my CV a riveting read.
Second I use WordPress’ own add-in which allows content from my blog to be displayed (see next section). The app doesn’t provide tracking information, but I can tell whence (anonymised) visitors to my blog arrive and a fair percentage appear to originate from this LinkedIn feature.
Despite a slow start, I anticipate a growing number of LinkedIn apps becoming available in coming months. It will be interesting to see what other opportunities these provide. The core value of LinkedIn is going to continue to be vested in the sections that I describe above, but I can see future applications enhancing this in interesting ways.
- Combination with other elements of Social Media
Way back in the first segment of this series I said that I felt that they interplay between Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn was more powerful than any single element. I have probably come into contact with a wider range of people via Twitter, maybe due to the low friction associated with following someone, but most of the more useful relationships have also become connections on LinkedIn. I mention above that LinkedIn groups have inspired a number of my blog articles. These include some of my most highly-rated pieces such as Who should be accountable for data quality?, A single version of the truth? and “Why Business Intelligence projects fail”. Perhaps the fact that they related to topical issues that people clearly wanted to discuss was a contributory factor in their popularity. I like to think that I often take a different slant from the original discussions on LinkedIn, but I would have often not put fingertip to keyboard without the initial conversation giving me a nudge.
Of the three media, I put the most effort into blogging (as attested to by the length of this piece for example), but I interact with people more on LinkedIn. The way that WordPress reports referring URLs makes it difficult to be precise, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that linkedin.com is my most frequent referring domain by some way. My Twitter output has fallen somewhat in recent months, both due to other things consuming my time and also my developing opinion that it is becoming tougher to tell signal from noise. Nevertheless, it is a very common occurrence that a Twitter follow leads to a LinkedIn invitation in rapid succession and vice versa; it helps that each of the three sites have many links off to the others.
You can link your Twitter output to LinkedIn, but I find that this can be a bit overwhelming for me, let alone people reading my LinkedIn page, so have generally turned this off again. Although I think there is great value in forming connections between LinekdIn and Twitter, I also think it is important to remember that they are distinct media which people peruse for different reasons, albeit with some overlap.
It has been a long journey, but I have now completed my traverse of the triangle formed by Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, with each “side” having its own dedicated article. I think that I will risk over-extending this analogy by saying two things.
First in arriving back where I started it is important to state that you can never declare success in Social Media, you are only as good as your last article or tweet (OK maybe the bar is not set that high for tweets). In fact I feel mildly motivated to re-read the first article in this trilogy and see which of my own blogging tips I have been ignoring recently. As with most activities, Social Media success is driven by practice and, to borrow from the other Seven Habits by continually sharpening the saw.
Second a triangle, if properly formed, has structural integrity beyond that of its component parts. I think that the same holds true for the three parts of Social Media that I have covered in this series. For those readers who have persevered this far, there is just one thing that I would like you to take away from this article. This is the strength generated by using Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn in a mutually reinforcing way.