15 semi-useful tips for squeezing value from LinkedIn

treasureI have an ongoing dysfunctional relationship with Facebook which readers of my Hits and Misses column are likely familiar. Not so with LinkedIn. In my case, LinkedIn is like an arranged marriage that never quite stuck. But I soldier on, spurred on by duty more than anticipation.

Gurus told me LinkedIn would deliver career-changing value. I derived very modest value (for comparison, maybe 1/100 of the value I’ve derived from Twitter, despite Twitter’s numerous flaws). My skepticism met resistance. I was told: ‘You get out what you put in.’

So I put a lot more time in. But what I got back usually resembled unwanted solicitations. I did get plenty of LinkedIn Endorsements, which are kind of like a Facebook Poke with a professional twist.

Conceding the point: LinkedIn does matter

But if there’s one thing that annoys me more than a spam-infested LinkedIn group, it’s becoming lazy in my own thinking. While the argument that Salesforce.com is threatened by LinkedIn is comical, LinkedIn has done one thing pretty well: monetization. Last I checked, LinkedIn was in the $1.5 billion revenue range. And that money doesn’t just come from fragile advertising revenue, but from premium subscriptions that any serious HR, sales or recruitment professional would wisely pay for.

With 277 million members, 3.5 million company profiles, and 300,00 jobs, LinkedIn is too successful to dismiss with snark. Praising LinkedIn for the minutia of a mediocre inbox redesign is going too far, but the new publishing features do look promising.

LinkedIn’s mission statement, ‘To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful’, hits me with all the force of a wet noodle, but the long-term plan to ‘build the world’s first economic graph‘ is more compelling.

Every couple years, someone invariably asks me how to get more business value out of LinkedIn. To avoid a shoddy answer, I recently kicked tires on features new and old. I also watched some really cheesy webinars, though maybe the problem is not so much the content, but assuring viewers that LinkedIn can be a ‘lead generation machine.’

Along the way, I did discover tips and tricks to add to my wee list of what actually works on LinkedIn. Some of these are unexpected, so I hope my sore posterior from watching too many webinars will be of use. Note: all the following tips apply to free LinkedIn accounts, without premium subscriptions required.

15 LinkedIn power moves

1. Degree holders should check out LinkedIn’s ‘Find Alumni’ feature, under the Network tab. It’s a pretty cool way to surface interesting alumni based on location, industry, etc.

2. Be careful with sending connection invites from LinkedIn’s standard ‘People You May Know’ page. Clicking ‘Connect’ from that page often sends an invite immediately. If you go to the individual’s profile page first, and click ‘connect’ from there, you are (usually) given the standard ‘How do you know so-and-so’ form, which allows you to type in a personalized greeting explaining the connect, rather than the generic LinkedIn invite that carries a higher risk of rejection or indifference.

3. Reference checking and pre-qualifying connections remains one of LinkedIn’s most powerful features. Prior to hiring, interviewing, or approaching an industry contact, see which connections you share (usually displayed on the right hand column of that person’s profile) and do an informal reference check on that person. The information can prove priceless and avoid egg-on-face.

4. LinkedIn has a bunch of useful contact apps and sync utilities. For iOS users, I’m told the iOS address book contact sync app is particularly effective (an Android equivalent does not exist at this time, but for most ‘Droiders, gmail contact sync might get you most of the way there).

5. Decide whether you want to know the identities of those who viewed your profile. Why? Because to view their identities, you must change your privacy settings to allow other users to see if you visited their profiles. It would take a whole blog post to detail the various settings in play here. Just be aware if you want to view the identities of those who viewed your page, LinkedIn will exact a similar privacy concession from you (which I think is bush league, but anyhow). LinkedIn’s exact wording: ‘We only show you who viewed your profile when you browse under your full name. That means whenever you switch to anonymous, your viewer history gets erased. To see all your views, be sure to always browse as yourself.’

6. Speaking of privacy, here’s a useful rundown of settings for privacy-minded job seekers – it’s also a useful review for anyone who wants to know what identity droppings they are leaving around LinkedIn.

7. LinkedIn’s advanced search capabilities are powerful (even the free version – though premium subscribers get more search options). Amongst the current free search parameters, search by job title and location are both powerful – I’ve used search to arrange client meetings on the road, and to put together trusted contacts with clients who were hiring.

8. If you define a particularly useful search you’ll be returning to in the future, save the search. Most folks don’t seem to know you can save LinkedIn searches. LinkedIn will email you with weekly updates on those search results (free accounts get three free searches -this feature would be more useful if it was daily, but even weekly, it still has some use cases).

9. ‘You should only connect with those you know well’ – wrong. On Facebook, I’d agree, but LinkedIn’s most powerful tool is search, and search is ineffective if you only have a small collection of first degree contacts. The most successful LinkedIn users have a reasonably diverse network. Having a connection with someone does not mean you are vouching for them as a reference.

10. Consider publishing on LinkedIn. Not everyone has received the new publishing feature, it’s invite-only for now. If you don’t have it, you could still post a tempting excerpt from a blog post as a status update and link out to your company blog. For what it’s worth, I’m getting significantly more engagement on links I share on LinkedIn than I do from my Facebook business page, though both companies will tweak their algorithms on what content shows up in feeds based on their interests, so it’s never good to become too reliant on one channel.

11. Don’t quit groups just because they are overrun with spam. I had a colleague tell me, ‘I’m quitting almost all my LinkedIn groups.’ Big mistake – usually. Why? Because if you want to connect with others in your industry, shared group memberships is one of the few ways you can do it – unless you don’t know them as friend or co-worker. Otherwise you are stuck begging for a third party introduction – a truly awkward LinkedIn feature that should be abolished.

12. For most brands, subject matter expert groups are the most powerful tool on LinkedIn. Company pages are ok, but it’s the topical groups that spur the most engagement (though to have any chance of success, a LinkedIn group MUST be aggressively moderated). Two shining examples from the HCM space: The HR Technology Conference runs an exceptionally valuable LinkedIn group. HCM consultant Jarret Pazahanick has another high quality group built on the same principles, the SAP and SuccessFactors group. Both groups have thousands of members, but more importantly, active, on-topic discussions – which unfortunately is more than most brands can say about their stale, brand-centric groups. Brands are better off sending their own experts into active topical groups to share information (some training may be needed). Set your best people free to interact in their expert domain – on LinkedIn and elsewhere.

13. Use your LinkedIn home page as an influencer discovery and rejection center. The basic LinkedIn feed is notorious for being flooded with trivial status crud. Nor does LinkedIn provide sophisticated filtering tools (like unsubscribing to one person’s busy updates). But if you select ‘shares’ from the filter pull down, and scroll through every week or so, you’ll find a few folks with good ideas who deserve a better fate than your clogged stream. Find a way to subscribe to their stuff via a more effective channel (example: subscribe to their blog posts via email or RSS).

14. In the chaos of one word endorsements, thoughtful written recommendations carry more weight. But when you request one, ask your reference to write something specific about outcomes you achieved – ideally something quantifiable that goes beyond something nice. Ask them to be fair, and not to write something that sets off BS detectors.

15. Your HR and marketing teams need to communicate regarding LinkedIn activity. In many cases, HR provides the content fodder (e.g. positions you are hiring for) that is the best way to advertise on the platform. Many indicate in their preferences that they would like to be approached about job offers and opportunities. Why market to someone when you can just hire them?

Verdict

The idea behind LinkedIn was to become a compulsive daily professional visit – similar to what Facebook has achieved on the personal networking side. In other words, to go well beyond a static online resume holder. But aside from active job seekers and those tied into a vigorous group, LinkedIn hasn’t gotten there. Endorsements and other notifications are punchless attempts to create that daily indispensability.

The publisher platform may be the way LinkedIn finally adds the right professional glue. One of the webinars I listened to insisted that LinkedIn was just another platform to learn, but that ‘it’s just marketing in the end’.

That’s fundamentally wrong. It may be a clue to LinkedIn’s struggle for daily impact. Networking between trade shows just isn’t the hard part anymore. The hard part is developing professional mastery, and creating social objects/content that embody that mastery in ways that are appealing to consume.

If you pull that off, you won’t have to attend LinkedIn networking webinars, because people will track you down. And that’s the position you want to be in. But in the meantime, it’s not bad to have a few hard-won tricks handy. Even the most accomplished still have to work the room from time to time.

End note: This piece assumes some general experience with LinkedIn. If you have team members new to getting something decent out of LinkedIn, send them to LinkedIn: 10 Steps to a Stronger Profile and this Nimble webinar on using LinkedIn for lead generation. Five LinkedIn Habits to Avoid in 2014 is also useful.

Image credit: Treasure © olly – Fotolia.com
Disclosure: Salesforce.com and SAP are diginomica partners as of this writing.

Jon Reed

Jon Reed

Jon Reed has been involved in enterprise communities since 1995, including time spent building ERP recruiting and training firms. These days, Jon is a roving blogger/analyst, and also counsels vendors and startups on go-to-market strategy. He is a diginomica co-founder, Enterprise Irregular, and purveyor of multi-media content. Jon is an advocate for media over marketing; he sees diginomica as a chance to disrupt tech media, with the BS-weary enterprise reader in mind.
Jon Reed

@jonerp

Enterprise Irregular, diginomica co-founder + SAP Mentor who blogs/videocasts on the enterprise, w/ dash of bootstrappin' + media hacks. OK, I rant sometimes.
Jon Reed
  • jonerp says:

    applebyj John some very solid points there. The network quality point is a good one, I like to use that to see who our mutual connections are. You can learn a lot by the nature of those mutual connections, as kind of a snapshot of the caliber of that person’s network. Of course that doesn’t always fly if that person is in a different field, but as you say there are other ways to dig into that. 

    True on direct messages….at conferences and online I often say “ping me on LinkedIn” versus giving out my email address (assuming I am on the run for example, or don’t want my email out there online for spam bots. Though I find 9 times out of ten that conversation eventually shifts off of LinkedIn, it can be a good way to make that first connect. 

    On the art of giving point, that’s definitely true but it applies well beyond LinkedIn to any social networks you are hanging out on. There are almost always small gestures that actually mean a lot. And if you take a bit more time – for example I will sometimes write an unsolicited recommend on LinkedIn for someone who has come through for me. But that also shifts the conversation away from “what’s in it for me?” to “what problems can I solve/how can I contribute” which is a far better professional outlook, despite the tone of this blog post. :)

  • jonerp says:

    BoobBoo Thanks for that – to be honest I’m sure I missed some other key LinkedIn features because most of the best ones are not obvious, and the tend to require some effort to finagle. But this is a great one I haven’t tried. From running recruiting firms I can vouch for the importance companies place on completed projects, especially those with favorable outcomes. :) 

    To be able to capture such projects tied into your main employment history – perhaps eventually with interactive demos and so forth, sparks the imagination.

  • applebyj says:

    Hey Jon,

    You are indeed the master of primary research. I agree with everything you wrote and there are a few things I’d add to this.

    1) I use LinkedIn to judge someone by the quality of their network. Are they mostly LinkedIn to people that I respect, or not? Highly effective people congregate together.

    2) You didn’t mention direct messages and InMails. I think these are a good way to connect with people, provided you make it contextual. I ignore generic InMails, but I often respond to something which is tailored to me. It’s a good way to get in tough with someone that you were referred to, but whom you don’t already have a relationship.

    3) Practice the art of giving on LinkedIn. I quite often give a little time to someone who asks, and sometimes it helps them, and sometimes it helps both of us.

    John

  • BoobBoo says:

    Jon,

    Great article, one I think you missed is the ability to add projects that you have worked on. I think it is designed for actual work based project, although I add all my roles as separate ‘employments’ linked to Capgemini. So for me I would use it as a record of my side projects and link to things like GitHub or SCN as an illustration of the project and it’s progress/outcomes.

    It is like an extension of the developer mantra that Github is their unoffical CV, LinkedIn has provided similar functionality in the same location as their ‘actual’ CV

    Chris