If LinkedIn formed a country, it would be more populous than France. Among the over 70 million people, there’s a huge multicultural business community, in essence a personal learning network, of professionals who help each other, teaching, coaching, answering queries, recommending, asking for assistance, etc. We share with little or no expectation of getting anything back in return, although, of course, business attributable to those contacts is always welcomed. In my 8 year small business career, as LinkedIn becomes a more crucial part of my marketing strategy, I practice that “pay it forward” mentality: giving and receiving. New business prospects find their way to me because I “work” LinkedIn. I suggest you do too. Yes, I still get on the phone or visit clients face-to-face. I have to. Then I follow up on LinkedIn and include them as a part of my own community.

Here are ten ways to “work” your LinkedIn presence, making it vibrant and fruitful. I have helped my webinar listeners and the coaching clients using these strategies. Start with one or a couple of them, layer more of them in, keep going. 

  1. Nurture your profile
  2. Enhance your profile with the LinkedIn tools
  3. Give of yourself and comment
  4. Avoid the Mutual Admiration Society
  5. Join, participate, and leave groups
  6. Ask open-ended questions
  7. Make a good first impression
  8. Have a good visual image
  9. Invest time wisely
  10. Make your smartphone smarter

Let’s elaborate on each of these to help you get the most of LinkedIn.

Nurture your profile

Setting forth a dull, static LinkedIn profile, expecting the world to find its way to you, is not reasonable in today’s small business world. In fact, it’s foolhardy. A profile that looks like a cut-and-paste job from your resume loses the spotlight on you as a brand. Create a honed company profile page too. Look around, observe how others express themselves on LinkedIn, and adapt rich keyword clauses to your personality. Don’t stop there. Keep amending it, since we all change over time. Every improvement you make to your LinkedIn profile is an investment in your brand. That makes your LinkedIn profile proclaim to the other 60 million of us, “This is exactly WHY you would want to work with me!”

Enhance your profile with the LinkedIn tools

We all labor over our marketing materials. Once perfected, post them on LinkedIn for trusted connections to see, share, and admire. Free tools on LinkedIn await you. Start using the Box.net and SlideShare tools and you will instantly enhance your profile with more depth and your own story. Show off “why you,” in pdfs, jpegs, mp3s, slide decks, YouTube videos, etc. via your marketing materials. I direct potential clients via email to the URL of the specific material I want them to review. Put your LinkedIn personal URL on your email signature, all marketing materials, and your business card. Interested parties will want to know more about you. Tell us how well-rounded you are. What books are you reading? What events and trips are you scheduling? What were the results from informal polls you operated that will benefit others? Enhance and tell.

Give of yourself and comment

Your LinkedIn contacts are busy showing themselves in the best light. Help them out: post encouraging and honest, complimentary comments on top of theirs.  Add to the conversation; give an additional useful piece of information or comment in an appropriately positive way that adds to the discussion. Why? Because everyone gains and in doing so, you stand out. Conversely, when you post a headline on LinkedIn and receive encouragement from a colleague, you get the payback. You never know who in the LinkedIn community will see your interchange. As a result, new potential business relationships can ensue. The success stories abound at my every webinar or presentation. It really works. Don’t grandstand, participate!

Avoid the Mutual Admiration Society

Offer an unsolicited recommendation to someone, and that person will remember you forever. Don’t be bashful about asking someone for a recommendation either; LinkedIn expects you to ask. It’s designed to be really easy to recommend or ask someone to recommend you, so go for it! Post the new recommendation to your profile page when you are satisfied with it. But one caveat, don’t post your recommendation about Bob and have Bob recommend you on the same day. That looks like the mutual admiration society. Wait a few days or week between the 2 postings, and then you can effectively publicize your recommendation to potential clients or colleagues.  Give and receive, but not simultaneously.

Join, participate, and leave groups

Anyone can belong to 50 groups free. But you should be a vibrant, active member of those groups to get a huge return on your investment! Find interesting groups, participate, and leave when they no longer suit your needs. I learned which netbook brands and models to consider by joining such a group and asking their expert opinion to guide my purchase, then I left. Thanks, group! Join the groups that interest you and watch the activity for a few days. Decide how frequently you want the group updates: weekly or daily. Then jump in with both feet! Participate and you will be surprised how people will help you, or appreciate your help. Through these groups you will recognize names of long-lost schoolmates, work colleagues, and friends. People constantly move around, and new connections with old colleagues are the sweetest. It works in reverse too: I was approached by a webinar listener who remembered a posting I made to a group we share. She referred me as a subcontractor to an agency she is working with and I made a business proposal to help them; that’s what I call a great referral.

Ask open-ended questions

While you are in those groups, milk them for the wisdom they collectively possess. In the preceding section I mentioned participating in groups. Seek answers to engaging, relevant questions and you will reap benefits. A potential client asked me to look into something for which I had no clue where to find the answer, so I posted an open-ended question to my pertinent LinkedIn groups, and weeks later the perfect answer came from someone I do not know! I relayed the answer to the client and they we impressed I followed up and had THE right response to help them. I have seen timely open-ended questions lead to 80+ conversational answers in a group; that tells you it’s a hot topic; if so many people are involved enough to comment, it’s useful for your knowledge base and the personal learning network you are creating among colleagues and clients.

Make a good first impression

When offering to link to someone for the first time, LinkedIn sends a default message “I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. – (your name).” How dull and mundane. Why should they bother? What have you done to make yourself memorable? Nothing. You must differentiate yourself: remind that person how or where you met him/her, how you can mutually benefit each other, and what actions should be taken. Send something like this:

“Bob, thank you for the great conversation after today’s luncheon about ways we could work with each other. Later this week I will follow up on the areas we discussed. So please join my network as we increase each other’s networking connections. Best regards and speak to you soon, Marc”

What should you do if you are asked to link to someone you do not know or recognize?  If you follow my rule above, no one will ignore your outreaching.  But for the people who try to link to me and do not understand this principle, first I ask them to identify themselves further. If I am still uncertain if this is worthwhile, I respond with:

“Sorry.  It’s my policy to link to people I have met and gotten to know or do business with. I am not sure this qualifies accordingly so I will respectfully decline.”

Have a good visual image

Your profile photo is essentially your brand’s first impression. We decide with our eyes. So showing your best face, put up a great photo. Mine is a Photoshop version of a picture taken at a neighbor’s Christmas party 2 years ago. Or get a professional headshot. But let’s see that face, and preferably in the context of what you do for a living. If you are an attorney, show us a picture of you from the shoulders up, at the desk, on the phone. You get the picture, pun intended.  Often people look at your LinkedIn profile while speaking to you on the phone. Any picture is better than none at all, but a good photo will reflect on you best. I routinely meet new business contacts for the first time at a landmark public place or coffee shop. I look up my contact’s LinkedIn profile and memorize their photo. I point them to my LinkedIn profile and my photo, to reduce the uneasiness of having to blindly find each other.

Invest time wisely

Set aside a certain amount of time each day to “work” LinkedIn, and be consistent in doing this. Manage the time you spend doing this, tightening your profile, contributing, seeking help, keep looking for connections.  Use dead time like train commutation, meeting breaks, in between appointments, etc. to keep on top of your increasingly active LinkedIn profile.  I set a timer. I decompress at the end of the day by working my LinkedIn connections. It helps me close the business day mentally and still provides me the overnight responses I need for tomorrow.  You will learn what works best for you, but be dedicated and consistent in optimizing LinkedIn.

Make your smartphone smarter

We all rely on our smartphones; having more information at our fingertips makes them even more useful tools. Download all your LinkedIn contacts to your contact database such as Outlook and further download to your smartphone. That makes you an attractive, effective go-to-person, anywhere you go, if anyone wants your referral to a colleague, with immediate access to his/her contact details.  LinkedIn’s help function provides very clear instructions how to do this, customized to your software. Don’t forget to update routinely since you will add and drop contacts all the time.  And back up your LinkedIn contacts so you always have access to it just in case.

Take Care of It and Feed It Well

So, there you go, the collected top 10 nuggets to care and feed LinkedIn, resulting from my lectures, webinars and teaching hundreds of professionals, their questions and war stories. How you use LinkedIn depends on your dedication, personality and small business branding, but knowing the most effective tips and techniques may just land you another piece of business down the road.  I continuously find sharpening LinkedIn to be a differentiator in a sea of competitors. Learn from those you respect and hold dear, give back to your peers and receive their rewards, and I hope you will find LinkedIn more indispensable too.

About the Author(s)

Marc W. Halpert

Since leaving the corporate world over eight years ago, Marc W. Halpert started two companies offering specialized paperless electronic payment services to optimize cash flow and speed of collections to retailers; small- and medium-sized businesses (Your Best Interest LLC); professional and membership groups; and not-for-profit organizations (e-giving).

Nurturing your online community