When you think of networking, it’s easy to think of name tags, free hors d'oeuvres, and awkward introductions. But, in today’s digital society, there are plenty of other ways to meet new people and grow your web of professional contacts.
What’s one of the best ways? LinkedIn.
It’s a great platform for making connections and finding like-minded professionals—as long as you know how to use it correctly. And, that’s exactly what today’s “Dear Kat” question is all about:
“Dear Kat, I’ve heard so much about the importance of using LinkedIn to grow my network and build my professional reputation. But, honestly, I’m not too familiar with how to use everything, and I’m worried about doing something that only makes me look bad. Do you have any tips for making the most of LinkedIn?”
This is a great question, and major kudos to you for being proactive and getting informed about the best ways to use the platform before just diving right in!
While there are plenty of LinkedIn critics out there (and, in all honesty, some of them bring up some pretty worthy points), I’m still a firm believer that it’s a useful—perhaps even necessary—tool to build a strong network and reputation. So, let’s cover some tips you can use to squeeze every last drop of goodness out of LinkedIn.
1. Maintain an Updated Profile
Would you go to an in-person networking event and spit out an outdated elevator pitch or pass out an old, inaccurate business card? Probably not. So, why would you let your LinkedIn profile collect those cobwebs?
Think of your profile like your online resume—which means you want to keep it as up to date as possible, so that you can ensure it always sets the right impression of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.
Reserve some time every couple of months (or even every month, if you can swing it!) to give your profile a quick once-over and update any information that is no longer current. That way, you can rest assured that anybody who decides to glance at your profile is getting the most accurate information about you and your career!
2. Keep it Professional
Yes, LinkedIn is a social network at its core. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll want to treat it like you do Facebook, for example.
LinkedIn goes so far as to define itself as a “professional network”, which means you should plan to keep all communications on the platform strictly professional. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your boss or your colleagues, don’t plan to post it on your profile.
While it’s a great idea to share updates frequently and show that you’re active and engaged in the space, you should avoid getting too personal with what you post. By all means, share news of your recent promotion or that cause you volunteer with. But, your photos from your latest vacation to Barbados? Those are better suited for Facebook.
3. Send Connection Requests
Let’s refer back to our analogy of being at an in-person networking event. Would it do you any good to grab your plate of cheese and crackers and then stand in the corner with your head down? Probably not. In order to make the most of networking, you need to be proactive.
If you meet somebody you’re interested in keeping in touch with? Make sure you connect with him or her on LinkedIn after the fact! If you’ve never actually met the person, but admire his or her work and would like to start a relationship? Send a connection request—and make sure that you personalize the message that goes along with it!
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to personalize the message for every single request you send—rather than relying on the form letter that LinkedIn auto-fills for you. This doesn’t need to be anything complicated (you have limited characters, after all!). But, make sure you explain who you are, what you do, and why you’re interested in connecting.
Just think—you wouldn’t march up to someone at an event, ask for their business card without introducing yourself, and then turn around and walk away, would you? You need to build some rapport first, and that same rule holds true on LinkedIn.
4. Join Groups
So, maybe you want to use LinkedIn to meet new people. But, you’re left with one big question: Where are you supposed to find these people? Doing random searches seem inefficient, and you want to be able to find professionals that you already have something in common with.
LinkedIn groups are a great way to do this. There are groups for almost everything—for professionals in your industry, people from your alma mater, or even people who share a common interest or passion.
Find a few groups that interest you and then engage in some conversations there. It’s the perfect way to meet some new people that you already share some common ground with!
5. Be Authentic
Yes, you want to put your best foot forward and establish a positive reputation on LinkedIn. But, that doesn’t mean you should be phony or disingenuous.
Much like on your traditional resume, don’t embellish or blatantly lie on your LinkedIn profile. That will only come back to bite you.
Additionally, when it comes to offering recommendations or endorsing other people’s skills, only do so for the people you’ve actually worked closely with—and thus, can truly speak to their skillset and experience.
Dishing out loads of half-hearted endorsements in the hopes of those people turning around and boosting your own skills will ultimately only make you look like a LinkedIn spammer. And, that’s not exactly the message you’re trying to send.
LinkedIn can be an invaluable tool for solidifying your professional reputation and growing your web of contacts—as long as you know how to use it effectively. Put these five tips to work for you, and you’re sure to use the platform to its full potential.