Why senior execs need to lead from the front on LinkedIn

Written by
Changeboard Team

15 Aug 2011

15 Aug 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Social meda - not just for 'young' people

Social media. It’s the preserve of the young isn’t it? For 20-somethings who wear jeans round their thighs. For people who worship at the altar of Steve Jobs, glued to their iPhones on the train, rather than reading a newspaper. For those who spend their evenings on Facebook rather than putting the kids to bed and collapsing with a glass of red in front of the telly. It’s not surprising that this view of social media pervades and that many senior executives shy away from it. But it’s a view that it’s just for the young is wrong. The average age of a Twitter user is 39 and Facebook users’ average age is 38.

If there’s one online tool that senior executives can’t afford to ignore, it’s LinkedIn (average user age: 44). As the world’s largest professional social network, LinkedIn has over 80 million members worldwide and some 4 million plus in the UK. LinkedIn is sometimes described as a 'profesionals’ Facebook' and connects you to your colleagues, clients and other people in your professional circle in order to exchange ideas and opportunities.

Why use LinkedIn?

The first thing to remember when considering LinkedIn is that it’s an online social network, not a CV advertisement tool. The benefits of using are considerable. Headhunting staff (or at least checking them out before making a hire), re-connecting with ex-colleagues and clients (it’s a very powerful sales and contact management tool), following companies’ progress, keeping track of people you’ve done business with, getting technical questions answered by peers – the list goes on.

If your role involves being a media spokesperson, then bear in mind that journalists will be looking at your profile to get the background on you before an interview (so make sure it’s well populated and accurate).

Setting up a profile is relatively straightforward (many readers will already be ‘on’ LinkedIn), but the following tips are worth bearing in mind:

  • Write a brief bio in the first person that reflects your role. Keep it short and cover salient points. Remember, it’s a networking tool and not a CV tool
  • Do not disclose any company or client information that isn’t in the public domain
  • Add your Twitter account link – but only if you use Twitter for professional purposes
  • Add your company url
  • Customise your profile with your own unique LinkedIn url, which you can put on your email signature http://www.linkedin.com/myprofile?editwp= 
  • Remember to “follow” your own company so that updates appear on your LinkedIn profile page 
  • Add a photograph to your profile. Ensure that this is a professional head and shoulders pic, not a holiday photo! Ideally, this would be the same photo you use on other professional online channels, such as Twitter or Naymz
  • Check your company page is up to date and, if not, discuss with your marketing department 
  • Look at Chris Brogan’s blog for more tips on creating your profile

Adding connections on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is all about connections. The more people you are connected to, the larger your ‘universe’ is for finding others to connect to, engage with and influence. Connections can be added via your professional and personal email programmes and searching colleagues, classmates and people you might know. You can also manually search for people, but they will only show in the search results if you are connected within three degrees of separation.

When inviting people to connect, it’s advisable to write a short message rather than using the default one (which is fine for internal use, but appears lazy externally). Please do not say self deprecating things like, “I’ve finally got around to signing up to LinkedIn” etc. Be positive and, if they are not a close contact, provide context to why you are connecting.

Important: only invite people to connect who you have met or dealt with professionally. 

Other tips:

  • When following up after meetings with prospects and external parties, considering doing a LinkedIn search instead and writing them a short introductory link in request
  • Once you have established connections, try experimenting by getting in touch with people via LinkedIn rather than email - but use sparingly otherwise people will disconnect you
  • If you want to remove a connection, you can do so via the contacts page - although only do so if necessary. Current convention is to stay connected to as many people as possible, including competitors and former colleagues - you never know when they might be prospects

Gathering recommendations together

Recommendations are given to and from LinkedIn members as recognition of the work they do. Having them on your profile adds colour and kudos, but don’t get too hung up about them - you can get good value from LinkedIn without focusing to heavily on recommendations.

If you’re a C-Level executive, it’s probably not appropriate to ask for endorsements. But if you do, make sure you don’t do this on a wholesale catch-all basis. To other LinkedIn users, this is often construed as “I’m looking for a job – please say something nice about me!” The best endorsements are those that happen spontaneously.

Participation on groups

Groups are arguably the most powerful networking feature within LinkedIn. In a nutshell, they’re private discussion forums that are built around a particular topic – for example, marketing or corporate finance. The benefit of Groups is that they provide an opportunity to crowd source ideas, answer questions or promote yourself.

Important: when answering questions that are of a product nature on Groups, please make it clear that the opinions are your own only and not those necessarily of your employer.

Other tips:

  • It’s usually best to turn off some of the email updates - if you belong to a number of groups, they can be quite annoying
  • Listen before you post - it’s a good idea to get a sense of each Group’s membership and tone before getting involved
  • Never criticise another company publicly 
  • Don’t use groups to sell or spam users with sales messages - they’re best employed when asking questions or providing support to other members of the community

In addition to groups, another feature worth remembering is answers. Here you can post a question for the LinkedIn community to answer. They work best when a user has a large follower base, so in the first instance we recommend using groups to ask questions.

Lead from the front

The most important reason of all for getting involved personally in social media - in particular, in LinkedIn - is that it sends out a strong signal to your colleagues and those who work for you that you take it seriously and it’s important for the business. If you want your company to be able to innovate online, get closer to its customers and be part of the recommendation economy, then leading from the front with an active LinkedIn profile is an absolute must.

Top tips for executives using LinkedIn

  • LinkedIn is a powerful tool, but it takes time to build a profile. Nurture it and, if you work in a sales or account management capacity, invest at least an hour a week in using it. Those who get a real return from LinkedIn use it daily
  • Build up your profile as much as you can, including at least your last two or three positions
  • Start by building up your connection base, then move on to Groups and other functionality
  • Never criticise other companies on LinkedIn, particularly competitors
  • Be mindful not to reveal any confidential information about clients, prospects or partners
  • Although a few months old, this piece on Mashable is a comprehensive guide to building your own brand on LinkedIn and this one on Social Media Examiner is also worth a read
  • Always be honest and truthful in all of your activities on LinkedIn
  • Try to log in once a week - adding the LinkedIn app is a good idea, so you can check it in downtime while travelling