October 30, 2013
Every day, millions of business professionals click on their LinkedIn accounts with an almost magical expectation that they’ve won a lottery version of the career jackpot: a message about the job of a lifetime or an incredible business prospect who’s ready to give you or your firm a six-figure contract.
But, if you’re a typical LinkedIn user, then it’s more likely that you will get an endorsement from a peer, or see a link to an interesting article posted by one of your LinkedIn connections. Or, you might become annoyed when you notice that another LinkedIn user, who chooses to remain anonymous, has looked at your profile.
Since LinkedIn launched 10 years ago, clients, colleagues and friends have asked me if they should be on LinkedIn, and if so, how they can get more out of it.
My answer has always been “yes” to the first question, for the most obvious reason: It offers potential employers, recruiters and prospective clients an opportunity to learn about you and your experience. At the very least, LinkedIn is kind of like a digital version of the Yellow Pages.
The answer to the second question, however, has always been less defined. I’m still trying to crack the code.
With more than 238 million users as of September 2013, LinkedIn has proven itself to be the premier social media platform for business professionals. It’s all business all the time on LinkedIn, whereas a post on Facebook about a serious business issue seems out of place among the updates about kittens, vacations and the latest restaurant conquest.
With this edge of seriousness comes a wall of intimidation — business professionals constantly posting links to articles; long, back-and-forth discussions in group chat rooms; and a steady flow of profile updates. With all of this activity, it’s hard not to feel lost at times — or simply tune it all out.
One of the lessons I’ve learned is that in the world of LinkedIn, there is a “1 percent.” These are not necessarily users who have thousands of LinkedIn contacts, or members who push out a relentless stream of article links and profile updates.
Rather, these are the people who have invested the time to learn how to leverage LinkedIn as part of a deeper, systematic approach toward their networking goals — whether they want to position themselves as a center of influence, nurture a network of customers and prospects, or advance their careers.
What separates the LinkedIn 1 percent from the other 99 percent boils down to three key factors: The 1 percent understand exactly why they’re on LinkedIn, they’re willing to experiment with this still-evolving technology, and they’ve built a process — which LinkedIn is a core element of — to attract and engage the people who they want to connect with most.
An underlying theme runs beneath these factors: LinkedIn 1 percenters are dedicated to offering value beyond the transaction. In other words, they enjoy and pride themselves on giving rather than taking.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people on LinkedIn don’t really understand it,” says Kevin Knebl, co-author of the best-selling book “The Social Media Sales Revolution.” “The fact that you have a phone book in front of you doesn’t mean that you’ll become a millionaire. If you sucked at making conversation before, you’ll still suck.”
Like walking into a conference or trade show without having a clue about what we wanted to get out of it, “many us treat LinkedIn with the same carelessness,” says Dr. Michael C. Porter, APR, director of the Master of Business Communication program at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.
“LinkedIn is a magnifier,” adds Knebl. “If you haven’t developed good networking skills, LinkedIn will magnify those skills and make it appear like you really don’t know what you’re doing. On the other hand, if you’re really good at networking, LinkedIn can amplify and accelerate your efforts.”
Many business professionals have different definitions of networking. Some define it as the process of meeting others to get what you want.
Others, like Knebl and Porter, think of the platform differently. Crediting Bob Burg, author of “Endless Referrals,” Knebl defines networking as: “The process of cultivating mutually beneficial win-win relationships. In other words, people do business with people they know, like and trust.”
Think about all of your contacts with LinkedIn profiles. How many of your connections would go out of their way to champion you and your efforts? How many know you well enough to call a prospective client to give a recommendation on your behalf? How many of your LinkedIn connections are willing to share a white paper that you’ve written with other people they know? How many of your contacts did you intentionally seek out?
Wayne Breitbarth, author of “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success,” sums it up in this way: “What many people don’t understand is that your network is your net worth.”
If LinkedIn is just a tool to build a network, and not the network itself, then how can it be used more effectively to enhance the process of building your network?
Here are some tips on how to make LinkedIn work more effectively for you: