Hundreds of articles have been written about this so there is no point in trying to replace all that good advice. The key point to note is that LinkedIn ranks better than most social networks and is considerably better than its rivals for B2B purposes. Most companies fail to make the most of it, even those that do a better job than the majority of their competitors.
There are many things that businesses should be doing with LinkedIn, such as providing useful content to assist their prospective customers, but this article will be restricted to set-up issues.
Businesses should regard the personal profiles of their employees as landing pages for their prospective customers. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Companies obviously don’t own their employees’ profiles but they can offer help and advice which will improve the profiles both for the employee and for the company. It may be that something should be written into employment contracts to ensure that there is permission from the employees.
Furthermore, businesses should encourage employees, especially customer-facing employees, to build their networks by engaging on LinkedIn with people in the company’s target market. The thought process that shies away from this on the basis that the employee may leave and work for a rival is outdated. The employer that helps employees to get more out of social media is much more likely to hold onto its best employees. It is part of CPD (continuous professional development).
So what sort of help can be offered for Personal Profiles?
A Professional Profile Photo (Headshot)
It is a proven fact that a professional headshot of a smiling person will be much more attractive than a poorly photographed image or an inappropriate image. The worst impression of the lot is when there is no image at all occupying the space reserved for it. If the employee has good reason not to have their headshot shown then there are perfectly good avatars that should be used in place of no image at all. The company logo should not be used in this spot, it is supposed to be a person.
A Background Image which conveys what you do and how you are qualified
The majority of individuals don’t load a background image but it is a large area of “real estate” that is available to convey an impression. The image can contain text as well as graphics. What companies don’t want is maverick employees using inappropriate background images and nor do they want a huge diversity in the images used. So why not produce a company library of background images, formatted to the correct size, that staff are encouraged to use? There could be several different ones for different departments depending on the size of the company.
A Concise, Impactful Profile Headline
The profile headline conveys an impression, possibly the first impression, similar to the background image. So the same principles should apply to these headlines as to the background image, i.e. no mavericks, a degree of consistency and an approved message.
A Well Written / Developed Summary written with the audience in mind
LinkedIn has its own search engine and the use of keywords in the 2000 character summary is one area where companies can improve their chances of being found for the things they wish to be found for. Left to their own devices, employees will write about themselves as if they are looking for a job or will simply leave this area blank. Instead, there should be some carefully thought out paragraphs that all employees should be encouraged to incorporate into their profiles. A complete profile summary incorporating the 2000 characters should be produced for the customer-facing staff.
More than 500 connections
LinkedIn has always shown the number of connections up to 500 but has shown any number above that as “500+” so you don’t know if the person has 501 connections or the maximum allowed, currently 30,000. Any profile showing 500+ will, therefore, always appear more impressive than one with less than 500. Bear in mind that each new connection becomes your 1st level connection and all of their 1st level connections become your 2nd level connections. So it is always more worthwhile to connect with someone with 500+ connections than anyone with less than 500 connections. LinkedIn becomes more useful to you the more connections you have, especially 2nd level connections.
A Well-Constructed List of Professional Experience
These areas also have 2000 characters to play with and can be used to enhance SEO as well as the attractiveness of the person concerned. Employees should be helped to identify areas that apply to them that are worthy of an entry and then they should be given help in making the best use of the 2000 characters available. This may not necessarily help the company but it will be viewed by employees as an example of the company helping them.
Well Developed Skills & Endorsements
The skills & endorsements section allows individuals to select up to 50 pre-determined areas for which they can be endorsed by third parties, with 3 selected as always visible and therefore most likely to be endorsed. Although these endorsements are relatively easy to obtain and perhaps do not carry much weight, it is a relative game. If you are comparing two companies and one has staff with lots of relevant endorsements and the other has hardly any, which company do you think is most likely to be selected for further investigation? Therefore, the company should check that each staff member has the appropriate skills selected for endorsement and, in particular, the best 3 selected for visibility. Incidentally, LinkedIn has recently made it more difficult to endorse using a mobile which may be rolled out to desktop soon. That makes these endorsements all the more valuable.
Recommendations from Customers, Peers & Colleagues
Recommendations carry much more weight as they are freeform text rather than tick boxes and they identify who has written the recommendation. The last two recommendations are shown by default on your profile so a profile with only one or no recommendations may look a little naked, a little like a profile that has less than 500 connections.
Involvement in Select LinkedIn Groups
Groups help to identify an individual and if there are no groups shown on a profile it might indicate that the person concerned has no interests and, by extension, may not add much value as a connection. So companies could suggest groups to their employees so that if they don’t have any better ideas themselves they would at least belong to groups that might make them look better to prospective clients. By the same token, some companies may like to question some of the groups employees belong to if they create the wrong impression.
LinkedIn is essentially a Curriculum Vitae and, to the extent that you might include your education on your CV, you should include your education on your personal profile. It may well open doors later in life as you will be notified by LinkedIn when it spots a match on another LinkedIn member’s profile.
Projects can be used to expand on experience and can illustrate corporate teamwork or individual achievements. From a company perspective, if they are proactively looking to develop their staff then why would they not provide templates that staff members could add to their profiles when they complete some training or assignment?
Publications / Written Works
These are more personal achievements but from a corporate perspective, there should be an ongoing effort to produce promotional material for the benefit of the company. Someone has to produce them and why not attribute their production to key employees who contributed the most even if there was input from outside agencies? A company with employees producing impressive publications will always appear more professional compared with a company that does not reveal this information.
A Background Image which conveys what you do and how you are qualified
The company background image is slightly larger than the personal background image but should also be used to set the tone. It should resonate with the personal background images provided by the company to its staff and be instantly recognisable.
A Well Written / Developed Summary
Likewise, the company summary information should be written for the benefit of future clients rather than for any other purpose. The text is searchable and therefore should use appropriate keywords.
There are very few companies that are pro-active in helping its employees to make the most of LinkedIn. Doing so will greatly increase the chances of picking up new clients and a side benefit is that employees will value the help provided.