Top Tips: How to Effectively Use LinkedIn

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No longer just a place to post your resume, LinkedIn is a powerful professional-networking platform. And, like it or not, your presence there is an aspect of your career’s ‘curb appeal.’ Does yours add value, or is it untended shrubbery?

Mine was the scourge of the neighborhood, in need of a total overhaul. Before getting started, I asked SAP social media experts Bill Robb and Brian Rice for guidance. They offered excellent advice on optimizing my profile and using the site’s networking features wisely, and they agreed to let me share their expertise with readers. Here are Robb’s and Rice’s top tips for using LinkedIn to keep abreast of your industry; develop and manage contacts; and enhance your professional reputation. (I threw in a few pointers too, about using your words for maximum impact.)

Keep it current

This is a no-brainer for many of you – please, skip ahead. But if you think LinkedIn isn’t relevant unless you’re job hunting, think again. “A few years ago, LinkedIn was a job board, an online resume,” says Rice, director, social media at SAP. “Today, it’s a major content provider. This was a necessary evolution for them to draw users in, and it worked. For a lot of people, spending time on LinkedIn networking and consuming content is now a routine part of their workday.”

In other words: Now that it’s ‘normalized,’ not maintaining a LinkedIn presence can look unprofessional.   So, at a minimum, make sure your profile is current and complete. LinkedIn makes this simple by walking users through the necessary steps and tracking degree of completion. According to Rice, while ‘100-percent done’ is ideal, as long as you keep your percent of completion above 90, it’s fine.

Optimize for search engines

“If you want to be found, be tactical and keyword-optimize your profile,” says Bill Robb, also a social media director at SAP. “Use keywords that highlight your skill-set, and use them in the right place. Certain parts of your profile, like the summary, index higher (in search).”

Don’t be a dweeb

Both Rob and Rice caution that keywords should not be confused with past-their-prime platitudes. “Every time I see the word ‘guru’ I cringe,” says Rice.

“‘Ninja,’ adds Robb. “Can people just stop using ‘ninja’ – please?”

Next page: Write creative intros and customize your URL

Pimp your intro

The summary section at the top of your profile is likely to be the first visitors peruse. Unless you grab their attention (and quickly) it’s also likely to be the last. “Be as creative as possible here,” advises Robb, “but also be practical.”

In other words: While writing your intro in Klingon certainly shows personality, it’s also indecipherable.  Remember, keywords are critical here. Use terms you want to be associated with, even if they’re plain. Instead of trying to say ‘database administration’ in a newfangled way, focus instead on presenting the familiar language in an unexpected format. See my profile for one approach.

Liven up your link text too

Face it – “My Website” and “My Blog” are just lame. Luckily, LinkedIn lets you change the default link text leading to your blog, portfolio, Web site, etc. Be creative, but don’t go nuts; you want people to know what they’re clicking. Use descriptive words, a call to action, or both:
Jen’s Social Media Musings
Read my social media blog.

If you’re in a creative or liberal industry, have some fun with it:
My blog is better than your blog.

Customize your URL

Your URL doesn’t have to look like this:!$!?textlink/UGH!.  It takes just a few seconds to customize your public profile URL. (Find options near the bottom of the right-hand column.)  If possible, use your name.

Ring in the endorsements

LinkedIn Endorsements are a way for users to ‘validate’ that their connections have certain skills. Conversely, your own endorsements are an offer-of-proof that you actually possess the competencies your claim. Opinions as to their value vary. Some users love endorsements, others think them meaningless because they can be gained simply by offering reciprocity:  Endorse me and I’ll endorse you back!

“Take endorsements for what they are, and they’re actually very effective,” Robb says. “I’ve spoken to the people who developed this feature and the idea was to quickly give people a general sense of where your skills lie. It works: In five seconds, people can scan your endorsements and see what your strengths are by where you have the most.”

Next page: Recommendations, LinkedIn Today, and adding value

But focus on recommendations

Without a doubt, Robb says, recommendations are far more valuable than endorsements. “Instead of clicking a prompt, someone actually took time to write something about you personally. That says a lot.”

Rice agrees. “I don’t spend time worrying at night that I don’t have endorsements for my skills. I’d much rather have recommendations.”

Point being: Focus your time and energy on soliciting peer or manager recommendations – a minimum of three is ideal, according to our experts – and let the endorsements come as they may.

Use LinkedIn Today to keep cluelessness at bay

LinkedIn, as mentioned, has become a major content curator, delivering news, blogs, and other information from around the web. LinkedIn Today has a number of features for customizing the content you receive, among them a feed of the most-read content among  your connections – a great way keep current with news and events relevant to your industry.

“LinkedIn also has some pretty cool thought-leadership content,” says Rice, referring to LinkedIn-exclusive blogs by renowned business-leaders.

Give, give, give, and then give some more

Contribute to your network and the LinkedIn community at every opportunity, and benefits ye shall reap.  If it’s recognition you’re after, don’t join a group and spam the members with self-promotional posts. Instead, earn a good reputation by adding value: pose interesting questions and contribute to the discussion whenever you can. If you use LinkedIn Answers to seek help, answer someone else’s question. “Like a lot of things, you get out of LinkedIn what you put into it,” says Robb.