Maybe you think of LinkedIn as primarily an online resume, or a database of potential employees. Take it one step further — LinkedIn is rapidly emerging as a vehicle for demonstrating expertise and thought leadership, through displaying content that an individual has developed.
Before going further, let me say that I have no relationship with LinkedIn, other than having my profile listed there.
The idea of LinkedIn as content vehicle works in three ways:
- Your personal profile should display content that you have developed, to show the expertise in your work.
- In many cases (think business professional firms and tech start-ups) clients come to a company largely because of the expertise it offers — and will be more likely to trust in this expertise if its principals show that they are credible thought leaders. So, it benefits the company if its star employees demonstrate their thought leadership through an impressive LinkedIn profile.
- Company pages are a good way to provide content through status updates that link to white papers, articles, videos, eBooks, and other evidence of the organization’s thought leadership.
Take, for example, a clothing manufacturer that sources sustainably-farmed fiber from a community in central Africa, and wants to show that it ”gives back” to the community. Its development projects must be well run and must genuinely improve the lives of people who provide the fiber it uses.
So, the company hires someone, I’ll call her Noella, who is an acknowledged content authority on trade-not-aid sustainable development. To avoid being accused of greenwashing, it needs to show that Noella is a well-regarded expert in her field who is acknowledged by her peers to be an authority on current best practices.
Enter Noella’s LinkedIn profile.
If Noella is like many of us, when you Google her name, her LinkedIn profile is the first result that comes up. That makes it important. So, let’s scroll through what should be on a thought leader’s LinkedIn profile.
- Start with Noella’s headline, appearing right below her name. Any really significant piece of content she’s developed (such as a book she’s authored on sustainability) should be mentioned here. LinkedIn offers 120 characters, so use them.
- Noella’s summary should mention her accomplishments: professional papers and articles she’s written, books she’s authored or contributed to, and other evidence of thought leadership in her field.
- The Update section near the top of her profile should be renewed frequently — once a week or a few times a week, if possible. Here, Noella could place a link to the latest entry in her blog, or to articles she’s written, or to mentions of speeches she’s given. This will demonstrate that she is continuing to move her profession forward, through the knowledge and advice she provides.
- Many LinkedIn users might not be aware that in their summary box near the top of their profile, under “Websites,” they can insert links to up to three sites. If they click on “other,” they can insert custom wording that invites action, such as “Subscribe to my blog” or “Follow me on Twitter.”
- Speaking of Twitter, further down the profile page is an iconic blue bird graphic. DO NOT use it: It’s considered bad practice to integrate a Twitter feed with a LinkedIn profile. Twitter is for sheer volume of flow, and LinkedIn is about quality (as opposed to quantity). The often-quoted statistic is that only about 16 percent of the population is on Twitter. The rest won’t appreciate a Twitter-scale volume of updates landing in their email inboxes. In some cases, I’ve had to “hide” (LinkedIn-speak for ‘un-follow’) people on LinkedIn, because of the flood coming in from their Twitter. This action also means their LinkedIn updates won’t be sent to me, which could be to their disadvantage if I’m in a position to reach out with a business opportunity. (UPDATE: As of June 29, 2012, Twitter no longer integrates with LinkedIn.)
- Noella can (and should) add a dedicated section on her profile for her Publications. This is one of those little-known “Add Sections” aspects of LinkedIn, and it can be used to describe and provide links to articles, books, eBooks, white papers, etc. If Noella authors a new article, for example, she should mention it in her Updates but should also note it in Publications. The reason for this is that the Update will be replaced when Noella shares newer information, but the Publications section will still carry the mention, continuing to add evidence of her credibility.
- The Reading List section is also a way to show thought leadership. Staying up-to-date on developments is important in maintaining professional currency, and LinkedIn’s arrangement with Amazon makes it easy to display the covers of recently-read books. Noella can show further thought leadership by writing thoughtful reviews of any relevant books she’s read.
- SlideShare’s integration with LinkedIn offers an additional way to show thought leadership. A stand-alone slide show is an increasingly popular way to provide information on a narrow, focused topic — particularly one that lends itself to graphic representation.
- You may not realize that you can click-and-drag to move chunks of your LinkedIn profile around to create a customized profile layout. This allows you to present key sections of your profile at the top, where searchers will be more likely to see it. For example, if Noella is a recent university graduate, it would be best to have her “Education” section near the top, while If she’s had time to develop impressive work credentials, her “Experience” section should get top billing.
Thanks to my colleague Anita Windisman (@AnitaWindisman) for her guidance on helping build my own LinkedIn profile, and for some of the ideas in this post.
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