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Imagine you are in a room full of business people and you spot someone who you know to be friendly – but they’re talking to two people who you know to be boring or unpleasant. Do you go over and talk to your friendly associate? Probably not. If he or she is talking to two people who you know to be valuable, respected or interesting contacts, are you are more likely to join the conversation? LinkedIn is like that.

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn currently has more than 470 million accounts (though less than a quarter are active). People use LinkedIn for different reasons – to search for jobs, to find people to connect with or to read news and research about their industry – but many are not making the right connections to help drive their business.
James Potter, director of The Linked In Man, describes the social network as “a bit of a monster once you lift the lid up,” he says. “You realise it does a lot of stuff that can be incredibly valuable.”
James (pictured) has learned the best way to make the beast work for you and your organisation. When he joined LinkedIn over 10 years ago, he was a sales director in a professional services firm and had 360 connections, his existing network, on the first day. He sees LinkedIn as a route to fewer, but better, meetings, and through LinkedIn networking made his employers over £10 million.
“Be aware of who you know,” he advises. “Your profile on LinkedIn is only about 20 per cent of making it work – it’s about your connections, interaction and behaviour and having clarity on who you want to be introduced or referred to. Meet and connect with the good people, but don’t accept connections you shouldn’t. If you cannot pick up the phone and ask a favour of one of your connections, there’s no real relationship there and nothing valuable for the future.”
How did you first become interested in LinkedIn?
It started from a love of networking and people generally. I think the world rotates on good relationships. I’ve always been a very networked guy. Before LinkedIn, it was a running joke that I always knew someone or knew someone who did. When you know a lot of people in business, there aren’t enough hours in the day to go for coffees. I needed an efficient way to keep in touch with people.
When I joined LinkedIn, I realised I could be seen to talk to all the people I needed to regularly without being pushy. LinkedIn allows you to put information out there that your connections can choose to consume. You can say anything, but it’s up to your audience if they acknowledge it or reply.
How do you choose the right people to connect with?
Talk to the people before you connect or ask your connections. Look at recommendations on their profile – not how many, but what sort of people are recommending them? How recent was their comment? How many have they got versus how many have they written for others? What have they said on LinkedIn recently? If I am looking at two comms professionals with the same profiles and activities, the differentiator is their social proof in recommendations.
Neilson’s report on trust says 68 per cent of people believe online reviews, so stop being quite so British about asking for recommendations. It’s a good feedback loop for you – to hear what people value about your style. No one looks for someone average on LinkedIn.
Is there anything internal communications practitioners should consider when using LinkedIn?
I cannot express enough that anyone who has a comms role needs to communicate. Anyone can see what someone has said – or not said – on LinkedIn whether you’re connected to them or not. You expect communication professionals to be saying something and matching the expectations of how they would communicate within their jobs. That doesn’t mean bashing the same messages over and over, but talking to their level 1 contacts like a human being in a business context. LinkedIn is not like Twitter. It’s not a shouty platform. You don’t need to abbreviate or use hashtags when you share what you’re doing on status updates. Internal communicators have to understand the right implication and context.
How can internal comms professionals use it in their line of work?
You can post messages from the company profile that only employees can see. Lots of companies create private groups. They’re secure, hosted and free – but they need to be heavily policed with hard moderation if you want to use them as effectively as an intranet.
The biggest challenge that’s out these is understanding the context for LinkedIn, what LinkedIn is and does, so that people look at it differently and use it to get the right messages to the right connections. Get those foundations right and it becomes an incredibly invaluable tool – otherwise what you post will make you sound like a raver on the edge of Hyde Park Corner.
If you’re trying to build a network in the business, the best way to get air time is someone saying you’re a nice person. You can only do that with your existing network if you are having real relationships and discussions.
So LinkedIn is not just about finding jobs then?
There’s a common misconception that LinkedIn is about recruitment, but dig deeper. Only 20 per cent of users are actively looking for or can be coerced into a new role. Most people are just looking to find good people to work with, including in their own organisations, or good external experts.
Recruitment is not one of the top three industries represented on LinkedIn. In the UK, IT, financial services and construction are the top three audiences for directors and above.
Where are people going wrong with their profiles?
Is the message you’re putting out there as good as you are? Linkedin is all about the people, not the business. We did research on 12,500 profiles and 90 per cent of people left their personality out. If you think about why you like working with someone, it’s not skills – it’s their style, approach, beliefs, values, personality, why you like to work where you work. Because it’s hard to write down, people leave it out. Stylistically, Linkedin is like a conversation across your desk; a discussion written down.
Also, it’s a commonly held belief that if you don’t have a photo on Linkedin, you’re less serious about your profile. Your profile is 21 times less likely to be looked at.
What are the risks?
They all come from your choice of connections. When you connect, you open a door into your world. And sometimes people don’t understand the parameters of what they should and shouldn’t say. Are you sharing intellectual property? Some companies feel they need a social media policy. I’m not a fan of these. If someone says something you don’t like or acts inappropriately, you have a HR policy to resolve that. What I do suggest is that you state in contracts that when employees leave the business, they must update all online presences to say they’ve left.

How can you help people get the most out of LinkedIn?
People don’t understand enough about LinkedIn to know what I can do. Find what’s relevant to your role and those people – let’s understand where you’re going and where your organisation is going. Get in touch and offer me coffee. Talk to me and I’ll help you.
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