LinkedIn is one of the most polarising social networks out there. It’s a bit like Vegemite – you either love it or hate it!

There’s very rarely a middle ground.

So, what happens on LinkedIn?

Effective use of any social network starts with understanding who’s there and what they’re doing.

A quick look at LinkedIn’s “About Us” page uncovers the following:

“LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 500 million members in over 200 countries and territories.”

At its core are the profile pages of those members. There they display, amongst other things, work history, education, skills, blog posts and examples of their work in many different formats.

LinkedIn members’ activity includes building and maintaining their personal brand, networking, sharing and consuming content, recruiting, seeking new jobs or business opportunities and all manner of professional research.

How does this influence how I should use LinkedIn?

Now you know what people are doing, you can begin to understand what value there might be for you and your business.

The answer is likely to be different for everyone.

For example, a designer who does a lot of work for corporate clients might use LinkedIn for business development, building their brand as well as gaining credibility via client recommendations and displaying their portfolio of work.

Whereas for a wedding photographer, branding, business development and recommendations might be more effective on Facebook or Instagram. Their focus could be more on networking with others in the industry, sharing/consuming professional content, contributing to photography groups and discussions, whilst also maintaining an up to date profile and portfolio of work.

The point is that most interactions and activities are professionally motivated.

Where do I start?

Regardless of what you do, the most critical aspect of your LinkedIn presence is your personal profile. Start there!

The most important aspects of a LinkedIn profile are:

1. Profile Picture – A simple headshot with a plain background is fine. These days most smartphones are more than capable of taking a photo of suitable quality if you don’t have access to a camera.

LinkedIn’s own research shows “…just having a picture makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others.”

Of course, if you want a pro headshot done, that’s fine too. These days, many photographers specialise in portrait shots for Linkedin. I’m sure there are several members of the Rounded community who would be delighted to help!

Profile shot courtesy of Rachel Smith

*Pro Tip #1 – Smile and make sure your face takes up at least 60% of the frame. Avoid cropped group shots or photos taken after midnight at a party!

*Pro Tip #2 – A cover image will add a lot of visual appeal to your page. When choosing one, try to match the theme to your profession. If you don’t have anything suitable, search Unsplash for some free high-quality images.

2. Headline – After your profile picture, this is one of the first things a visitor to your LinkedIn profile notices.

You can go with your job title (same as everyone else) or you can think a little more creatively. Why not introduce an element of your own value proposition which makes it easier for viewers to understand exactly how you can help them?

*Pro Tip – Check out this blog post on crafting an engaging headline. (NB: I guarantee you’ll hate some of the examples here but the principles are sound – just put your own spin on it)

3. Summary – One of the most powerful yet poorly used features of LinkedIn. So often I see a mash up of buzzwords thrown together in an attempt to sound impressive – it really doesn’t.

Your summary represents an opportunity to hook your audience by displaying the passion for what you do and the value you bring to your clients every day.

Think about how you would describe what you do to someone you just met. Isolate what gets you out of bed in the morning and puts a spring in your step. That’s what should form the core of your summary.

There’s a great example here from freelance photographer Gallant Lee:

If you already have a summary, read it out to yourself or someone who knows you well enough to respond honestly. If you cringe or your audience starts laughing you may have some additional work to do.

*Pro Tip – Review this list of top buzzwords to avoid before you start crafting your summary

4. Work History – Where your summary articulates who you are as a professional, your work history should focus on what you actually do. E.g. industry expertise, skills, abilities, accomplishments, outcomes, successes and results.

Only you’ll know if it’s appropriate to mention individual clients or engagements. Either way, make sure you focus on the things that highlight why you are an expert in your field.

This example from Rachel Smith shows how to structure multiple concurrent roles which as a freelancer or sole trader you may have to do:

Steer clear of phrases like “duties included” or “responsible for”. Instead, focus on action and outcome-orientated words such as: created, delivered, led, grew, reduced, saved etc.

5. Recommendations – Used judiciously, recommendations add a lot of credibility to your profile. Not least because they are automatically connected to the LinkedIn profile of the person who gave the recommendation.

The key to great recommendations are a) timing your request and b) carefully choosing who to ask.

When it comes to timing, try to ask for a recommendation as close to successful delivery of a project or piece of work as possible. Capitalise on the warm fuzzy feeling of a job well done or some great feedback.

Here are a couple of fantastic examples from Nathan Peyton’s profile:

When thinking about who to ask, steer clear of friends and colleagues who are “happy to help you out”. Instead look for those key clients who will add real credibility to your profile.

*Pro Tip – Always make sure there’s an “out” for the person you request a recommendation from. Some people will just not want to give a recommendation (for whatever reason) and that’s fine. Make it easy for them to say no, rather than risk making them feel uncomfortable which could damage your relationship.

6. Contact Details and links to other platforms – Sounds obvious, right? You’ll be surprised how many people don’t have contact details on LinkedIn. Bear in mind not everyone can send you a message on LinkedIn if you aren’t connected in the right way or they don’t have a Premium Account. Make it easy for someone to get in touch or you could be missing out on the next amazing opportunity.

Additionally, if you have a website, Facebook page or any other kind of digital presence, make sure you include links to those so you can offer your audience a broader perspective of who you are and what you do.

If you are going to have a LinkedIn presence, this is the bare minimum you should include. Whilst it’s fine to set and forget, if it’s not a platform you can devote much time to, try and review your profile at least once every 6-12 months.

Adding new skills or pieces of work to your portfolio is an easy way to keep your profile current and refreshed. You’ll be surprised at how much interest doing that generates. See what happens when you do something as simple as updating your profile shot. I can almost guarantee you’ll see a spike in people looking at your profile and even getting in touch.

A final thought

Online, just like in the real world, 1st impressions count for a great deal. If you have a LinkedIn profile which you haven’t looked at in a while, go and take a look. Ask yourself, “If someone who didn’t know me saw my profile for the first time, would I be comfortable/happy with the 1st impression it gives?”

If the answer is yes, you’re already in a good place. If the answer is no, then hopefully this will come useful in guiding the improvements you want to make.

In part 2 I’ll focus on the more sophisticated features of LinkedIn: company pages, sharing content, various native LinkedIn apps and displaying your portfolio (including using

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