In June, Microsoft announced it was acquiring LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. It’s a big deal; LinkedIn has over 400 million members – that’s more than the number of active monthly Twitter users.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the deal represented “the coming together of the professional cloud and the professional network”. But, big money aside, how well does LinkedIn work, and how should Microsoft improve it?
Here, I ask LinkedIn experts and users, including members of the LinkedIn Business Marketing Solutions team, for their advice on getting the most out of the site. And as befits a piece about social media and networking, I've namedropped quite a few social-media networkers.
1. Be an individual
LinkedIn has the unusual bonus of acting as a portal into your business life, which you have total power over as an individual - whoever your employer is. That’s a big part of its appeal for Diarra Smith, who is Operations Manager at the Workspace-based business-networking platform Knowledge Peers and Informed Funding. He partly uses it for recruitment purposes.
Profiles have baseline facts, such as people’s university courses, beyond which "it’s an incredibly curated experience". Both of these features make it very interesting in building up a picture of a person. For example, some users don’t share large parts of their CV or other details – for Smith, “that’s not a complaint, that’s who they are”.
For ‘Mr LinkedIn’ social-media trainer Mark Williams, the platform’s professional ambit gives it “real clarity”. He's worked in recruitment for over two decades and has written about LinkedIn for The Washington Post and Metro among others.
The possible downside of this, for Williams, is that, to stand out, “you have to be a personality”. Some users dislike the recent “Facebookisation” of LinkedIn, and consider people putting up non-work pictures unprofessional. For Williams it’s a positive that “there are more people becoming more active” on the platform – when “previously no-one was talking to anybody”.
2. Be proactive
Mary Thomas, founder of social-media experts Concise Training and author of two books on the subject of social and business, advises: “Make sure you have an optimised profile. It’s as important as your CV. Be benefit-driven, recent and personal. It’s very English that we don’t like writing about ourselves”.
Aoife Macken, a New Business Manager from the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions team, who spoke at the recent Knowledge Peers and LinkedIn event held at Workspace Grand Union, suggests you make sure you have a profile studded with keywords, to help recruiters and contacts find you, and to “really build out” your experience section.
Companies should take care to treat their own pages not just as a historic snapshot but constantly update them with a good mix of content. So many businesses use LinkedIn badly, says Linda Parkinson-Hardman, social-media trainer and author of LinkedIn Made Easy. You can create an impact very quickly with a few actions (but then need to update consistently to maintain a credible long-term presence).
Through second level contacts, you can get first level contacts and an introduction to the company.
Mary Thomas, social-media trainer
Mary Thomas’s urging of a proactive approach applies particularly to the platform’s connection-forming functions. “Through second level contacts, you can get first level contacts and an introduction to the company. People don’t understand this: 99 times out of 100 I can find a second level contact at a business [they are interested in] and their eyes pop out of their head.” LinkedIn enables you to reach company CEOs and COOs directly.
3. Know what you want to use it for
You’d be surprised, says New Business Manager David Lennon from the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions team, by the number of users who don’t know what their objective is. Is it lead generation? A branding exercise? “Ask 90% of [LinkedIn’s] membership what they use it for and they wouldn't have a clue”, says well known business networking strategist and speaker, Andy Lopata.
It’s LinkedIn’s responsibility to educate users about what they can get out of the platform, he argues, through short instructional videos (courtesy of LinkedIn’s recent acquisition, training video site Lynda.com) or a provocative blog.
4. Do personalised invites, not standard ones
For job hunters or people looking to do business, a well written invite explaining why you want to connect is essential, says Guy Levine, CEO and founder of award-winning digital agency returnondigital.com, which takes on five to 10 people a year via LinkedIn approaches. 99% of the invites Mary Thomas receives are generic – people are missing a big trick, she says.
Andy Lopata thinks the platform needs to clarify its message here - LinkedIn constantly tells you that you should only connect to people you know, then throws up suggestions of people who may or may not be prior contacts. It’s also complicated for many users to change the generic greeting to a personal one.
5. Remember it’s a dynamic news platform
Pulse, integrated into LinkedIn in 2015 to deliver personalised news from users’ professional networks, is very promising, Lopata says. “I get more visible engagement on LinkedIn Pulse than on any other site. On HuffPo, people are just looking to consume. The other interesting thing is the level of people engaging, commenting and sharing: there are a lot of senior professionals, in some cases very senior”.
6. Reach SME owners
Targeting small-business owners through other social media is a challenge and LinkedIn is the best way to reach this “incredibly time-poor” group, Diarra Smith finds. Mark Williams says LinkedIn could do much more for New and Growing Companies, with functions like the find other employees option geared more to corporates.
Microsoft hasn’t had the most impressive track record with acquisitions - think Yammer and Nokia – so LinkedIn is definitely an opportunity to show it can do better.
7. Don’t feel the need for a premium profile
LinkedIn is a powerful tool, with many of its benefits coming from knowing how to use it properly in terms of the technology and how users will respond on a human level, argues Mary Thomas. She doesn’t have a premium profile and advises clients that they don’t need one for general business purposes.
So what's the future for LinkedIn then?
Microsoft hasn’t had the most impressive track record with acquisitions - think Yammer and Nokia – so LinkedIn is definitely an opportunity to show it can do better. Mark Williams notes there is no mention of recruitment in Microsoft’s statements about LinkedIn and anticipates a shift in the platform’s emphasis from recruitment to sales, with LinkedIn Sales Navigator meshing with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Mary Thomas would like to see LinkedIn groups improved, so that they’re less spammy and more conversational. Andy Lopata thinks management could communicate better with users. He views endorsements as a mistake: meaningless when coming from people who don’t know your work in that area.
Guy Levine suggests LinkedIn looks to Bing to create a slicker advertising platform. He thinks LinkedIn has a bright future “as long as Microsoft don’t try to make it their own”.
We’ll wait to see what happens.
By Joshua Neicho
Joshua Neicho is a journalist and editor who has worked for the StartUp Britain campaign and on Exponential business strategy news magazine. He tweets @JoshNeicho