You and the Power Players: Using LinkedIn to Build Your Network and Personal Brand

BlogHer Original Post

LinkedIn isn’t Facebook -- and that’s a good thing. LinkedIn’s audience is older, richer, better educated and more male than both Twitter and Facebook’s -- basically a reflection of who holds the power in business. While it may be annoying from a social perspective, when you’re networking, having access to this power base is quite helpful. According to Guy Kawasaki’s blog, 500 of the Fortune 500 are represented in LinkedIn, and 499 of them are represented by director-level and above employees.

Probably for these reasons, LinkedIn intimidates me. For the longest time, I avoided it, leaving up only a cursory profile. But when I started my own business this spring, LinkedIn was one of the first places I knew I needed to look good. What does looking good on LinkedIn mean?

First off, it means professionalism. As a very helpful Boston Globe article from Scott Kirsner notes, because LinkedIn isn’t Facebook,

Don’t make your profile too personal or chirpy. LinkedIn is probably not the place to list your favorite pizza toppings or lines from “Spinal Tap."

I thought about what I wanted from LinkedIn. My goal was not to actively look for a job, but to create a profile that allowed me to do the following things:

Goal One: Encourage Prospective Clients to Contact Me

Experts say to put as much information as possible on your profile. Include many job experiences. Also, having at least several personal recommendations is key. LinkedIn "Jedi Knight" David Gowel says that one approach is to e-mail current and former colleagues and ask them for a recommednation. (Gowel says you might even send a draft of a recommendation to make it easier for them.) If you write an unsolicited recommendation for someone else on the site, when they approve it so that it appears on their profile, LinkedIn will ask them if they want to return the favor. "It’s almost the guilt approach," Gowel says. "And it works."

I also made sure I had a grownup headshot. Finally, I've been trying to add two more contacts each day to my profile.

Goal Two: Make the Most Useful Contacts for Growing My New Business -- Women Online -- Over the Next Several Years

I have great contacts in the non-profit and political realms, but I am weaker in the corporate sector. One area where I would really like to gain more contacts is the media world. How should I think of LinkedIn as an ally in growing my business?

I asked Sasha Grinshpun, a renowned executive coach and super-connector, who teaches executives, entrepreneurs, and Harvard Business School MBAs, how to get the most from the site. Sasha stressed that LinkedIn’s great value is being able to activate your network via genuine relationships.

It's most known for being a job search tool, but that's about 2% of what it actually is. I don't even think about it in terms of [posting] a resume -- you have so much more flexibility. I really encourage people to look at LinkedIn in a very aspirational way: where do you want to be in three to five years and work to that. Are you looking at getting investors in a few years? Talk more about your business and what it does, rather than your personal history. Do you want to get published? The site allows you to list up to three websites. One of them can be your book site.

LinkedIn also allows you to be aspirational in building a contact list of power players. It makes reaching "weak ties" simple. Let’s revisit why this is especially powerful for women.

For decades now, scholars have concluded that women tend to have more dense social networks than men. Dense means contacts all know each other and talk to each other, without expanding out, or forming "weak ties." Network analysis data, over and over, shows that women talk among ourselves, online and offline (check out a map of mommybloggers and you’ll see this is very true.) Before women entered the workforce, their social networks were almost entirely female. Weak ties (see the landmark article by Mark Granovetter) are those acquaintances and "friends of friends" who, in real life, actually introduce most people to new jobs and new opportunities. Women’s networks are less rich in people who can bridge gaps, broker deals, and introduce them to people with power. Plus, as I’m finding out, the critical period for an entrepreneur’s life cycle is really your 30’s: this is when you accumulate resources and contacts to sustain later ventures. These are precisely the years when women with children hang back. Our networks tend to become more female, more dense. But if we have a great online profile, we can keep up with the outside world.

The concept of network analysis provides a framework to analyze why women don’t run for office as much, don’t become CEO’s as much, and don’t become Masters of the Universe as much...as men. This is based on the assumption that women are disadvantaged because they are excluded from key social relationships.

LinkedIn can help us solve that. Sasha says,

That's what LinkedIn does -- instead of having to find a friend of a friend who works at the company you need to talk to -- it's all right there. LinkedIn allows you to become much more proactive about using your network; your weak ties are right there. You can get connected right away to the person in your life I call the next "Tom"- for you Tom might be the next client, book publisher, investor.

Sasha also notes that LinkedIn allows you to conduct due diligence and market research in a way that solopreneurs or small businesses, who don't have big resources, could never do before. You can vet potential partners, competitors, investors, hires and clients by using your network and reaching out to mutual contacts. Sasha concludes,

LinkedIn was started by the people who started PayPal, which was all about privacy and security … LinkedIn is predicated on that as well. Their business model depends on having a very high quality network. They really take privacy and security very seriously. You control your brand and your privacy.

So I’m chipping away at my LinkedIn profile, day by day. Next stop: writing recommendations for people to build those weak ties.

How does your profile look?

You can see Sasha’s excellent presentation on getting the most from LinkedIn on SlideShare.

Guy Kawasaki
also has information on LinkedIn.

Top Ten is Boston Globe piece on using LinkedIn.

Morra Aarons-Mele
www.wearewomenonline.com

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