How to build a great LinkedIn profile

Start taking advantage of the LinkedIn opportunity TODAY

photo of incomplete profile
Since I conducted my survey among LinkedIn users, it’s hardly surprising that the vast majority of respondents believe that LinkedIn does present a marketing opportunity. In fact, quite the contrary; it’s more surprising that a full 17% don’t believe it is. (Makes you wonder why they bother to belong to LinkedIn.)

However, what’s more astonishing is that only 15% say that they’re taking advantage of this opportunity.

In reality, we miss marketing opportunities every day – though it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that we’ve identified one and simply not got around to doing anything about it. But it’s not easy to take advantage of an opportunity if you’re not sure where to start.  And a very pertinent question was: What makes a good LinkedIn profile?

Setting up your profile isn’t exactly complicated, but it does take a recognition of your objectives, a rudimentary understanding of SEO and a little attention to detail.

This is the time to shine a light on your career. The more information, the better to build your professional reputation, so  don’t leave out sections of your profile that build a more complete picture of who you are and what you have to offer.

How do you want to be seen?
Firstly, you want to be seen, so include a photo. Think of it as getting dressed for work, and choose a photo that reflects the image you want to portray.

Which version of your name do you prefer?
It sounds bizarre to include a comment on the name you use on your profile, but a quick look at LinkedIn profiles will prove that this doesn’t go without saying.

Use the name that people know you by in your professional environment. Plain and simple, your first name and your surname. No qualifications, no company name. If your name is extremely common or the same as someone particularly well-known, you might want to add in a second name, but the point is to be yourself. So if you prefer to be called Mike, don’t use Michael in your profile.

And don’t go incognito. There’s no benefit to be had to be visible only as Ann D. If you would like potential clients to contact you, you’d better tell them who you are!

Your LinkedIn professional headline isn’t a status symbol
If you’re looking to attract clients and generate business, it’s unlikely that they’re searching for a founder, manager, director, CEO or owner. Use your headline to explain what you do for your clients: how you can help fix their problem or fill their need?

Don’t ignore the LinkedIn summary
The summary serves two purposes: Firstly it’s your “elevator pitch”. You can tell people in a little more detail what you can do for them. This is what might draw them in to read your full profile, so take care to express who you are and answer the question: What’s in it for me?

Secondly, you should include the key words that people will search for, to ensure that you are found online. A key word rich summary might include variations on your particular key words. For example, I might include marketing strategy, content marketing, marketing communications strategy, and marketing strategist.

Of course, you’re not writing for the search engines, you’re writing for people to read your summary, so be subtle so that it reads clearly and easily.

Experience matters
For some strange reason, this section is often riddled with errors. Typos, duplications, overlapping dates. This is your public face, so take the time to do it right.

Include a large proportion of your experience. If you’re now the CEO after a career spanning 23 positions, the first of which was junior packer in a warehouse you don’t need to go back quite that far. But if all you show is the last 5 years of experience, it will probably look like you don’t have much. And if you want to be recognised for your expertise, that’s a problem!

Don’t only include the details of your qualifications; add in the institution you attended too. A personal detail or two helps to humanise your profile, and while it’s important to look professional, it’s entirely another to look cold and unapproachable.

An added bonus is that it allows LinkedIn suggest appropriate people to connect with, and helps extend your network,

There’s also a section for courses – which is great if your courses are prestigious or significant, but please leave out the run of the mill update courses. I’m gobsmacked how many “executives” include Excel, Word and budgeting in their skills or courses section. There’s no polite way to say this: No one cares!

Publish or perish
If you’ve published a book, a white paper, research report or an article, tell people about it. It helps to build recognition of your expertise. And if you have nothing to add here yet, come back and bolster your reputation later.

Don’t leave out your awards
Funny how it’s fine to hang a certificate on your office wall, but people get very coy about including any honours or awards in their online profiles. Consider your profile the online version of your office, and hang your awards out for all to see. Maybe it’s a cultural issue – South Africans have always tended to be a bit contemptuous of conceit or arrogance. But it’s okay to tell people you’ve been recognized; potential clients may be evaluating your suitability as a supplier, so give them the goods.

Be noticed by your LinkedIn connections
Endorsements don’t carry the same weight as a recommendation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Decide what skills you want to showcase (omitting the dreaded Excel) and set them up in order of priority. People will often endorse you starting at the top of the list, and LinkedIn will always list them in the descending order of the number of endorsements. So leave the lesser skills at the bottom of your list – and when you add in new skills over time, accept that you might have to drum up some support for them.

The skills you list are also your key words, so help you get found. But endorsements have another vital role. When someone endorsed you, you get a message telling you, so every time you endorse someone, you grab their attention. Human nature means that if you endorse someone, they’ll probably look at your profile and endorse you in return.

We recognise that these endorsements aren’t that credible, and are open to manipulation. But if I asked you to choose between two potential suppliers, both of whom had comprehensive experience, and one had 3 or 4 endorsements and the other had 30 or 40, which one would you choose? Basically, we might be intelligent, but we’re not always logical.

The golden seal of approval
Recommendations have huge value. When someone writes you a recommendation, they’re staking their professional reputation on you. Far more credible than an endorsement, they’re also far more trouble to get.

Clients and colleagues who hold you in high regard don’t always put a priority on writing a recommendation for you. Even if you ask them and they agree, it might takes ages for them to get around to it, but it’s definitely worth asking. I’d recommend you get at least five recommendations, but the more, the better.

Make yourself available
We go out of our way to hide our email addresses online, so the spammers don’t scoop them up and inundate us with inheritances from hitherto unknown relatives, unexplained SARS cash refunds, and winnings from lotteries for which we hadn’t bought a ticket. But you need to give some contact details on your profile. What’s the point of having the perfect profile and providing the ideal service, if your target can’t get hold of you?

So include a phone number or a link to a webpage with a contact form. You could also write your email address in a more obscure form. Some people use the convention ann at octarine dot co dot za, though ann© might work better for you. (Did you even notice that that wasn’t an @ symbol?)

A personal note
Most people complete the section detailing their marital status or the number of children they have. Personally, I couldn’t be bothered with that, but it does make sense to use the Interests section. This is the place to share your passion; something that your contacts might connect with on a personal level. You could talk about your favourite soccer team, your pride in having conquered Kili or your weekly foray into amateur dramatics.

I’m not entirely sure that my religious attendance at Sharks games or my daily routine of completing the code word puzzle in the morning paper would make me more relatable, so I haven’t bothered to include that. But if I ever climb Kilimanjaro or compete in the Argus, I’ll be sure to let everyone know.

You need a powerful profile if you plan to market yourself and your business on LinkedIn; it’s the essential starting point.

If you’d like help to develop a LinkedIn profile that positions you as an expert in your field, gets you found online and builds your personal brand and your corporate brand, give me a call on 031 564 6921.

This is the third in a series of answers to questions that South African execs are asking about LinkedIn.  If you’d like to ask any questions of your own, feel free to include them in the comments section, and I’ll add them to my list.

Related articles:
Growing your business with LinkedIn
Questions SA Execs are asking about LInkedIn
Why LinkedIn Groups don’t Work
LinkedIn – the South African Opportunity
Why Tiger Brands should delete their LinkedIn page
Social media is a marketing decision


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