October 23rd, 2011

Spammy robots, connection whores and other LinkedIn criminals

25 years of experience on LinkedIn makes me an expert. There is no denying the popularity of LinkedIn: they reached 100 million users in March 2011…and counting. With these kinds of numbers, it’s inevitable that there’s a whole lot of newbies committing a whole lot of LinkedIn crimes.

Don't be a Herb Tarlek.

This month, it will have been three years that I have been on LinkedIn, three years since I got over my irrational fear of posting my professional profile online, public, for anyone to see (gasp! the horror!), three years since I made the transition from “social media is for 14 year olds” to social media junkie.

Since social media years are like dog years, my three social media years actually translate to about 25 years of real experience on LinkedIn, which I figure makes me an expert. (Why not? Everyone else is.)

So as a self-proclaimed expert, here’s my Top Ten list of heinous LinkedIn crimes that you should avoid. Why are these actions crimes? Because they violate the main purpose of LinkedIn: to build a community of connections.

And because I said so. (I’m an expert, remember?)

  1. Have an objective. As project managers, we should all understand the purpose of defining an objective. That’s what a project charter is for, right? In the same manner, take some time to define your objective and answer this simple question: “Why am I on LinkedIn?” Maybe you’d like to sell more widgets to more customers. Maybe you are looking to make a change in your career path. Maybe you are looking to add talent to your organization. Or some other reason. Or all of the above. Each of these objectives will have a different impact on how you manage your LinkedIn presence and your community of connections. Answer this question, and the rest is easy.
  2. Use the IRL (In Real Life) test. Next to having an objective, this is the second most important rule to apply to any social media presence, including LinkedIn, and it has become my Golden Rule of Social Media. If you wouldn’t do it In Real Life, don’t do it online. An offshoot of this sacred rule is “If you can’t be positive, don’t say anything”.
  3. Don’t be a connection whore. Early in my LinkedIn experience I noticed people posting on project management forums “please connect with me, I don’t use ‘I don’t know’”. Frankly, this type of behaviour shocked me. Look, if “winning” on LinkedIn was related to having the most connections, do you really think you can compete with Barack Obama or Guy Kawasaki? Personally, I liken this to the IRL behaviour of handing out your business card willy-nilly to every person you meet, Herb Tarlek-style, plaid blazer and all.  Although having connections is important, if not essential, to leveraging the power of LinkedIn, it’s the quality of those connections that will help you build your community of connections.
  4. If you are a connection whore, be up front about it. Having said this, however, there are people who believe that having 10,000+ connections means you’re more fully leveraging the power of LinkedIn. These people, fortunately, identify themselves as LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs) and will display…wait for it… a lion logo on their profile. Remember what I said about having an objective? If your objective is to cast as large and as wide a net as possible, then this strategy is worth exploring. Ironically enough, even though LinkedIn frowns on LIONs, there is nonetheless a clear etiquette to follow, one of which is to be upfront about your LION status by displaying the logo on your profile. And to NOT act like a spammy robot (coming up next).
  5. Stop acting like a robot. The thing that annoys me the most on LinkedIn is the spammy robotic form message to invite someone to connect, whether it’s “Since you are a person I trust, I wanted to invite you to join my network on LinkedIn” or my personal favourite: “I’d like to add you to my professional network”. Really? Really? This is your community, people! Remember what I said about the IRL test? Would you walk around at a party and robotically repeat the same phrase over and over to introduce yourself? Of course you wouldn’t! There is no excuse for not taking 10.5 seconds to write a personal invitation. Anything like “It was great talking to you last night at the wine and cheese” or “Of course you used to play football in university. That explains…everything” or even “I enjoy our conversations, let’s continue online.” In the words of an executive friend of mine: “If you can’t be bothered sending me a personal invitation, I can’t be bothered answering you.” Really, people, there is no excuse for this. None whatsoever. If the LIONs aren’t doing this, why the heck are you? You cannot build a community of connections if you are a robot.
  6. Don’t be shy (and do some math). My earlier comments about connection whores aside, there’s no denying that in order to take full advantage of your LinkedIn presence, you need to have connections. It makes no sense to build a profile, and then stop at 6 connections, unless it’s only been a week since you joined. Consider this simple equation: if you have 100 connections, and each of those people have 100 connections, that’s 10,000 people in your first two levels and 1 million if you include the third level. If you have only 6 connections…well…you do the math. Not so impressive, is it?
  7. Craft your headline. The default headline in LinkedIn is the job title of your current or last position, which you can, and should change. (Click on Edit Profile.) Remember your objective? Your headline should reflect your objective and should not be generic. “Expert in Turbo Encabulators” says way more than “Mechanical Engineer” and just might lead you down some interesting pathways the next time someone googles “Turbo Encabulators” and your name comes up first on the list.
  8. Go back, go waaaay back. You’ll get more mileage out of LinkedIn if you post all of your employment information, not just your current position. And don’t leave out any volunteer work! The best way to add diversity to your community of connections is to include people you have met throughout your career, including post-secondary studies. Personally, I chose not to go as far back as high school, although if you went to as unique and interesting a high school as Dryden High School, then by all means, go for it.
  9. Are you on the FBI’s Most Wanted? Why would you create a profile on LinkedIn and keep it private? How does this make sense? If you are in hiding from the law or engaging in illicit activities you shouldn’t be on LinkedIn. The rest of you: go public! It is, after all, a social media site and the whole point is to find others. And, of course, to be found. And it’s pretty hard to be found if your profile is not public. (Click on Settings.) Furthermore, you should change the default URL to something with your entire name in it. It’s your name, and your brand: wear it with pride. Need more convincing? Read this. (I recommend the whole article but you can also just skip ahead to number 3.)
  10. Keep it short and sweet. And avoid the business-speak. Your summary should be just that: a summary. It’s the two-minute elevator speech that you would give to a potential customer or employer summing up who you are and what you bring to the table. And for heaven’s sake: speak English (or French). Stay away from that awful MBA-speak: avoid these boilerplate phrases and these six words that suck. (Guilty as charged: I am still serving my time for this horrible crime.)

Need more crimes? Here’s a whole lot more, some of which I already mentioned above. All worth reading and pondering.

Build it when you don’t need it. The biggest crime is waiting until you need a community to build it. The day you get that $50 million contract for which you need to hire 450 people or the day you get laid off is a little late to join LinkedIn (just ask an employee from HP). Remember: the whole point of LinkedIn is to build your own community of connections. And the best time to build your community is when you don’t need it.

That way, it’ll be there the day you do.

1 comment to Spammy robots, connection whores and other LinkedIn criminals

  • Bill

    “25 years of experience on LinkedIn” wow… so you been on Linkedin before Linkedin was invented!

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