Navigating the LinkedIn etiquette minefield

Everyone has got a LinkedIn profile these days, but how many of you are actually using the platform in its full capacity as an effective networking and business development tool?

When was the last time you updated your profile – and does it contain any information about yourself beyond your photo and job title?

LinkedIn can be very useful in many areas of professional day-to-day life. It’s an automatically-updated address book, allowing you to quickly reach your contacts (and their contacts) even if they have moved cities or changed jobs without your knowledge.

Many people treat their LinkedIn profile as their online CV, keeping it updated with examples of their latest work, key skills, testimonials and details of their employment history and experience.

It’s also an excellent business development tool, allowing you to post content that will be seen by contacts (and contacts-of-contacts; via comments, shares, group discussions and ‘likes’), raising your professional profile and letting more people know about what you do and your area of expertise.

And that’s just the beginning. However, navigating the LinkedIn etiquette minefield can be a scary proposition. But don’t worry, we’re not recommending you jump straight in the deep end and start publishing posts immediately. Become a passive user first. Spend time on the platform, browsing your news feed and observing others’ activity, and you’ll soon get a feel for the dos and don’ts. Then, once you are ready to become a more active user, keep the following tips in mind as you build your profile, increase your connections and share updates:

  1. Don’t invite strangers to connect. It’s perfectly acceptable to invite someone to join your network if you have only interacted virtually with them, for example over email. However, no one likes spam or unsolicited contact from complete strangers, so if you are a real estate agent blindly trying to connect with anyone and everyone, it will be perceived as annoying at best – and creepy at worst.
  2. Quality over quantity. LinkedIn is about making quality connections that might be valuable in the future; whether you’ve known the person for years, met once at an event or you work in the same industry. A great place to start is former and current colleagues. Next, invite your clients and suppliers. LinkedIn’s “people you may know” tool can be very handy in providing suggestions.
  3. Personalise your connection request messages. If you’ve ever requested a connection on LinkedIn, you will have seen the standard request message: “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” This message may work when you’re connecting with a well-known colleague or client, but it probably won’t get a long-lost university classmate to hit Accept. If you really want to connect with someone, make it personal.
  4. Upload an appropriate profile photo. LinkedIn is littered with embarrassing and inappropriate profile pictures. Don’t let yours be one of them – your standard corporate head shot will do just fine. Don’t use a cropped group photo from a night out, with someone’s disjointed arm attached to your shoulder. And never, ever use a selfie.
  5. Keep your profile complete and current. List all your former employers and qualifications. You don’t need to include details about positions early in your career. A good guideline is to include details on your past three positions. Update your profile (and headline) any time you move into a new position, complete a major project or receive a special award or recognition.
  6. Join a few relevant groups. Joining groups (and contributing to group discussions) provides an easy way for people to whom you aren’t already connected to see your posting activity. Look at your colleagues’ and competitors’ profiles to see what groups they are members of and aim to join three to five relevant groups. Bear in mind that groups are not for spamming people with self-serving, marketing-driven content – you’ll be perceived as a nuisance. Craft your content so that it provides interest and value for the members of the group.
  7. Turn off notifications when updating your profile. Profile updates are broadcast on your connections’ news feeds, unless you turn them off. This can get a bit annoying for your connections if you decide to make a lot of changes to your profile in one day.
  8. Nurture your connections. Make an effort to actually ‘connect’ with your connections whenever appropriate. It can be as easy as ‘liking’ an update or leaving a comment on someone’s post.
  9. Don’t over-post. One or two status updates a week is plenty. Also, know the difference between a ‘status update’ and a ‘published post’. Status updates are broadcast in your connections’ news feeds. ‘Published posts’ are intended for publishing significant pieces of original content that you really want to get noticed. LinkedIn sends notifications of new published posts to all your connections, so think first whether your update is worthy of being a published post, or whether an ordinary status update will do.