A Practical Approach to Building Brand and SEO through LinkedIn

LinkedIn has evolved into the largest online business networking platform – totaling 32 million users worldwide.  Prior to the social networking craze, LinkedIn was largely used to connect with past co-workers and trusted colleagues.  Now, however, LinkedIn has extended its capabilities to serve as a brand building platform for professionals looking to network, engage, and communicate with like-minded peers. The surge was accelerated during the recessionary period when laid off workers were looking to locate jobs and hopefully connect with others who could assist in the process.

 Today, LinkedIn continues to grow by adding key features that are essential to not just networking but building a community to share information, discuss and debate, and promote personal and business brand as well as network. However, harnessing the true power of LinkedIn not just to network with your “trusted” and “known” community of friends and colleagues but promoting your brand and thought leadership through LinkedIn.

To gain insight into the use of LinkedIn, build SEO for your profile and blog, as well as launching engaging and meaningful conversations, I spoke with my good friend and colleague Chris Hewitt. He’s not only my trusted friend but someone who truly understands the power of the platform.

In this blog Q&A, I looked at several components – how do you use LinkedIn to build personal brand and network, what are some innovative ways to use LinkedIn to build awareness and some tips and tricks to maximize using LinkedIn. Please read below.

Why is LinkedIn so important for professionals today in building network and personal brand?

Our professional success is largely determined by the recognition of that effort by our colleagues and peers.  Similarly, the growth of our career is supported by the generosity and investment of other professionals.  As a result, we need to nurture those relationships and reciprocate in the growth and development of others.

I believe that it is critical for professionals to be present, be heard, be engaged, and be connected in order to build and sustain success.  The Internet, and advent of Web-based tools, has provided us with a powerful tool in being all those things…often in real-time.  

Currently, LinkedIn is the most popular professional, Web-based social networking tool and, as a result, important.  I think it is important, though, that we are not complacent…another tool might be a better solution; either now (e.g. chi.mp or posterous.com) or in the future.

One important note about companies.  I think LinkedIn has done an excellent job in providing professionals with ability to build an individual brand while also personalizing an organization through the organic enrichment of ‘company’ profiles.  While many marketing/communications people actively monitor/manage their company profiles, any validated user (based on email domain) can contribute to that profile…a great tool for showcasing a supportive, engaged corporate culture.  

What are some innovative ways to use LinkedIn to build personal brand, promote events, and create awareness?

First and foremost, I believe we need to ground our expectations in a type of altruistic philosophy.  We should look at LinkedIn as a tool we can leverage to return real value by sharing our unique value proposition with other professionals (and aspiring professionals).  With this concept driving our actions, we are better positioned to reach our career/business/networking objectives while positively contributing to the larger community.

LinkedIn, itself, has a variety of tools that can be leveraged to create individual and organizational awareness.  

Certainly the ‘answers’ feature is a great way to share your knowledge with the community.  Additionally, where relevant, you can highlight the strengthen and solutions your company provides.  

LinkedIn AnswersHowever, in the last year or so, I have seen a troubling (and dramatic) increase in self-serving dialogue through LinkedIn Answers.  Users are clearly posting questions to draw attention to their message, company, etc and other users are answering to feed their ‘social competitiveness’ (my idea that a lot of our social networking is driven by our innate desire for higher social status).

So, to me, the innovative is not in the tools but leveraging those tools into concepts.  For example, use LinkedIn as a platform for showcasing your evolving professional concepts and keep your content fresh.  For example, let’s say you had a new marketing concept that you are excited about; one that really showcases your experience/creativity/innovation.  You could use LinkedIn as a platform to create a personal marketing campaign and share your thoughts:

  • Write a blog post and attach it to your profile.
  • Create a mini-series of LinkedIn status message that change on a scheduled basis.
  • Relevantly update your experience to showcase how you used (or could have used) this concept.
  • Create a presentation in Google (upload to Slideshare) and post on your profile.
  • Develop some type of ‘take away’ material that viewers of your profile can download (Box.net).

You could also create polls and questions (where relevant and valued-added) to drive your message.  The key to this concept is that you regularly (I know…easier typed than done) change out your LinkedIn ‘conceptual campaigns’.  Changing out these concepts once a month would be a powerful statement of your personal brand (not to mention your ability to execute).

SEO is very important today. What are some tips and tricks to make your LinkedIn profile more SEO friendly?

Your LinkedIn profile is likely not going to carry enough search engine equity to compete against other websites for general keyword concepts (e.g. ‘real estate professional’, ‘Experienced MSCE’, etc.).  So, you should rather focus your energy on personal characteristics combined with key concepts, skills, or experience.  For example, if you regularly speak on a particular topic and any special phrases (e.g. ‘Your Ness’  as seen in ‘You, Me, and Dupree’).  Also, if you have a branded product, service, or concept you should include the relevant text in your tagline, summary, specialties, and experience.

In order to generate greater search engine visibility for your LinkedIn profile, focus on ‘inbound links’ (links to your profile from other websites).  If you want to use your LinkedIn profile as your main online presence (versus a website, blog, etc.), take every opportunity to link to your ‘public profile URL’.  Some examples of linking opportunities are:

  • Part of your posted biography (events, speaking engagements, etc.)
  • Press releases
  • Social networking websites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Attached to your comments on blogs, articles, etc.

Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, is what actions you want visitors to take after finding your profile.  Focus on engaging visitors (especially search-generated visitors) to your profile and driving them to a particular action.

Examples:

Job Seeker (visibility/candidacy) 

  • Change your status to reflect a concept relevant to the organization you are seeking an interview or position (e.g. industry article, thought, etc.).
  • Create a relevant blog post that details a unique, differentiating strength/idea that would be too long for an interview or resume.
  • Post a copy of your resume or other supporting document (via LinkedIn Applications) that could be downloaded (note: make sure that document prominently displays your contact information)

Product/Solution Provider (awareness)

  • Customize your website link, use action-oriented hyperlink text and drive them to your website.
  • Post relevant documents using LinkedIn Applications.
  • Tie in relevant blog posts and links to your website.

Why should marketers today care about LinkedIn?

The LinkedIn community organically generates high quality and well-qualified audiences that we, as marketers, would love to reach with our messages.  Additionally, there are enough explicit and implicit profiling attributes to segment various audiences (e.g. industry, company size, region, skills, etc.).  As a result, LinkedIn presents the opportunity to engage highly targeted audiences.

While we wipe the dollar signs from our eyes, we have to be thoughtful in our approach to these LinkedIn audiences.  Our tendency is to ‘blast’ the rich LinkedIn community with our concept/message/offer.  However, we need to focus on content and actions that authentically create dialogue.  Share our knowledge and resources and allow opportunities to grow naturally from that dialog.

With the sophisticated SPAM filtering built into today’s email systems and software, I believe social media SPAM is going to be the next digit intrusion; just look at the number of multi-level marketers on Twitter generating empty content (and all following one another).

Key steps to getting started:

My advice is to build and grow your presence under the guidance of a personal brand strategy:

  • Who are you?
  • What have you accomplished?
  • Where are you going?
  • What’s your unique brand position?

Don’t start by building another resume…create a dynamic, engaging presence.  Your experience should be coupled to concepts not tasks, duties, and responsibilities.  In developing your personal brand strategy, ask others to help define your unique characteristics and provide guidance for your message. 

While it may be tempting, don’t count connections…build meaningful connections within your network.  You will want to be able to make connections to people within your network.  

My personal connection philosophy:
If you can’t happily and meaningfully introduce a person at a cocktail party or networking event, they should not be a connection.  

Also be authentic with your connections.  Did you work with someone previously but had issues with their work/performance/approach?  Do not connect with them…your personal brand equity is also tied to the people you trust to be within your network. 

One special consideration for job seekers…always preserve your brand, even when the search isn’t going well.  It is far too easy to type, post, and hurt what you have been building.  Your profile is a statement of your personal brand and needs to be carefully protected.

Should you promote your personal blog versus company website?

Your profile allows for the use of multiple links; use them to identify what it is your linking to and why:

  • Use your profile to promote yourself, your skills, and accomplishments.
  • User the descriptive sections of experience to highlight relevant experience as well as company objectives (e.g. 100 word company description).
  • Use a company profile to promote your brand, messaging, and positioning.
    • Encourage the members of the company to enrich the profile.

How should you integrate other social networking sites to LinkedIn and why?

Yes…however, where it is relevant (okay, you may now move the needle from my broken record of ‘relevance’) and where it is targeted.  The inclusive of Blogs and applications like Slideshare/Box.net/Google Docs is a great way to tie together various concepts to form a better picture of your professional profile.  Similarly, you can post your LinkedIn profile/badge across your other social networking properties to engage visitors.  For example, use your LinkedIn profile as your biography and focus your energy on maintaining that content (versus managing multiple biographies).

Lastly, don’t feel that you have to create a hyper socially networked profile that will be the envy of all your Twitter followers.  Be authentic.  If you are an active member and/or passionate about a group, display it on your profile.  If you like to socialize your reading list through LinkedIn, awesome.  The main point is not to make your LinkedIn profile a dizzying blur of social media NASCAR badging.  

To leave with a quote from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby ‘This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.’

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