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The Etiquette of LinkedIn: Rules of Engagement Among Professionals

Power of the Platform

No other site holds market share or represents professional social networking as effectively as LinkedIn. According to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions group, there are almost 99 million North American users and over 259 million users worldwide. Clearly, it is an invaluable resource for companies seeking lead generations, such as search firms, internal recruiters, and marketers (B2B and B2C).

Additionally, it provides an audience to the most powerful decision makers in one’s industry. According to the latest 2013 US Business Elite survey by IPSOS and a recent blog from the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions group, the most senior people in the largest companies – the Business Elite – use LinkedIn more than any other social networking site. While the usage among the demographic continues to trend higher, the site is currently reaching 47% of the Business Elite each month and 45% of the sub-demographic “C-suite”, consisting of those holding the most senior positions within the group. In this context alone, the value of maintaining a profile and participating in discussions is crystal clear.

For those who are seeking employment, the statistics are even more impressive. According to Jobvite, 78% of recruiters used the site in 2010, followed by 87% in 2011 and 93% in 2012. Of those recruiters, a study by Infographic showed that 89% hired someone who was found through LinkedIn. Moreover, 97% of internal Human Resources and staffing teams use the site when seeking new hires. In short, the tool has become the dominant means by which to research and hire candidates.

Proper Etiquette

What, however, are the proper rules of etiquette and social interaction in a virtual environment? As an impersonal medium, how does one make an unsolicited self-introduction? How does one appropriately interact in order to maximize the benefits of virtual networking? The rules of etiquette are always dynamic but never more so than in the virtual world. Fortunately, some basic rules of engagement on professional social networking sites do exist. The following are those by which I abide and to which the broader social media community generally adheres.

The Basics

1) Prepare a descriptive profile, with an appropriate picture. Write a strong summary, quantifying accomplishments in a succinct, coherent and interesting manner. Include brief descriptions of each position you have held. Make sure you have included key word descriptors which are increasingly used as search tools. We have previously written about LinkedIn profile pictures. They matter.

2) Be accurate in every aspect of your profile as well as in postings. The world is watching and others will undoubtedly point out any fallacy. If uncertain, err on being conservative.

3) Utilize LinkedIn for what it is – a social media platform through which professionals can network. If content is not of a relevant professional nature, utilize another more appropriate forum to communicate.

LinkedIn is not the site to post those Greece vacation pictures. Also, be sure that other social media applications such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare are not inadvertently tied to your LinkedIn account. We know one executive who used the site Foursquare to “check-in”. Unfortunately, all of his business contacts learned that he liked to visit bars several times a week. It is not the worst thing to happen but it certainly goes under the category of “not appropriate.”

The following is a professional, coherent and succinct profile:

Linking In

4) Requesting a LinkedIn connection – Before requesting a connection, ask yourself the following: What benefit will the other party obtain by accepting my invitation? If you do not know the person and cannot answer that question, do not ask for the connection.

5) Do not send mass connection requests. Nobody likes receiving spam. Sending such requests is akin to sending spam to someone who lacks the luxury of a junk mail folder.

6) Personalize connection requests. Avoid template-like requests, such as “Tom wants to connect with you!” or “since you are someone that I trust”. Reference the relationship with the participant or why you are seeking the connection.

7) Do not repeat requests for connection. If the counter-party does not reply to a request, consider it a denial. Until a material change in the reason for a connection comes about, do not request a connection again.

Forums, Groups and Recommendations

8) Request recommendations from only those with whom it is professionally justified. Simply being connected is not a sufficient reason to request a recommendation. Obtaining a poorly written, irrelevant, or lackluster recommendation solely for the purpose of obtaining one will do more harm than good within a profile.

9) Write quality recommendations only sparingly for others. Determine the context of the recommendation in order to ensure that expectations are appropriately set (and met) by both parties. Remember that every recommendation you write will be linked to your home page. So, do you really want to write a recommendation for your child’s nanny? Nope, we don’t think so either.

10) Join groups that might help your career and participate with relevant content. Participating solely to participate will not serve any meaningful purpose. Raising cancer awareness is a wonderful cause but posting a link with the group for Emerging Market Traders is not the optimum site to achieve results. In fact, it will be more likely to reflect poorly upon the participant. Insightful, relevant, and well-thought out content – provided briefly and succinctly – will leave colleagues with a much more favorable opinion of the author.

11) Avoid grandstanding and participating in negative postings if you join a group. Use a post as a platform for discussion, not a soapbox upon which to lecture. Use the forum to engage others in the discussion rather than attempting to “win” by making a point.

12) Avoid sales pitches. Generating business is a primary reason to participate in a professional social media site. LinkedIn is a great resource to create connections and generate leads; save the sales pitches for personal meetings or phonzaae calls.

One last, albeit non-etiquette related point:, if you don’t want people – especially those with whom you do not have a relationship – knowing that you are perusing their profile, it is important to set your privacy settings such that you show up as anonymous. It is unsettling to see that someone you don’t know has looked at your profile, only to get an invite from them the next week.

Please let us know if you have any additional suggestions. We would love to hear from you!

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