For all the hype and hope and advice that comes with social media, one nagging truism persists about LinkedIn: It always comes up first whenever you Google someone’s name.
For Laura Virili, a marketing consultant with Merrill Lynch and business advisor based in Lawrenceville, this one fact shows the incredible scale and reach of LinkedIn. It is, she says, the socials network that drives business for professionals. C-suite executives use it, job seekers use it, and business decision makers use it. Two new users join every second of every day. And even Forbes magazine has referred to LinkedIn as “perhaps the most widely used business tool since email itself.”
The question is, do you have any idea what to do with it? Virili will present “An Insider’s Take on LinkedIn” for Ellevate on Saturday, June 27, at 9:30 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Cost: $15. Visit www.ellevatenetwork.com.
Leveraging LinkedIn is, Virili says, vital for growing your business or online brand these days. “It’s an important engine for business because it’s strictly a professional network,” she says. In other words, there are no pictures of the family or the ski trip like there are on Facebook.
Virili has no issue with Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social media sites. In fact, she plans to soon add to her growing list on online videos by introducing a series about leveraging Facebook. But LinkedIn, she says, is the place where professionals should concentrate first, for the simple reason that “LinkedIn is like the world’s largest networking event.”
Virili has been on LinkedIn since its beginnings, she says. The daughter of a retired sales manager (who still works, just now as a handyman) and a real estate professional, Virili earned her bachelor’s in business administration from Rider in 1993. Just out of college, she went to work for Merrill Lynch, where she has been rising through the ranks in what is now Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s communications and marketing departments. She began coaching professionals last year on branding themselves online and increasing their ability to leverage social media. Or, as she puts it on her LinkedIn page, “Coaching Advisors to Kill it Online & Off thru Social Media.”
Beyond the resume. The first thing most people think about LinkedIn is that it’s an online resume depot. Well, it’s not that it isn’t, Virili says, but professionals need to accept something: No one’s reading your resume to find out who you are.
So why is the resume there at all? Well, it’s kind of like a business card. You need to have it and it needs to be up to date, but it itself is not going to get you business. So it’s vital to have your resume posted and kept up to date with promotions and new titles and what-not. But the resume alone is not going to get people talking to you. What gets people to talk to you are what Virili calls “social triggers.”
An example: Someone in your network gets promoted. That’s a social trigger, something that gives you a reason to drop that person a quick congratulations. You can also do it with new jobs, birthdays, work anniversaries, or new professional certifications or degrees. These triggers open chances for conversation, which is the root of all business relationships.
Resume to reputation. Virili is a cycling instructor who’s big on animal welfare and is connected to the Girl Scouts. All of those things are mentioned in her LinkedIn profile, and all of those things are social triggers. She’s met loads of other cycling enthusiasts, animal activists, and professional moms just from putting those facts about herself up.
And while it might sound insignificant to mention hobbies and interests in a professional setting, the truth is that all business relationships that work are based in the fact that people like to get to know people, not resumes. Interests and professional affiliations go a long way to helping people feel they know us. People want to talk to other people who are interested in the same kinds of thing, Virili says. It’s that simple.
This fascinating personal stuff is found in the summary, not the resume. This is where you get to talk about you and it is, other than the photo, the section of a LinkedIn profile that visitors will view most, Virili says. So it pays to do it right. Be forthcoming and professional, but don’t run off at the mouth, she cautions. People might want to find out about you, but they don’t want to read a college-level thesis. Make your points and get out.
And whatever you do, make sure it’s proofread.
Five minutes. It’s easy to get lost wading through social media. Lots of profiles and pages and personal facts exist to make us keep saying “just a few more minutes.”
But LinkedIn is most effective when you practice a little discipline, Virili says. Five minutes a day, in fact, is all it takes to effectively leverage your network. This is eminently doable if your network is properly managed, she says.
One of the big mistakes people make is just adding names and connections indiscriminately. It’s fine, of course, to make some new friends, but you really should know someone a little before you add them. This way you’re not just someone out of left field complimenting someone else on a new job. Or worse, someone unfamiliar who starts sniffing around for a job.
It’s still about professionalism, though. People might want to know the you beneath the resume, but like any professional gathering area, LinkedIn requires attention to professional appearance.
“You wouldn’t go to a networking meeting with food on your shirt,” Virili says. Likewise, when you build your LinkedIn profile, pay attention to the all-important photo. It should be a headshot, facing the camera, she says, and business casual because it’s social media, which is more casual than real life. Ditch the power suit, but be clean and well-dressed.
Remember, this isn’t Facebook. Don’t talk about anyone but yourself, and do it in first person — because talking about yourself in third person is just weird, she says. And don’t post a photo of you holding a drink, even if that drink was taken at a business mixer.
The bottom line is to treat LinkedIn like any other professional networking function. Join some groups and monitor the conversations and contribute like you would in any professional setting. “It’s all about staying top-of mind,” Virili says.