Building a strong profile on LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, has taken on greater importance during the recession. What information you decide to include, or exclude, could affect future job opportunities as well as your overall identity on the internet.
Although LinkedIn doesn't pose the same reputation perils presented by Facebook - such as being tagged in photo albums or being victimized by random comments left on your profile - the pitfalls of a poorly constructed LinkedIn profile, or employing bad LinkedIn etiquette, can alienate your contacts (known as "connections"). It can also turn away potential employers interested in hiring you.
We caught up with Kirsten Dixson, a reputation management and online identity expert, for her tips on proper LinkedIn etiquette.
1. Profile picture
Saying your LinkedIn profile picture should appear "professional" states the obvious. But more specifically, Dixson says paying a professional photographer to give you a few headshots to choose from is worth the modest investment because your picture is one the first things people will notice on your LinkedIn page.
If you can't stretch to a professional photographer, don't just upload a snap from your latest holiday. Have a friend or colleague take a business-like photograph of you, in front of a fairly neutral background and in a well-lit space. Dixson says people do use Photoshop to eliminate wrinkles or unflattering features, but be careful: future employers will want to meet you in person for an interview and that picture will set their expectations for what you look like. While this is not supposed to matter, we all know it does.
Lastly, on the issue of timeliness, it can be tempting to leave pictures up of your younger and perhaps better-looking self. Dixson says while you don't need to update your picture every year, it should still match up pretty well with your current appearance.
"If people are going to meet you and be suprised by the difference, it's time to get a new one," she says.
When you read a newspaper or check out articles on a website, many good stories don't get read without a good headline. As such, Dixson recommends that you be very concise, engaging and specific in the summary field of your LinkedIn page. If the summary doesn't draw people in, all the great gigs you've had over the years (listed in the "experience" section below it) might not receive any attention.
"You really want to express your personal brand in the LinkedIn summary," Dixson says. "You want to show who you are, what you do, and why it's unique."
3. Filling out your biog
One of the finer things about LinkedIn, at least from a recruiting standpoint, is that it not only encourages honesty in your resume, it essentially requires it, since your profile is viewed by your bosses, colleagues and customers. Dixson says the normal CV rules apply - accentuate your strengths and highlights, while providing context around your job responsibilities.
But the one main difference between a regular resume and a LinkedIn profile is that you'll have a wider range of people viewing the latter. As such, you will have to be slightly more pragmatic in hitting points that you think might satisfy a few different sectors of your industry that interest you.
A couple other quick tips for your profile and biog:
• Get the LinkedIn URL you want. Most LinkedIn profile URLs will have be a slash and then your name (/yourname) at the end of them. Names can be common, so try to get yours first.
• Make sure your LinkedIn profile is public (go to Account Settings to check). If you want to tap all the capabilities of LinkedIn, and be able to have people search for you and examine your career experience, you need a public profile.
• Remember that you don't matter on the Web if Google doesn't see you. Try to include keywords in your profile that you think people might search for regarding your field.
4. Your LinkedIn Connection List
There are two main factions who argue the merits of how one chooses connections on LinkedIn. One is LinkedIn itself, which firmly believes you should know your contacts personally before deciding to add them as a connection. They say they have designed the service with that philosophy in mind. Connections, they argue, are a reflection of you professionally. If you don't know who they are, it can reflect poorly on you when people peruse your connection list.
At the other end of the spectrum are the LinkedIn Open Networkers, known as LIONs. A LION will generally add most people as a connection (whether they know them or not). Many LIONs build huge connection lists containing tens of thousands of people, and see value from doing this, although LinkedIn has now limited the number of connections any member can make to 30,000. According to the LION entry on Wikipedia, they also adamantly discourage the use of the "I don't know" button. "I don't know" was designed by LinkedIn to discourage random, unknown connections. If it's hit five times, a person can be blocked from LinkedIn or face consequences that prohibit their use of the service.
Dixson recommends taking something of a middle ground between the two camps and work up a strategy you think makes sense for you and your profession. The key, she says, is having a consistent set of guidelines for adding connections.
But it will always be a murky issue, Dixson says. Perhaps, for instance, your criteria for adding a connection is that you know someone or have at least conducted business with them in the past. Well, what if, after you give a talk at a trade show or conference, a member of the audience writes and asks to connect with you on LinkedIn?
Dixson says it is fine to decline a connection, but that if such a case arises, it's good form to explain why. For example, you might respond this way: "Thank you for reaching out. I'm glad you enjoyed my talk at the trade show. While I'm happy you contacted me, I don't add connections until I've done business with a person directly. As such, feel free to email me in the future and we can see what opportunities might come up."
If you are the one sending a connection, be sure to not use the canned invitation of "I'd like to add you as a connection" when sending the invite, especially if you feel you don't know the person incredibly well or that their memory might need some prodding. At the very least, even if they decline it, they'll be less likely to hit the dreaded "I don't know" button.
Finally, make your connection list public, Dixson says. If you don't, you are essentially defeating the purpose of LinkedIn. It's a social network, and there isn't anything more inherently unsocial than not allowing your contacts to connect with one another. The only exception would be is if you feel showing your connections would undermine your company's competitive advantage.
5. Recommend and getting recommended
The recommendations feature on LinkedIn can be a powerful way to show that your work has been endorsed by influential people. With this in mind, Dixson recommends a '360-degree strategy' that shows the various ways in which you do your job and the people you serve.
"You want managers, peers and clients to recommend you," Dixson says. "These should be people who know you well and who can really speak to your competencies as they're relevant to what you're positioning yourself for."
Alhough it's nice to be recommended, Dixson says it's vital to build up your own social capital by recommending others, and offers a key to good LinkedIn Etiquette, and social networks in general: What goes around comes around. If you write a good recommendation for a colleague, odds are someone will do the same for you in the future.
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