Mr. Manners: The LinkedIn Etiquette Edition

Andrew Stantenby Andrew Stanten

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LinkedIn seemingly is going to sh*t.
I say “seemingly” because I still believe it is an incredibly valuable business networking, marketing and sales tool. However, like most things that get popular, its intended purpose gets fuzzy with wide adoption and etiquette goes out the window. Lately, that’s what I feel has happened. I feel like LinkedIn is being misused and abused.

When I set out to write this month’s blog, I crowd-sourced my own LinkedIn connections to ask if I was alone in this thinking or if others were noticing professional faux pas.

I wasn’t alone, it turned out, but I was encouraged to focus on what people should be doing on LinkedIn (as opposed to complaining about what was bothering me). Now, being true to myself and the spirit of this blog, I can’t completely overlook the egregious, but will focus first and foremost on the “must dos” in an effort to help you and your team make a good first and lasting professional impression to all of your connections.

Do align your company boilerplate among all employees.

Rule number one in having a strong brand is the top line positioning (how you want to be known and seen in the market) needs to be consistent across the organization. A company we were about to start working with had about 200 employees on LinkedIn.

A quick search of more than two dozen employee profiles at the company revealed that no two employees described where they worked in the same way. This sends a confusing message to the market. Are they a product company? Solutions company? Only focused on the health care vertical? It was hard to tell. And while an individual’s LinkedIn profile is theirs and not the company’s, leadership can provide the top line messaging to all team members and encourage them to use it in their profile. Better yet, you can offer to help them update by having your social media team do it for them.

Do prescribe to the 80/20 rule.

Eighty percent of what you post on your personal LinkedIn profile should be valuable insight, comments, original thought leadership content or sharing of others’ news, insight and information. About 20% of what you publish or post to LinkedIn can be salesy. But if all you do is push people to sign up for a demo from your company, people will tune out even when you have valuable, insightful content to share. One individual I used to follow works at a high-flying software startup. Every day he not only tooted the company’s horn but beat his own chest. The day he posted a press release about the company’s recent growth with the comment, “I was a key contributor to this,” I blocked him from my feed.

Do use it as a megaphone.

When you do have news to share about your industry, clients, colleagues or company, remember the power of the network. Craft the two-to-three-sentence post, select the appropriate image and provide it to everyone on your team, encouraging them to share it. While best-case scenario is that team members will tweak the post you provided to make it sound like them, it’s still okay if they cut/paste what you provide.

If people on your team have similar connections, those connections are more likely to see your post. Now, if you are in a company where 100 people share the news, think of the exponential frequency (the number of times someone sees the news) and reach (the number of people who see it).

I was speaking with a CEO a few months back who was nervous about this “whole social media LinkedIn thing.” His approach was to restrict who in the company could post anything about the company and/or its clients. Certainly not the best way to spread the word. And while I would agree only certain people should be authorized to create content on behalf of the company, why not leverage the power of the networks of everyone who works there and have them share the approved post?

Do take advantage of the Published Posts feature.

In the last year or so, LinkedIn expanded its publishing platform to allow members to publish long-form posts. When you publish a long-form post on LinkedIn, your original content is searchable and displayed on the Posts section of your LinkedIn profile. It gets shared with connections and followers so it pops up in their feed and often in their email box (depending on their settings). The key there is people can follow what you have to say without you having to accept them into your network. Again, it’s about quality, not quantity. People can block and unsubscribe to your published posts as easily as they can opt-in. Give them good content, they’ll share it and more people will subscribe to your posts as a follower. Every new blog you write should not only live on your company website; it should also be shared to your personal LinkedIn page as a Published Post.

Don’t indiscriminately click on endorsements.

LinkedIn pops up these notes to endorse people all the time. If you’ve hardly worked with someone or barely know them, don’t click. It’s silly and holds very little value. (I hope they kill this abused feature.) Instead, if you really want to prop someone up, someone you know well, write a well-thought-through recommendation. And then ask them to return the favor.

Do keep it professional.

Lately, I’m seeing a lot on LinkedIn that really doesn’t belong in a business networking platform. Just like there are things you shouldn’t do at an in-person networking event (like drink too much or summon your inner Jerry Seinfeld and be a close talker), there are things you should and shouldn’t do on LinkedIn.

To know what is appropriate and what isn’t, first and foremost, you need to first understand the purpose of the platform. Know the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook. When I solicited my network for input for this blog post, fellow Rodale alum Jonathan Peace’s response was spot on.

“I saw lots of March Madness posts in both places,” Peace commented. “On Facebook, you can post about how well your team is doing. On LinkedIn, talk about how the tourney is promoted, the ads, cross promotional opportunities, how to safely tie-in your promotion without threat of getting sued (“Our March Sale Is Pure Madness!”).”

In the “keep it professional” category, here are a few more no-no’s:

Don’t get political.

This one is only going to get worse as we approach November 2016. Please stop with the political commentary. Even if, as Peace suggests above, you are able to tie your position into a business discussion, don’t. Politics don’t belong on LinkedIn. Period.

Don’t seek to inspire.

While in the tiniest of doses can be palatable, if you find yourself sharing quotes (especially quotes that aren’t business-related), you are missing the mark. Save those for Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

My connection Bob Martin summed this one up nicely.

“I can do without prepackaged GIFs of inspirational sayings shared indiscriminately — makes me feel I’ve been magically transported to the greeting card aisle at Walmart…” he commented.

Don’t test connections’ math skills.

Unless you are a quantitative analyst or looking for a job teaching math there’s no reason to quiz your connections on complex math equations. Nope. Not a one.

Don’t set Maxim-esque profile pics.

I’ve seen some real jaw-dropper profile picture updates lately. If you wouldn’t walk into a professional job interview wearing it, don’t use it for your profile picture. While you may get a flurry of unsolicited connection requests from people you don’t know, it does not reflect well on your professionalism.

Now that you’ve been reminded of the ground rules, up the ante on your company page with our “10 Tips for a Successful Company LinkedIn Page” blog.