How to Tell Your Professional Story on LinkedIn
There are more how-to articles about creating LinkedIn profiles than there were stars at the Academy Awards. But with all due respect, most are worth less than a DVD of Lindsay Lohan's best performances. That’s because almost every tip I’ve read suggests you should create an LI profile that reads more like an unemployed used car salesman’s resume.
Success on LinkedIn depends upon your ability to craft compelling stories that engage your audience. The site has successfully transformed itself from an online recruiting platform to a robust business-to-business social media community; as such, you should contribute in ways that add value to the community.
With that in mind, I asked for some quick storytelling tips from Sam Ford, Peppercomm's director of audience engagement, the coauthor of Spreadable Media, and a frequent speaker at publishing and social media events such as South By Southwest and MIT's Media in Transition conference.
Why is a vibrant LinkedIn profile page critical to an entrepreneur's success?
Sam Ford: LinkedIn has provided a platform that is increasingly seen as a place to manage your professional connections and tell the story of who you are as a professional, not just to job hunt. These days, many people are more likely to check out your LinkedIn profile than any corporate biography, because they know where to look for what, and how to understand who you are as a professional. Your LinkedIn profile is also likely to appear at or near the top of an online search for your name. That makes it one of the most significant vehicles for telling your professional story.
How do you define storytelling in the context of LI?
SF: I’m talking about how professionals use their LinkedIn profile to show people who they are and what they care about. For example, your LinkedIn profile could inform people you’re an expert on diversity in the workplace by listing some of your key publications on those issues. Or it could demonstrate you care about mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs by including your service on key boards. A good LinkedIn profile shares your professional history and shows how your professional choices and accomplishments form a clear career trajectory.
How do you tell LI stories that are neither hard sell nor self-serving?
SF: The ideal profile begins with an overall summary or narrative written in the first person and provides an overview of your career and points of passion and focus. That, in turn, sets up the overall narrative the rest of the profile can flesh out. I liken it to the first time you meet someone. Do you talk all about yourself or engage that person in a conversation? Use that same strategy when creating your LinkedIn profile.
Can you share a best practice?
SF: Many people copy over impersonal language from their professional resume. Instead, you should opt for a first-person narrative that contains a paragraph describing each position you've held. Then, connect your lead paragraph to the overall narrative of who you are as a professional. Also, rather than cite the awards you've won or industry associations to which you belong, list those--with the appropriate details and links--in the "Honors and Awards" and "Organizations" sections of your profile. Connect them with the professional role you held at the time. That way, those who visit your page can find--in the logical places--all the details about what you’ve achieved in your career, without you bragging about it.
How often do you need to refresh the stories you tell on LI?
SF: The best way to update your page frequently is through "status updates." Once a week or so, you might share news about something you’re pondering, an event you've participated in, an interesting article you’ve read, or a piece you’ve written that you think would be of interest to your professional connections. And now LinkedIn is also rolling out a publishing function for all users. This allows entrepreneurs to write longer pieces for their LinkedIn network, which if they gain traction might be shared elsewhere on the site.
It seems to me a lot of the people who connect with me on LI are job seekers. Why do I care if they read and spread my stories?
SF: First, it's crucial you think carefully about how you want to manage your LinkedIn profile. For me, I use it to stay connected with those who have some connection to me elsewhere. If someone I don't know contacts me on LinkedIn, I suggest we chat on the phone, or meet up in person, to talk about what brought them my way. Most of the time, that weeds out people who wanted something from me other than to genuinely connect. And in the process, it’s caused me to know who each of my connections are, and to understand why we are connected. Because I know why each person is in my network, I see great value in sharing my work and reading about theirs.
Increasingly, information circulates through personal connections, and it's often more credible when it’s being shared by someone we know and trust. I know those with whom I'm connected share similar professional interests. And hopefully they themselves are connected to the types of people who I would want to reach with what I share.
STEVE CODY | Columnist
I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam Ford is director of audience engagement at Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (NYU Press, 2013). He is an alumnus and affiliate with MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing and acts as co-chair of the Ethics Committee for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.