Whereas LinkedIn is considered as an indispensable component of business today, so many people remain confused as to how the site works. They might engage on a minimal level (if at all) before becoming overwhelmed by a sense of urgency to produce results. This creates undue stress and compromises their ability to learn. Factor in time demands, constant distractions, and personal obligations, and it is no wonder that these folks feel downright lost when it comes to LinkedIn.
It may seem counterintuitive that a blog with a subtitle of The Thinking Person’s Guide to LinkedIn and Social Business would publish a piece for the utterly and hopelessly confused. But shortening learning curves and moving others to the next level of insight on LinkedIn is the focus of this platform. Losing one’s way on the site does not equate to feeling defeated by technology; it simply means that a reframing of perspective and revisiting of the basics is in order.
Having collaborated with professionals at all points of the LinkedIn knowledge continuum, I appreciate the variety of learning styles, attitudes, and risk tolerances that people bring to their online work. I also take into account differences in the manner in which they align with others, form relationships, and cultivate business opportunities. We all view LinkedIn—and assess its potential in our professional lives—differently.
As a social business psychologist, I believe that with the right mindset, anything is possible. I help my clients and students capitalize on all that LinkedIn has to offer by giving them a cognitive framework within which to operate. The success I have earned as a LinkedIn educator has come from setting realistic expectations for each individual or team, reinforcing positive behaviors, monitoring performance, and effectively tracking results.
Stranded in the Digital Jungle
The psychology of being lost dovetails the feeling of being in control. Once something of perceived value falls outside our grasp, our competitive nature takes over, and we will do whatever is necessary to latch onto it. Confidence lost—in business or in life—is a terrible thing. Some folks never get it back; they feel driven out, excluded, and incomplete. It is reflected in their behavior. So, too, is the desperation that stems from the loss of perspective. Panic can rush in when the big picture goes fuzzy.
A primary reason why so many people cannot gain traction on LinkedIn is that they do not picture themselves in the virtual world. To them, LinkedIn is an intangible, an abstraction fraught with uncertainty. The site is too noisy, too labyrinthine, or too bewildering to enjoy or take seriously. Rather than become energized by the technology, they evade it. Some will initiate up to a point, only to hit the wall, wave the white flag, and abstain from further use.
In my experience, many folks who report that they feel lost on LinkedIn know more than they think. They participate—some more actively than others—but have yet to create benefit or see advantage. Perhaps they have bought into certain myths or misconceptions. Others reach an impasse or simply do not want to do the work. (Ours is a society always in search of a shortcut.) They have not attached value to LinkedIn, or at least enough to justify the investment of time and effort.
The LinkedIn 101 Conundrum
When it comes to level of proficiency on LinkedIn, the lines between novice and seasoned user have blurred. I have trained absolute beginners who intuit very well and become incredibly productive on the site in a short period of time. I also know many so-called power users, those who have logged countless hours on LinkedIn, understand its processes, but have not been able to convert their activities into real world gain. Again, the differentiator is mindset.
Elementary LinkedIn procedures have also become tougher to teach. The overarching problem is that the LinkedIn site is innovating so rapidly that it is outpacing the collective learning curve. The majority of tutorial content—even that from LinkedIn itself—is lofty, well out of the comprehensive range of the average user. Whereas I continue to emphasize best practices, much of my instructional design has shifted toward storytelling. Story tinged with a little humor helps my clients and students simplify, filter the overload, and manage change.
When it comes to learning LinkedIn, there is no substitute for actual experience in front of the computer. In order to leverage LinkedIn to bring an envisioned professional goal to fruition, you must first discern the relevance of events taking place on the site. Cutting through the clutter requires time, patience, and critical thinking. You acquire wisdom on LinkedIn as you would anything else; each increment of new knowledge gleaned ought to build on the one preceding it and be systematically applied to the real world.
What is the Real Value of LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is designed to augment what you do in the physical world of business. When properly configured, your LinkedIn profile transmits your humanity, energy, and competencies in a manner that makes you real and credible. Within LinkedIn’s interactive space are those individuals who can become your clients, customers, collaborators, or employers. A serendipitous online encounter can lead to a call or a meeting that can transform your professional life.
Agile users have come to see LinkedIn’s value as an instrument (not a tool) of positive change. They are good at reading situations. They take the best routes toward opportunity. They connect with the right people, follow up, and follow through. As a result, they unearth stepping stones to a professional goal and make the subtle shifts in conversation that win business. LinkedIn becomes the catalyst, the intermediary, the driver.
To understand the intrinsic value (that which is readily discernible) and extrinsic value (that which lies beneath the surface) of LinkedIn, you must first understand what it is that you are trying to build. What is it that can be built through your use of LinkedIn?
1). You Build a Brand
Understand that nowadays, businesspeople are brands and researched in much the same way as any other piece of consumer goods. On LinkedIn, you set yourself up for favorable decision making—as a seller, service provider, enterprise partner, qualified job candidate, or first-degree connection. Your mission is to create favorable first and lasting impressions, and generate bias toward you, your company, and your offerings.
Brand awareness on LinkedIn is directly proportional to the extent to which you participate and communicate on the site. The stronger your LinkedIn profile, the deeper you will drive your LinkedIn footprint, and the more likely you will be noticed or found. Over time, you shape, guide, and manage the perceptions of you, and become known for the products you sell, the services you provide, the enterprise you run, or the niche you strive to capture.
2). You Build a Network
LinkedIn has changed the way that people organize for business by shortening the distance between professionals, accelerating relationship development, and enabling both parties to maneuver into conversations that could otherwise not be initiated. The site affords businesspeople with unprecedented access to economic buyers, potential joint venture partners, and prospective employers. Simply put, it is a game-changer.
Mutually-beneficial relationships are the lifeblood of business. You assemble your LinkedIn network organically and methodically—that is, with those people who are in greatest proximity to you and in harmony with your core values. By applying the information you glean about your LinkedIn connections and their companies, you can expand your respective networks and create new inroads of conversation. High-level LinkedIn performance equates to effective communications management.
3). You Build a Business Case for Yourself
On LinkedIn, business is won through engagement with an online community. Your increased exposure on the site will ideally draw more relevant traffic to your LinkedIn profile, which will in turn drive more meaningful interactions. As you transition those conversations into the real world, you want to move people to greater understanding of your professional value and ease them into the notion of doing business with you.
LinkedIn gives you a marvelous vehicle for stating undisputed facts about yourself and establishing credibility. Your trustworthiness and expertise are validated through written recommendations from your direct LinkedIn connections, that are posted on your profile page and offer social proof. Once you understand that you are being referenced on the site by those who may one day write you checks, you will begin to recognize opportunities and no longer feel lost. At that point, LinkedIn leaves off as idle activity and moves into the realm of strategy.
♦ Irrespective of your business role or goal, LinkedIn has the infrastructure in place to position you for the specific economic opportunities you seek. Do not postpone your exploration of the site, or submit to self-limiting beliefs. Be proactive in meeting the knowledge requirement for producing results on LinkedIn. You will find your way.
♦ It is easy to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by LinkedIn. The key is to not feel consumed by the tidal wave of information that pounds the site on a daily basis. Bring an open mind to each login. Pace yourself, but push yourself.
♦ If you are still truly lost on LinkedIn, and are struggling to make sense (cents) of its role in your professional life, you may be overthinking it. Rigorous analysis is the enemy of simplification. Relax and let your intuition guide you. Or place a call to me.
Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His ability to spark others to action has earned him the moniker of “The LinkedIn Catalyst.” JD is considered one of the world’s top thought leaders on LinkedIn, and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn education. He is also a globally acclaimed social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and frequent broadcast media expert on LinkedIn for business. Additionally, JD is adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an academic discipline. In addition to his blog, The Wisdom Zone, JD is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Forbes.
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