Gaining traction on LinkedIn is challenging enough. Performing well on the site involves the acquisition and application of specific knowledge and skills. Achieving LinkedIn mastery results from developing an appreciation for the art and science of social networking, ritualistically advancing knowledge, and transferring insights gained from LinkedIn activities to real-world scenarios. The transition to LinkedIn master also implies some mentoring, which is in no short supply in our Digital Era.
We all start out at the entrance of the LinkedIn maze together. Once we step in, each of us will choose a path. We negotiate each twist and turn at our own pace and develop our own frame of reference. Often, the need to retrace our steps arises, so we try another route. The goal is to keep thinking and keep moving. That is what separates the LinkedIn master from the dabbler, the achiever from the also-ran.
Back in the day, when I did my initial deep dive on LinkedIn, there was not much information available on how to leverage the site other than what the founders provided in the User Agreement. It was late 2006; the recession was taking hold, and nothing seemed certain. We were basically on our own. Eager to explore the emerging technology, I brought an open mind and a clear calendar to LinkedIn work and went full immersion.
For me, the learning was intuitive and efficient. I quickly discovered some important truths about how the site worked. I picked up on the manner in which social networks assembled and expanded. I saw how information flowed across the medium. In stringing my online observations together, and finding their real-world corollaries, my understanding of LinkedIn deepened. I accumulated knowledge, discovered I had a knack for transferring it to others, and went public.
Defining LinkedIn Mastery
The verb, to master, circa 1300, has its roots in Old French and Medieval Latin. It originally meant “to get the better of,” and in the 1740s came to mean “to acquire complete knowledge.” The noun, mastery, “from mesterie, “condition of being a master,” also “superiority, victory;” is similarly rooted, and came to mean “intellectual command” (of a topic) in the 1660s.
When it comes to LinkedIn, there is no finite body of knowledge. On a medium that is incomprehensible for so many, mastery may seem elusive. Most people do not consider their activities on the site in terms of performance. To them, LinkedIn is merely a handy “tool” for research, just another contact management system, or a digital repository for their resumé. Mastery can only be defined in terms of an individual’s willingness to attain it. One cannot become a master through sporadic study. A strong commitment to excellence is required.
A Master vs. an Expert
The words “master” and “expert” both connote extreme skillfulness, superiority, and preeminence. Master is an acknowledged title, bestowed upon one who has undergone rigorous study, passed through stages, and completed demanding tasks in the presence of others who did the same. Mastery—of a skill, a talent, or a discipline—denotes continuous learning and is at the core of thought leadership.
Expertise, conversely, is not always witnessed or shared. There are many self-declaring “experts” who have never schooled others or performed masterly feats. I contend that an expert reaches a threshold at which learning ceases. A master continues on a quest—embracing exploration, extrapolation, and teaching—adding and sharing new knowledge every step of the way.
Cultivating Good Self-Governance on LinkedIn
Mastery, like perfection, is something that we approach asymptotically. We court it, hover over it, and angle right up to it, but never quite latch on or touch down. It is the journey, and the manner in which we conduct ourselves on it, that fortifies us and gives us freedom. Your mindset, as well as your ability to exercise control over your surroundings, will move you forward.
When it comes to learning LinkedIn, people can be their own worst enemies. Online, many professionals self-govern defensively, and are reluctant to migrate out of their comfort zones. Their reptilian brains take control. Playing it close to the vest is not what shortens learning curves or promotes quality engagement. If you are to branch out on LinkedIn, you must adhere to your own ethical code, develop your own strategic framework, and accumulate knowledge at your own rate.
Once you are prepared to commit thoughts to action, you will:
- Recognize the point at which activity becomes strategy
- Learn more about the people you serve and wish to serve
- Trust yourself in your online interactions
- Position yourself for more meaningful conversations
Here are seven (7) pieces of perspective that I hope will help you govern yourself better and conquer the LinkedIn labyrinth:
1). Grant Yourself Autonomy
On LinkedIn, there are no assignments hanging over you, no performance reports to file. The results are there for the producing. It is your personal freedom on LinkedIn that will expose you to business opportunities, enable you to make quality connections, and give impetus to meaningful conversations. When you allow yourself to focus, LinkedIn loses its ritualistic overtones and becomes, well, fun.
Do not enforce any artificial constraints on your LinkedIn use, or feel that there might be something better to do. Block out distractions as best you can. When you are relaxed, you will feel more involved and be more receptive to exploring possibilities. Give yourself room to roam and permission to fail. Personal independence on LinkedIn can improve conceptualizing and lead to better decision making. Remember: in the end, it will be your take on the site—not mine or anyone else’s—that matters.
2). Learn LinkedIn Incrementally
Many businesspeople view LinkedIn as something that they “have to do,” as opposed to a vehicle through which they can grow professionally. As a result, I see many LinkedIn users putting undue pressure on themselves to quickly make something good happen. This typically results in skepticism, procrastination, or indifference—conditions not conducive to learning. Crash courses on LinkedIn don’t work. Your performance will improve through deliberate practice, critical thinking, and experimentation.
When learning LinkedIn, I never advise trying to do too much too soon. Each session ought to build on the one preceding it. Whether you are researching a prospect, gathering information on a target company, or augmenting your LinkedIn profile, go in with the expectation that you will make important discoveries and—lo and behold—you will. (Remember, you have already granted yourself autonomy.) As your knowledge accumulates, your self-confidence heightens. Slow and steady wins the race. Just ask the tortoise.
3). Visualize Positive Outcomes
The power of positive psychology in using LinkedIn cannot be underestimated. Anything that I have ever accomplished in business was born out of my optimistic outlook. In each situation, I visualized an outcome I wanted and moved towards it, never letting a negative thought enter my head. As elucidated by Colin Powell in his Thirteen Rules of Leadership, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
When you look on the bright side, amazing things happen. The regions of the brain that mediate attention, information processing, curiosity, imagination, judgment, learning, memory, motivation, and decision making are all activated. Suddenly, your observations gain relevance. Your mind whirls. You generate ideas and convert thought into action (or inaction). That is what drives LinkedIn mastery.
4). Attach Value to your LinkedIn Activities
LinkedIn is an input-equals-output proposition and an ever-changing medium that obeys conservation law. If you are to extract business value from LinkedIn, then you must first tailor your approach accordingly. By assigning value to the work, and understanding that each activity you perform on the site can have far-reaching real-world implications in your professional life, you will become proactive in learning its nuances.
It is a given that mastering anything is impossible without the requisite investment of time. LinkedIn is no exception. Time is relative in the pursuit of mastery. Spending time on the site and determining that as time well-spent are two different measures. You are on LinkedIn to achieve a professional goal. Part of the mastery equation is commanding your time on the site and enabling the development of skills and insights necessary to attain that goal. Don’t watch the clock.
5). Be Accountable in your LinkedIn Interactions
Personal accountability is an essential skill for leadership. So, too, is it for mastery. Sadly, I see so many instances where people interact blindly on LinkedIn, showing no regard for others or no intent to initiate a dialog. If you are looking to exercise your influence and drive results, then you must be answerable to those on the receiving end. The strength of your LinkedIn network is directly proportional to the sense of responsibility that you feel towards it.
Successful social networking is all about taking action and owning your outcomes. Accepting responsibility for your behavior (both online and offline) is an essential piece of self-governance, and is the key to developing strong, sustainable, trust-based professional relationships. Anonymity or indiscretion on LinkedIn will not get you very far if you are trying to assert yourself in business today.
6). Embrace Continuous Improvement
Consider the talents and skills that you have honed throughout your life—specifically, those that you are proud to possess. What was the common thread that ran through the learning process? You wanted to get better. You made strides. Whether you are learning to play a musical instrument at a virtuoso level, dominate a sport, or separate yourself from business competitors, you must have the drive—nay, the will—to advance and be the best you can be.
Successful social networking is a conscious choice. When you elevate your self-belief, you raise your level of performance, and drive more favorable outcomes. Improving yourself on LinkedIn translates to greater mental agility and more thoughtful connecting with peers. As you steadily improve on the site, you will recognize opportunities as they present and be better equipped to convert meaningful conversations into business wins.
7). Expect Change
LinkedIn, like anything else tied to the human condition, is in a constant state of flux. Whereas the system has achieved steady state—that is, its basic processes will continue well into the future—there are extreme modifications that often come without notice or need. On LinkedIn, the more radical changes are met with confusion, forcing users to course-correct, learn new features, and abandon well-formed habits. Best practices, however, remain best practices.
Those who wish to up-level their LinkedIn performance must anticipate and accept change. The site is becoming much more complex, upping the ante for those who wish to leverage its full potential. No competitive advantage can be gained from complacency. We have to evolve along with the medium and take what LinkedIn gives us. Remember: it’s their sandbox and we are just borrowing the toys.
A Parting Thought
I believe that every LinkedIn user has the potential for prolific achievement the site. However, connecting mechanically with someone you don’t know, or being able to locate specific people on a filtered search does not constitute mastery. It is execution with purpose that widens our footprint, deepens our knowledge, and creates sustainable results.
The key to mastering LinkedIn lies is acknowledging that there is a well-defined interface between the real and virtual business worlds.
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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