The quality-versus-quantity argument regarding LinkedIn rages on. How much information is too much? Is a bigger network better? What constitutes excessive posting? Often, there is no logical manner in which to assess how people use the site; they just do what they do. Many are merely keeping score and not actually achieving any objectives. I have learned that when it comes to winning business on LinkedIn, numbers are irrelevant. Quality trumps quantity every time.
In the 2011 film, Moneyball, based on the book by Michael Lewis, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics. Known for his frugal yet contrarian decisions regarding the assessment of baseball talent, Beane assembled competitive teams against the grain of his peers, who evaluated players solely on traditional statistics (e.g., batting average, runs batted in, earned run average, and the like). That, he felt, would lead to more wins.
An empirical analysis of LinkedIn draws comparison to sabermetrics, the statistical breakdown of baseball that measures in-game activity. Sabermetricians study the skill sets of players in an effort to predict performance, yet call into question some of the sport’s most time-tested measures. Numbers in social networking can also be deceiving, especially when trying to assess the likelihood of an event or gauge a person’s reaction to phenomena observed online.
Cultivating Quality on LinkedIn
Throughout the years, I have fielded countless LinkedIn-related questions regarding the quality-versus-quantity argument. My answers delve into the core areas of successful site use, extend well beyond mere metrics, and concentrate on those activities and decisions that drive positive outcomes. Whereas performance on LinkedIn can be quantified, I believe that the qualitative aspects are most telling of how users extract value from their experiences.
There are three (3) primary activities performed on LinkedIn. They are: 1). Marketing, 2). Connecting, and 3). Learning. To support these activities, LinkedIn provides you with a profile page, a house for your network, and an interactive space that includes the home page, a private messaging system, a public group forum, and a publishing platform). How you configure your LinkedIn account (e.g., privacy and security settings) will determine how effectively you disseminate your message, grow your network, and acquire and apply new knowledge.
Everything you do on LinkedIn falls into one, ideally all, of the three main activity areas. The other stuff (personal brand building, lead generation, thought leadership, recruiting, etc.) follows in sequence. At the other side of effort comes achievement. A high level of performance on LinkedIn equates to consistently making decisions that will ultimately yield business wins or expose you to new career opportunities. Poor preparation, lack of focus, or trying to do too much too soon, will dilute the quality of your work.
Your drive to make a lasting impression will carry over into all aspects of LinkedIn activity. Whereas each aspect of marketing, learning, and connecting on LinkedIn lends itself to statistical treatment, quality on LinkedIn is tied to personal productivity. The more compelling your LinkedIn profile content, the higher the caliber of professional you bring into your LinkedIn network, and the greater the skill with which you communicate, the more productive you will be on the site.
Quality of effort on LinkedIn means not shortchanging yourself in using the site. The more value you attach to the work, the better you will perform.
Consider these nine (9) essential areas of LinkedIn in which quality—not quantity—will drive engagement:
1). LinkedIn Profile Content
The purpose of the LinkedIn profile is to convey your professional value in a manner that heightens interest and impels action. Profile strength equates to clarity of content. Visitors must be able to discern who you are and walk away with a clear sense of what it is you do, for whom you do it, why you do it, and—most importantly—the benefit of working with you. As the storyteller, you can go in any number of different directions with your narrative. Profile length is immaterial as long as the story flows and viewers are willing to read it. Brevity does not necessarily mean clarity.
The best LinkedIn profiles speak to the pain of the ideal client or target organization, and render the subject as problem solver or high-impact contributor. It is all too sad a practice that so many users default to an existing bio, or their resumé, and transplant the content verbatim to the corresponding sections of their LinkedIn profiles. Such redundancy only commoditizes people rather than portraying them as thought leaders, trusted advisors, or highly-qualified solution providers.
LinkedIn allows for a maximum of 120 characters (including spaces) in the professional headline, and up to 2,000 characters (including spaces), or approximately 325 words, in the summary, experience, and advice for contacting sections—the key impact areas of the profile. Some users opt for short and sweet while others stretch the page to its textual limits. Conversely, a long-winded, rambling profile with repetitive text and excessive key-wording may cloud one’s value proposition and fail to hold attention.
The quality of your LinkedIn profile content dictates the impression of you that will form and the inclination of others to take action with you.
2). LinkedIn First-Degree Connections
Effectiveness in social networking is tied to respect-based connecting, recognizing potential opportunities, and building equity into key relationships. Your LinkedIn network will only be as strong and as fruitful as the people you accept into it. Certainly, a large network has the potential to generate more leads and business opportunities. But it will also require greater effort to identify potential collaborators, influencers, and economic buyers. A solid, cohesive network is one that is assembled around your desired outcome (as communicated in your LinkedIn profile) and is rife with high-caliber professionals who are aligned with you in some manner.
Focused solely on network size, scores of LinkedIn users blindly accepted invitations to connect because they thought that, yes, bigger was better. They also wanted to get to 500+, LinkedIn’s magical benchmark of first-degree connections, as quickly as possible. Their years of unintentional connecting yielded huge networks that are impossible to manage. Smaller networks, those that are organically grown and comprised of closely-vetted professionals, tend to be more fertile soil for economic opportunities.
The best ammunition in the quality-over-quantity debate with respect to connecting on LinkedIn is the LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). LIONs are willing to accept anyone into their networks—as long as they have a pulse. This begs the question: how on earth does one leverage a five-digit LinkedIn network? Seems unduly stressful, doesn’t it? Hoarding connections does not fuel commerce. Successful use of the site runs independent of the tally of connections; it is the manner in which you handle your network that drives results. Quality reigns.
The quality of a LinkedIn network is determined by the commitment to assemble it and the drive to build trusted professional relationships.
3). LinkedIn One-on-One Interactions
The degree to which you communicate with clients, prospects, and peers on LinkedIn will have far-reaching implications in your ability to win new business. Quality interactions on LinkedIn define as meaningful conversations with potential transaction partners or those professionals who can lead you to them. As our networks grow, it is easy to lose track of names. Opportunities will slip through the cracks. Success favors those who develop good habits in following up and managing conversations.
Think of the interactive space on LinkedIn as a conversation funnel, into which pour direct messages to and from your first-degree LinkedIn connections (and their connections), fellow LinkedIn group members, correspondence with LinkedIn users outside your direct network (InMails or Open Profile messages), and those who engage with you on posts. Granted, not every message is going to blossom into a substantive business dialog. But those conversations that drip out of the funnel—the ones that present possibility—are time-sensitive. You must strike while the iron is hot.
From the point of approach, through the connection process, and in the communication sequence that follows, certain interactions will bubble up and warrant priority consideration. Building equity into professional relationships is not scalable. Focus on those that hold promise for you. Better to have one strong dialog going that could yield a positive result than multiple exchanges that will lead you down a blind alley and strain your patience.
(Sustaining online conversations is like keeping many plates spinning at once. Each plate will continue to revolve as long as you pay attention and apply force as needed. The longer a conversation stays in play, the greater your likelihood to pull it offline and convert it to a sale, referral, or job offer. When neglected, a conversation, just like the plate, will stop, drop, and crash.)
Increased involvement on LinkedIn will open up more avenues of engagement, both within and external to your network.
4). LinkedIn Short-Form Posts (Status Updates)
Through LinkedIn status updates, you establish a presence on the site, deepen your LinkedIn footprint, and extend your marketing reach. Your updates, or short-form posts, are confined to the site’s home page (the “stream”), and include your personal broadcasts to your LinkedIn community that are designed to elicit responses (likes, comments, and shares). These messages, which can vary in type, length, and scope are intended to increase your visibility on LinkedIn and simultaneously drive peer-to-peer (P2P) interactions. Collectively, they comprise the bulk of your activity on the site. Each update you post is archived at your LinkedIn profile and can be referenced by visitors.
In recent years, many LinkedIn users (purists) have been highly critical of others whose updates have become too Facebook-y in content, or those who post incessantly. Putting forth an opinion, promoting an event, touting an honor, or announcing a media placement all classify as suitable topics for a short-form post.
The more you post, the more “active” you are on the site, and the more engagement you can potentially drive. However, if you post too often, or splash up ill-conceived or irreverent content, you run the risk of alienating certain first-degree connections. LinkedIn Nation has grown weary of posts that ask users to solve math problems or word search puzzles. If you continue to post low-grade, banal content, expect that some of your LinkedIn connections may hide your updates—or worse, expunge you from their network.
So how many updates are too many? As networks expand, the shelf life of a given post decreases; it will be seen by fewer people in a shorter amount of time. Therefore, a consistent effort is required to deliver the type of content that will heighten awareness and make impressions. The quality of the post, not the frequency with which you post, is of consequence.
Quality LinkedIn updates spark engagement by effectively communicating positive changes in your professional life, provide an insight or idea that others may find valuable, or support the work of a colleague.
5). LinkedIn Long-Form Posts
LinkedIn Publishing gives every user an outlet for personal expression and the opportunity to heighten exposure. With the universal access, comes an entire new set of metrics to gauge reach and efficacy of written content. Each blog, known as a long-form post, feeds into Pulse, LinkedIn’s content curation platform, and becomes a permanent addition to that user’s LinkedIn profile. Over time, competitive advantage can accrue from a LinkedIn content portfolio that demonstrates domain expertise and engages the LinkedIn community.
In the world of content aggregation, the goal of the writer is to differentiate, build a readership, and engage on a meaningful level with loyal followers. Compiling an impressive portfolio of value-rich content, even if it only consists of a few pieces, is more desirable than pushing out sub-par work at a high rate. Give people a chance to digest what you’ve written by spacing your posts at the appropriate intervals and they will eagerly anticipate your next submission.
Although there is no restriction on the length of long-form posts, you would be well-served to keep them within, say, 200-600 words. Remember that people come to LinkedIn with limited time budgets and fragmented attention spans. Your piece, the one into which you poured your heart and soul, may not get read if it is too long, too complex, or poorly titled. ‘Ya gotta grab the reader.
The number of views a long-form post receives is influenced by network size (a point for quantity), subject relevance, and the extent to which the piece is shared. But getting the right view—from someone who can evangelize your post and give you greater coverage throughout the LinkedIn ecosystem, as well as on other social platforms—is key.
Quality original written content published on LinkedIn has both an intellectual and emotional appeal; it provokes thought, and is shareable.
6). LinkedIn Written Recommendations
Our credibility is earned through the verification of those we serve, as well as colleagues who can speak to our character and ability to deliver on our brand promise. On LinkedIn, your expertise and skills are validated in the form of recommendations that are written by those who have benefited from an association or engagement with you. The process of producing the recommendation has become an exercise in collaboration. Many busy professionals need guidance (as well as several gentle reminders) to write it from the person making the request.
Purchase decisions are increasingly made based on the information gleaned from the Internet. This holds true for people as well as the products they sell and services they provide. It is through the good words of others that we can truly build our brand. Thoughtful, well-composed recommendations give you social proof, which is crucial to doing business in today’s Digital Era. A strong recommendation dovetails the storytelling set forth in the topmost sections of the profile, while providing convincing evidence of your integrity and professionalism to those considering an engagement with you.
There is no limit as to the number of recommendations one can collect and display on their LinkedIn profile. But it is important to differentiate between those recommendations that speak to your core competencies and others that just pad the total. One flowing and glowing testimonial offered by a person of prominence (e.g., an ecstatic client, a senior executive at a prestigious firm where you worked, or a highly-respected industry leader) tops multiple entries that fail to shed any light on your value.
A quality written LinkedIn recommendation is well-crafted, comes from a reliable source, and confirms your professional value.
7). LinkedIn Endorsements
Questions surrounding the legitimacy of LinkedIn endorsements have persisted since the feature was introduced on September 24, 2012. The company clearly felt that it was important for us to routinely recognize our first-degree connections, given the ease with which they flow out of our conscious awareness. As endorsements became commonplace, the rate of written recommendations precipitously decreased, leading many users to the conclusion that the endorsement was a suitable substitute (which it is not).
LinkedIn endorsements are surface acknowledgments of a user’s skill sets or areas of expertise, often given by those who are not witness to their demonstration. Unlike the written recommendation, which requires time and thought to produce, the endorsement is a quick and purely mechanical act, typically the result of a prompt from the LinkedIn system. Today, there are still many users who solicit endorsements from their connections, vying for clicks as if out to win a popularity contest.
I deem the LinkedIn endorsement as more of an engagement strategy than a reliable assessment of an individual’s competencies. An endorsement—itself, a touch point that can catalyze a meaningful business conversation—acquires validity when it is given for a preferred skill in earnest, and corroborated by a profile view. Whether they come to you organically, or are coerced by the LinkedIn platform, endorsements are an inherently good thing. Thanking those who endorse you is not only a best practice, but the decent thing to do.
(We are beginning to see a corollary between the number of endorsements in a particular skill and an individual’s position in the search listings for that skill. This would suggest that the quantity of endorsements may have considerable weight in helping recruiters locate top talent and buyers locate reputable vendors or service providers.)
A quality LinkedIn endorsement is one that sparks engagement, and is given for the skills and acumen you actually possess by one who knows you possess them.
8). LinkedIn Groups
LinkedIn groups are sub-communities of LinkedIn that foster idea exchange, foster connectivity, and create inroads for prospecting. In the early days of LinkedIn, users were advised to join as many groups as possible, especially those with large memberships. This would enable them to shorten the separation between themselves and hundreds of thousands of professionals. The problem: Huge groups produced an overabundance of content, much of it self-promotional and irrelevant, and generated a profuse amount of email messages that, for the most part, went ignored.
Group size may not necessarily be a determinant of member value. Often, smaller groups of tightly-vetted professionals who are serious about keeping discussions clean by staying on-topic are more desirable. Contributing to a group means that you actually contribute, not hijack the thread to your awesome blog of awesomeness that will revolutionize the way people think and breathe.
The LinkedIn groups were conceived to heighten brand awareness and generate meaningful interactions. However, you cannot extract value from a LinkedIn group unless you activate. Throughout the years, many users merely joined groups and let the logos cluster on their profile pages, not so much as ever clicking in to see what was happening. Those who participated organically increased their LinkedIn networks and found themselves managing more meaningful conversations.
(At the time of this writing, the LinkedIn group platform is undergoing a massive overhaul. Whereas the best practices of group activity have not changed, the manner in which groups are accessed and joined is drastically different. The new rules will impact the growth rate of groups, as well as the marketing outreach of group owners. Engagement, too, has precipitously declined. Many LinkedIn users have abstained from group activity altogether.)
The quality of a LinkedIn group is measured by the conduct of its members, the sense of community it engenders, and the level of insightful commentary it produces.
9). Time Spent on LinkedIn
How much time should one realistically spend on LinkedIn? The correct answer: it depends. It is not the “how much” as simply the “how” that defines the best use of time. In order to become efficient and proficient on LinkedIn, a significant investment of time is required. Performing at a high level on the site correlates to learning style, cognitive stamina, and attention span. Those who enjoy the work, and deem it worthy of their time, will be better equipped to generate demand, leads, and revenue.
Let us revisit the three key activities on LinkedIn—namely, marketing, learning, and connecting. Making strides on the site means that you have marketed yourself in some fashion; you have made a connection that could be beneficial to your career; you have learned something about your industry, your target market, or yourself that will make you a better businessperson. All are examples of time on the site well spent.
Each minute you spend on LinkedIn has the potential to produce value. You can dabble for hours per week on the site and not accomplish anything, or create a game-changing business opportunity in a matter of moments. Every session ideally builds on the one preceding it, exposes you to new insights, and moves you closer to a desired outcome. What you can potentially walk away with during a given login is more important than punching the clock.
Quality time on LinkedIn is that during which your focus is on those activities and people that can advance you toward a professional goal.
♦ LinkedIn is a dichotomous economy. In the quantity economy, you focus on more; in the quality economy, you focus on better. The constant push and pull of the two economies is to be expected given the variety of personalities, expectations, and risk tolerances among LinkedIn users.
♦ The endgame of LinkedIn work is the achievement of a professional goal. With that in mind, focus on distinguishing yourself in your LinkedIn profile, extolling the virtues of your first-degree connections, and producing excellent content. These are the aspects what will put you on the LinkedIn map.
♦ LinkedIn is a big, broad topic. Rather than get hung up on magnitude, focus on dimension. The further you veer away from statistics, the more effective you will be in executing on LinkedIn strategy. Developing good habits on the site is essential for initiating, sustaining, and capitalizing on conversations.
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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