There are countless articles on best practices and tips for what to do on LinkedIn (including this one on mastering profile basics and this one on building your network by yours truly). But, I want to focus on what not to do on the platform because I see so many LinkedIn users – who are often very successful business professionals – make the same mistakes over and over again.
In some ways, I think it's more important to know what not to do on LinkedIn...
Many people set up LinkedIn profiles but then don't really know what to do with them. Others have no idea what to use LinkedIn for or how they can professionally benefit from using it. In some ways, I think it's more important to know what not to do on LinkedIn, because once you set up a profile it’s out there for the world to see. Remember that it's never too soon or late to start learning how to use LinkedIn to your advantage for your own personal goals!
1. First impressions really matter and today, a good profile photo is the norm on LinkedIn profiles. Omitting a profile photo, using a non-professional photo, a low-quality photo, a group photo where it's hard to decipher who you are or an old photo of yourself from years ago is a big mistake (hey if you're bald it’s okay!). There are no excuses today for not having an updated, recent photo. Also, ensure that your photo is correctly sized (ideally 400 by 400 pixels) and high-resolution.
2. Uploading a non-professional photo as your LinkedIn cover background image. You can upload an image to serve as your cover photo, giving your profile more personality. Just keep in mind that LinkedIn is a professional social network, so choose a photo that reflects your personal brand but is also appropriate. Also, make sure the image is high-resolution and correctly sized (1584 x 396 pixels), and that it's a JPG, PNG or GIF file under 8MB.
3. Writing out your name in all caps or all lowercase letters in the name section. Surprisingly, this happens quite often on LinkedIn but this is not the place to be unique. Be completely precise in all basic details. If you can't get your name right, you will leave people with major questions about other things about you.
4. Careless mistakes are just careless so closely proofread your profile. After you’re finished, ask a trusted friend or colleague to take an eagle eye look at it or send it to grammarly.com for an expert opinion at a low cost.
5. Writing a poor headline or no headline at all. Your LinkedIn headline is one of the most important sections of your profile because it gets pulled front and center into some browsers as well as into LinkedIn's searches. You only get 120 characters to describe yourself, so use this space wisely.
6. Having multiple profiles. Some LinkedIn users have several profiles from when they worked at prior firms or from defunct firms, or they created profiles under different emails, or they were originally set up by someone else. Whatever the case, having multiple profiles creates confusion for those searching for you. You can easily merge multiple profiles together and/or delete the other ones. You don’t want someone searching for you to think that the incomplete one is the correct one.
7. Having multiple current jobs. Some LinkedIn users forget to update their last prior job so it looks like they have two current jobs. This is confusing to anyone who is viewing your profile. You also run the risk of getting strange work anniversary congratulatory emails. Please don't be sloppy here. Take two seconds to change the date of your employment on your last position.
8. Being lazy about regularly updating your profile when you move jobs. Each time you move jobs you should immediately update your profile with the new position. This will also let others in your network know that you've landed somewhere new, triggering congratulatory notes to you. People just aren't sending emails as much anymore about job moves. LinkedIn is the place to go for job move information today. By switching your place of employment, you will also then automatically follow your new company on LinkedIn, which will enable you to then easily share content from your new employer.
9. Making it difficult for people to learn more about you by having an incomplete profile. You have complete control over your LinkedIn profile and can make updates in real time. This is how you build your professional brand and bring in business leads/referrals. By not taking advantage of this, you are doing yourself a disservice.
10. Omitting some of your former employers and schools and as well as key dates (note: you do not need to list months but you should list the years that you worked at a position and the year in which you graduated from an educational institution). Also, leave out irrelevant internships from the dawn of time.
11. Including awards and honors from the dinosaur age. Your mom cares about these but no one else does (sorry).
12. Not updating your profile (and headline) when you receive an award or recognition or write an article. These types of brand-building activities help to establish you as a subject-matter expert. The key is to write them in a way that is humble, not boastful.
13. Failing to include a summary or creating an odd summary by using bullets, all caps, one sentence, your firm description or anything else that is not the LinkedIn norm. Note, if you aren't sure how to write a good summary, just look at some of your competitors' or colleagues' profiles for inspiration, or the LinkedIn tips article that I linked above.
14. Copying and pasting your web site bio into your summary section. In fact, you can’t because LinkedIn will cut you off at 2,000 characters, and web content should be less formal in tone. Never use formal surnames such as Mr. or Ms. Include keywords for SEO purposes. Organize it in short paragraphs and vary up the sentence construction. Avoid using legal jargon and buzzwords.
15. Writing about yourself in formal terms (such as referring to yourself as "Mr. Smith" instead of "Jim" - you will look like you have no idea how to use LinkedIn if you do this.
16. Not including your contact information on your profile. I have seen people lose business and speaking engagements and other great opportunities because they didn't include their email or phone number on their LinkedIn profile. C'mon - this is basic stuff!
17. Leaving out chunks of your employment history, leading the reader to believe you have much less experience than you actually do. Don't sell yourself short!
18. Not personalizing a connection request. Reference how you met or something you discussed. Keep it short and light. Note - you can't really do this well from your mobile device, but you can from the desktop version of LinkedIn.
19. Blindly accepting connection requests from individuals you do not know. Why would you do this? It is my number one LinkedIn pet peeve. I get several of these each day and it baffles me why people continue to send them.
20. Sending LinkedIn requests to people you don’t know (you can get penalized for this if you do it too many times!). This is the flipside of #19 - why would you do this? It will not bring you new business or a new friend – in fact, it will likely repel people.
21. Trying to link in with someone more than once when they declined the first time (take a hint!).
22. Bugging your new contacts within 10 minutes of linking with them. Don't be a stage 1 clinger. Give them space and act cool.
23. Missing out on important opportunities because you didn’t regularly check your LinkedIn inbox. Log into LinkedIn's settings section to set your email notifications to your preference so that you do not miss a message or a notification.
24. Being too salesy in any communication on LinkedIn (always remember that less is more, try to add value to your connections and build relationships. The used car salesman approach rarely works).
25. Embellishing your background in any way. Everyone is researching each other online and so there’s no point in doing this. It will eventually catch up with you.
26. Doing nothing on LinkedIn. This means not engaging with your connections by not posting or sharing articles or commenting on content from those in your network. What's the point of setting up a profile if you aren't going to use it? Remember that your LinkedIn network is like a garden and needs constant care and nurturing in order to thrive.
27. Not customizing your public profile/vanity URL. If you don't do this, you will have a bunch of odd-looking characters after your name. A shortened, custom LinkedIn URL is much cleaner and web savvy. To customize your LinkedIn URL, follow the instructions right on LinkedIn’s web site.
28. Posting updates too often that don't provide value to your connections. Your posts can't be all about you or say nothing. Create value-added, educational posts that give insights to your network and help position you as a thought leader and subject-matter expert.
29. Having less than 200 LinkedIn connections – I know you know more people than that! Remember that while it’s not about the number of connections that you have it is about the quality of your connections, but there’s a happy medium between the two.
30. Forgetting to change your privacy settings to anonymous when doing a lot of LinkedIn profile research. Most people don’t want others in their network to know they’ve been “stalking” others.
31. Forgetting to edit your sharing profile settings when you are making major changes to your profile resulting in getting lots of emails and congratulations when all you did was add a comma or updating a few words. Make sure to toggle off this switch before you do an overhaul of your profile and then turn it back on again strategically when you want your network to know about updates to your profile.
32. Forgetting how you know someone when you are asking for a favor. Recently someone asked me to make an introduction to another LinkedIn contact we shared. When she asked me, she referenced how we met each other, but she was completely wrong, which made me doubt her memory and judgment. The lesson here: If you are going to ask someone to do you a favor, make sure you know exactly how you know that person, and if you have trouble remembering things, keep a spreadsheet with notes on your important contacts.
33. Leaving the activities section blank. I know you have a lot of interesting things going on in your life and career. Your activities on LinkedIn show what you care about. Don’t leave that information out of your profile, it’s a great way to help you stand out.
34. Having no direction. It’s always a good idea to think about what you want to do next in your career as you are updating your profile. This will help you fine-tune and refine yours so that you can better position your skills and experience for the next opportunity or as you think about rebranding yourself.
35. Not showing versus telling. You are up against the content clock with every single line of your LinkedIn profile (the platform gives you space constraints in each section) so you must be smart, clear and concise in your language while trying to stand out from the pack. I always aim to show versus tell in everything I write demonstrating the how and why instead of simply stating it.
36. Omitting your accomplishments for each job. Don’t just list your responsibilities for each position – take it a step further and detail in a concise way a few of your proudest achievements.
37. Employing overused words in you profile that actually wind up meaning nothing, such as “experienced” “specialize” “passionate” “strategic” “focused” or “skilled.” Here’s why – you’re basically stating the obvious by using these words and when you have space constraints on LinkedIn, you must be very picky about every single word and character choice, so choose wisely.
38. Not letting your individuality shine through in your profile. You are not a robot (at least I hope you aren’t). Let your unique attributes and what makes you YOU come through in your profile.
39. Using business speak/jargon: don’t use cliché phrases like “depth and breadth” or “synergy” or “results-oriented” - instead write the way you actually speak and drop the business filler language from your vocabulary. Your words will be much more powerful.
40. Posting only text updates. Visual content performs better online than text, so every piece of content you post to LinkedIn (and to social media in general) should have an accompanying image to go along with it. Take photos at events, use canva.com to create free custom graphics, use Picstitch and repurpose headshots.
41. Clicking on something too quickly from LinkedIn (either in an email or a web page) and winding up sending invites to everyone in your address book, including your grandma and your gardener. Proceed with caution and do not auto enable anything with regards to your contacts.
42. Failing to use LinkedIn as one of your primary tools when job hunting. LinkedIn is one of the most powerful tools for job hunters - from actual job postings listed on the site to providing free research on employers and future colleagues - you would be very wise to incorporate the platform into your job hunting strategy. Those who aren't are at a huge disadvantage today.
43. Giving/accepting recommendations. While it's nice to say nice things about people you know, you may eventually regret recommending someone down the line and in some fields, such as law, it is actually frowned upon to give and receive recommendations. My advice on this to completely steer clear of this area on such a public platform like LinkedIn and save any recommendations for the private sector.
44. Failing to use LinkedIn Publisher to write articles. The LinkedIn Publisher tool gives you the ability to publish articles right from your desktop. This can help you build your brand and establish yourself as a subject-matter expert. It is also free to do and you since you are self-publishing, you can freely write about the business topics that interest you most. You can add hashtags, which will help your content be found. So why wouldn't you take advantage of LinkedIn Publisher?
45. Not actively engaging with your connections - you should be reading, liking, commenting and sharing the posts of important people in your network every single day. Try setting a small goal for daily social media engagement.
46. LinkedIn is a key way to extend relationships before and after events and conferences, so don't be lazy about forgetting to connect with all the people you meet or want to meet. Take business cards and use them to send connection requests (then add them to your CRM system/Outlook and toss the cards). It gives you a real reason to be in touch with important individuals.
47. Failing to incorporate LinkedIn’s analytics into your content marketing strategy. LinkedIn’s analytics give you a treasure trove of information about who is viewing your profile, who your peer set is and most importantly, which of your posts and articles are resonating with viewers. If you don’t use these to your advantage, you are creating content in the dark and why would you do that?
48. Failing to say “please” and “thank you” after asking a connection to make an introduction or asking them for a favor. Another important step to take – let the connection who went the extra mile for you know what happened with the opportunity. Keeping people informed and closing the loop is a great way to show how much you appreciate them.
49. Using the platform like Facebook and blurring the lines between personal and professional posts. Remember LinkedIn is for professional updates and news – not for personal updates, such as anything involving your family, friends or current events/pop culture and especially your thoughts on anything in the political realm. When in doubt, don’t post it to LinkedIn.
50. Not downloading the LinkedIn app. One of the smartest things you can do is to log into LinkedIn from your smartphone on your commute or during other downtime. You can pretty much do anything you can do on the desktop version from your mobile device.
LinkedIn is one of the best tools to grow relationships, bring in business leads, build and strengthen your brand, and stay top of mind with individuals in your professional network regardless of where they live – IF you know how to use it. So, spend the time to learn the do's and – just as importantly – the don'ts, and you will be well on your way to business development and marketing success in no time!
For more advanced tips on how to use LinkedIn to build your professional network, read my article, "Build a Stronger Professional Network Today with These LinkedIn To-Do's"
[Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 17 years, she has worked with some of the most prominent and innovative law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating business development and communications strategies, including media relations, branding, and multi-channel content marketing and social media campaigns. She is very passionate about using social media for lead generation and brand building. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size/small-law firms. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her latest writing on JD Supra.]
(I hope you will consider joining me and my 2019 Legal Marketing Association Social Media and Digital Marketing co-chair Jennifer Simpson Carr for our LMA 2019 Annual Conference deep-dive workshop program on day two of the conference on Wednesday, April 10 at 1:30pm “Beyond Branding: Aligning Social Media Strategy with Business Development Goals.")