How to Use LinkedIn to Build a Stronger Professional Network

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It has never been more important to build relationships online...

LinkedIn enables you to quickly build and grow relationships, strengthen your brand, and stay top of mind with key individuals in your professional network regardless of where they live.

Most people take the time to create a LinkedIn profile but they miss the mark when it comes to how they interact with their connections and actively cultivate their network. Your success on LinkedIn hinges upon your ability to be top of mind, relevant and helpful with a robust network.

LinkedIn provides a treasure trove of valuable competitive intelligence, which can help you gain an advantage over your competitors and better understand your clients’ needs.

Here are some quick and easy examples of actions you can take on the platform to strengthen relationships:

  • Did someone you know just land a new job? Spend a few minutes sending them a quick congratulatory note. I have seen this type of interaction serve as the catalyst to reengaging a relationship, leading to a new client engagement.
  • Are you attending or speaking at a (virtual) industry event? Tell your network about it by posting a LinkedIn status update. The benefit of this is threefold – you can establish yourself as a subject-matter expert and also potentially find people with whom you can connect via the event. You can also reignite relationships, as above, staying top of mind with your network.
  • Did you or a colleague write an article that would be valuable to your network? Yes, your marketing team will post it to your firm’s web site and social media channels, but you should go the extra mile and tap into your own valuable social network by sharing it from your LinkedIn profile. Otherwise, you are missing out on reaching a prime target audience.

None of the activities that I suggested above are very time consuming but can yield great results in generating new business leads and enhancing your professional brand. LinkedIn easily enables you to keep your network “warm” and stay top of mind with key connections right from your desk or mobile device.

Today, networking online is just as important as making in-person connections. And LinkedIn continues to be the most important social media channel for business development. Don’t forget that your LinkedIn profile is often the first or second Google search result when someone searches for you online.

While in-person interactions will always be vital to maintaining relationships, in the current environment we can’t meet up in person. LinkedIn makes it easier and more efficient than ever to nurture relationships.

That being said, when you engage online, you must do two things – make your professional network feel good and offer valuable content that showcases your expertise on a consistent basis.

These light touches will help to keep you top of mind with your contacts. They often lead to new business, or at the very least, can help you elevate your brand to be seen as a subject-matter expert.

Here’s how to use LinkedIn to your business development and branding advantage.

1. Get the Basics Down First

You can’t effectively use LinkedIn’s advanced features if you don’t have a strong profile. Spend the time to develop a profile that highlights your professional attributes, successes and background, while letting your uniqueness shine through. This should not be a regurgitation of your web site bio or resume. In fact, LinkedIn is sneaky and has character limits, so it won’t even allow you to do that. Here are some profile basics to ensure yours is optimized:

  • Create a dynamic LinkedIn headline with descriptive keywords (Note: This is THE most important line of your profile because it gets pulled into Google).
  • Craft a dynamic LinkedIn summary. I could write an entire article on best practices for this (come to think of it – stay tuned for that!). But for now, I would just say describe who you are, what you do and notable accomplishments and don’t make it too formal in tone (never use surnames such as Mr. or Ms. – you’d be surprised how many lawyer bios at major firms still include those titles!). Include relevant keywords in the summary section to assist with searchability. Think about what truly differentiates you. The summary should be written in a professional tone but not as formal as your web bio. Tip: Write your summary in a tone you would use to address someone over coffee.
  • Add a profile photo – profiles with photos are 14x(!) more likely to be viewed. Ensure that the photo is the correct size and that it is a professional headshot. (It amazes me that there is still an abundance of casual, inappropriate and incorrectly sized photos being used as profile photos on LinkedIn, which is a huge misstep on this social platform). With helpful editing tools available right on your smartphone that will give a casual shot a professional background, there is no excuse to not have a professional photo today.
  • Make sure that your contact information is included front and center in your profile – what’s the point of having a profile if no one can find you? If you make it difficult for someone to get in touch with you, they won’t.
  • Create a custom friendly LinkedIn URL. Otherwise, you’ll have a bunch of numbers, letters and other characters next to your name. A shortened, custom LinkedIn URL is shorter, succinct and web savvy. You should include this URL in your email signature as a branding tool.

2. Use Information to Your Advantage

LinkedIn provides great excuses to reach out to those in your network through its notifications section.

Log in during down time and check out what people in your network are posting, who has switched jobs, who is celebrating a work anniversary, who is speaking at an event, or has written a blog post or article.

Then use these professional milestones to reach out to those individuals who you’ve been meaning to contact – this is powerful information, don’t let it go to waste. I have seen these notifications serve as the catalyst to reigniting a relationship and leading to a new client engagement multiple times. They can serve as the “hook” you need to get your foot back in the door with someone important.

3. Add Value to Your Network

Make a note to regularly follow up with important contacts by sending them value-added content with a personal note. Perhaps it’s an article, blog post or industry study that you saw – or better yet – wrote yourself.

Take this one step further and keep a content feed – for me, this is a spreadsheet of articles, studies and infographics from publications and other sources that I follow. I regularly post this content to LinkedIn (and Twitter) to stay top of mind.

Sharing information of worth to your network will position you as a thought leader and can lead to business and referrals.

4. Make it Personal

Send quick messages to people who have recently connected with you. Easily build your network through LinkedIn’s helpful “People You May Know” feature (the more you use it, the better the people suggestions will be).

Also, send a personalized note with every connection request – it doesn’t have to be long, but something short that references how and when you met and why you wanted to connect with them works well.

Tip: it is not easy to personalize connection requests when sending them from your mobile device – it’s more of a quick click and send from there, so send VIP connection requests from your desktop if you want to craft a personal note.

5. Sharing Is Caring

You can easily share an update from your LinkedIn home page. All you need to do is copy the link to an article and hit “Share.” What types of content should you share? Articles that are helpful to your practice; articles written by other attorneys in your firm; general business or economics articles that you like or that made you think. If you find it interesting, most likely your contacts will, too. But keep in mind to not overshare, especially about yourself.

I make an effort to post content about others in my network (and tag them in the posts). You can build stronger relationships by giving these “LinkedIn shout outs” and endorsements. It doesn’t take a lot of time to share an article written by someone in your network or to congratulate a VIP contact on an honor. Make an effort and stick to it. If you have trouble remembering to do this, create a social media editorial calendar, which has greatly helped me curate posts.

Taking the time to like, comment or share on important connections’ posts helps to build relationships and keeps you top of mind within your network.

6. Compliment Someone

Always remember that compliments are a great way to build stronger relationships with people in your professional network. Be genuine with your praise – perhaps you enjoyed their article, blog post, webinar, podcast, etc. – reference something specific from that touchpoint when you reach out to them. This is also a great way to introduce yourself and connect with someone you don’t know. No one dislikes a compliment ever.

7. Information is Power

Everyone Googles everyone, period. With so much information on the internet, why not use LinkedIn to help with your competitive intelligence efforts?

For example, follow the LinkedIn accounts of your top competitor firms. Link in with your competitors as well so that you can gain access to seeing not only what they are up to and how they brand themselves, but most importantly, the individuals in their professional networks. This will give you a treasure trove of valuable information on who may be their clients and referral sources.

Also, LinkedIn has some cool tools, such as “People Also Viewed,” which can tell you a lot about the LinkedIn profiles that the viewers of your profile also looked at. It can be interesting to see who is your “competition.” Note – you can turn this feature off if you don’t want to be included in it.

8. Channel Your Inner Bob Ross

Visual content greatly outperforms posts with just text on every social media platform. So take photos at events, use canva.com to create free custom graphics, use Picstitch and repurpose headshots.

Take a look at this article I published on “17 Low Cost (or Free!) Social Media MarTech Tools to Try For Your Law Firm Today” that may help to inspire you and the best part? They’re all either free or cheap.

9. Actively Cultivate Your Network

While quality is always better than quantity, most people could greatly increase the number of connections they have on LinkedIn. Here are some ideas on how to create a strategic connections plan to find contacts and maximize your network:

  • Follow your former firms/companies, alumni groups and trade associations.
  • Search for contacts through their companies.
  • Review your connections’ connections – who do they know who you know?
  • Utilize the “People You May Know” feature. The more you use it, the more targeted the suggestions will be. (Note: This is a great tool to browse while on your commute – it can really make the time pass!)
  • Reconcile your LinkedIn contacts with your Outlook address book and CRM system. The point of this bullet is that most people today just don’t always send an email to let you know that they are leaving their job along with their new contact information/vCard. Today, they usually update the information on LinkedIn, so it’s up to you to do the due diligence to find out where they landed and then most importantly, to update their contact information in your CRM system to ensure that they still receive client alerts/invites, etc. (What’s the point of having all of these great professional contacts if they aren’t getting your updates? At the very least, make sure to share them on LinkedIn.)
  • Beware of LinkedIn’s mass “Import Your Contacts” feature. Never click on any of the prompts on LinkedIn where it asks you to upload your address book or send a LinkedIn invite to your contacts. You can wind up inviting every single person in your address from the history of time. Like your gardener. Your grandma. Your high school boyfriend. Only do this if you really want to be in touch with these people and field their confused questions about why you’re suddenly adding them to your professional network.

Putting it All Together

In-house counsel regularly hire outside counsel whom they know and trust, and so nurturing relationships is vital to your business development success. This is why social networks like LinkedIn are so powerful – they can help you reinforce relationships and build on them.

LinkedIn is primarily a free tool (the free version will usually meet most of the average business person’s needs unless you are job searching or doing a lot of prospecting), so use it smartly by sharing content that your firm produces, or better yet, content that you wrote and use it often (especially when your target audiences are using it). Connect and engage with former colleagues and classmates. Download the LinkedIn app if you haven’t yet.

I have never seen LinkedIn directly lead to new business more than I have in the last couple of years.

While I can’t promise you that LinkedIn will bring you scores of new clients, I can promise you that spending the time and effort in building a strong profile, learning all you can about its features and regularly using it to network and share information is a wise investment in your brand and your future.

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Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 18 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 multichannel 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 as well as her blog The Social Media Butterfly.

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