After a hectic day on social media it’s become clear that I need to share my Jules Rules for using LinkedIn because it is time for us to collectively update our skills.
I have often provided my best advice on how to use social media, especially LinkedIn, which is based on over ten years of using the platform extensively. I have been a corporate social media trainer and have worked with many professionals and executives. While the advice actually seems to remain nearly the same year after year, I am still finding that the platform is tragically ignored or underutilized by the vast majority of professionals.
As a longtime LinkedIn user and expert on the topic, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the platform. It can be wondrously useful, yet mystifying at the same time.
Let me walk you though my steps for managing LinkedIn like a pro.
First, I have informally divided my LinkedIn connections into four groups:
My legacy contacts: These are people I connected with years ago during work scenarios where we were close, but over time our connection has dwindled to simply being LinkedIn connections. These contacts are important because they remind me of where I have been, the progress I have made, and the common threads that bind us beyond our work. I do not market to this group as they are more like friends.
My professional peers: These are the communications and public relations professionals whose work is similar to mine and they are the people I rely on as soundingboards, content providers, and professional educators for questions or work-related situations. They can be senior to me, or people new to the industry, but our common interest is our shared profession. These contacts are important because they help me understand my profession and offer advice and support when needed.
My business acquaintances: These are the people who I have mingled with through work, my volunteer activities, board positions, and the like. They are not PR professionals, but our paths have crossed in some way, at some point. These contacts are important because they can introduce me to contacts with different areas of expertise and reading what they post keeps me updated on the business world outside of public relations.
My job helpers: This group is made up of recruiters and human resources professionals that have guided me on job searches and interviews. These contacts are important because they help me with employment prospects and potential job opportunities.
So this diverse group of businesspeople, some similar in profession, but most very different, make up a network that I find to be very valuable and enjoyable. I work very hard to be an excellent social media citizen; to provide valuable content, news, information, and feedback; and to actually engage with those that have connected with me on LinkedIn.
I have about 2,800 connections, which feels like a lot to me, but I know there are people with many, many more. In the early days, I only accepted connections from people that I knew in real life, but as social media broadened our world, I realized that I would be missing out if I said no to an awesome professional on the other side of the world, who I had little chance of meeting in real life. At least not anytime soon. This opened the floodgates to a lot of random connections that never really felt real, so more recently I tightened up my approach and have used it successfully for several years.
My main setting on LinkedIn is to offer people the chance to follow me first. Most people take this offer and I have many people who follow me, but are not connections. This seems to work well as I imagine most people are following me for my content and commentary on public relations and communications and do not actually need to be connected to me. These days it is much more rare to receive a connection request, as I mostly receive notifications of new followers instead.
As I mentioned, I am committed to actively engaging with all of my followers and connections. I know, it is the perfectionist in me, and many people are satisfied with simply having connections and not actually ever speaking to them, but, as you know, I am a communicator and therefore, I must communicate.
A couple of years ago I developed a system for keeping up with the 2,800 people I feel need my attention. Everyone gets a message from me at least once per year. (This is my personal minimum level of engagement that I can allow myself to get away with.) Now, some of the people I am connected to I speak with all of the time – that includes clients, bosses, and public relations professionals that are part of my tribe. That is about 10% of all of my connections, so I still have a fair amount of chatting to do, even if I eliminate the regulars from my annual outreach list.
I hold recruiters in a special light. I am fairly certain they do not need a lot of PR engagement from me, so I eliminate them from my annual outreach as well. There are a couple of PR recruiters that fall into the tribe category, but that is based on their level of engagement with my content.
So on average, I have about 2,500 business acquaintances and professional peers to connect with on an annual basis. In the old days, I accomplished this by sending an annual email. LinkedIn has made mass messaging a lot more difficult in recent years, which I agree with, so I have taken to using the white-glove approach. Every contact receives a personalized message from me within the LinkedIn platform at least once a year. This message could be a shared article that highlights their industry, it could be a report of some type that I would like their feedback on, it could be a reminder of the work that I do and how I could help their business, or it could be a simple friendly message from me.
So I started this process for 2020 and as I’m going along, getting through my messages a few connections at a time, I noticed some things happening that I do not like. (You knew this was coming!)
First, I became aware of how my connections cold-pitched me upon becoming connected. I have posted extensively about how poorly received sales pitches are on LinkedIn and while those still come through, I think the world is starting to get the message: cold sales pitches on LinkedIn do not work.
But other things have cropped up that need correcting. I found that I had dozens of connections that did not have profile pictures. That seemed odd to me. It’s not 2009. Everyone has photos online. In 2020, no photo means no real person. I of course removed all connections that lacked a photo. You simply are not taking social media marketing seriously and you simply do not care to invest in your personal brand if you do not have a photo. I personally am only interested in connecting with people who are engaged and invested.
The next thing I noticed was that I had several contacts who had not responded to my message last year. That means that they reached out to me as a new connection, I said yes, I later sent a nice note, and they never responded. Why did they want to connect with me if they were never going to have an actual conversation with me? I don’t know and I don’t care, but I can only put effort into those who are willing to put some effort in as well. The no response connections have been eliminated!
But being a connection doesn’t take any effort so why should I care?
Actually, I put a tremendous amount of effort into the content that I create, the articles I write, the commentary I provide, and the advice that I share. I get that we are in a free economy where most content is available for free, but I feel that if someone is not even willing to respond to a question or comment about their business – after they asked me to connect – they really should not get first access or priority viewing of my content. I put so much energy into understanding public relations, doing public relations, and teaching public relations, that I feel as though the tiniest bit of acknowledgment or response is a reasonable request to put on my connections.
The other tiny requirement that I put on my LinkedIn connections is that they post reasonable content. When I see really rude posts, overly political diatribes, or posts that are too personal and not suited for LinkedIn, it makes me not want to be associated with those professionals. We all have very different lives and vastly different experiences, so I know that our cultural, political, economic, and social lives will likely be different in many ways. I don’t hold differences (different opinions, attitudes, ideas) against anyone. What I hold against people is posting rude, insensitive, racist, or masoginistic content. Even if it was not an original post but one that they share or like, if a post is really off, it makes me feel like we are not a good fit as connections.
I know politics has us all up in arms these days and I actually post a lot of content that has political themes. I just cannot get around it. The media, social, public, and government affairs aspects of my work are too connected to politics to be avoided. However, I post questions and issues related to my field, not specific support of candidates, parties, or politicians. If a political figure does something that impacts the media landscape, that is news to me and it is worth dissecting that news and having that conversation. Even if I like the politician, I will not promote that individual or that party. I will simply convey my thoughts on how their PR efforts or strategic communications were either positive or negative.
When others post really abrasive political content it tells me that they are not good listeners, they are not strategic thinkers, they do not approach the media with a critical eye, and they do not have reasonable personal and professional boundaries. I need my LinkedIn network to be bursting with really smart, strategic, critical thinkers. If you show me that you have no interest in being productive online, then there’s not a reason to stay connected.
I talk about social media a lot and often refer to my suggested approach of using a 360° PR engagement approach when it comes to social marketing. What completely surprises me is that many of the LinkedIn connections that I reach out to but never hear back from originally asked me for the connection. I do not understand it and maybe I never will!
In the meantime, maybe they’ll read my updated Jules Rules for LinkedIn:
Remember to treat LinkedIn differently than Facebook!
Segment your connections to better engage each group in specific ways.
Provide niche content that is of use to your connections.
Engage in a variety of ways. Just liking is not enough — comment, share others posts, and respond to tags, questions, and messages.
If you make the first move, prepare to follow up and be available for the second and third move.
Do not be surprised if your missing photo drives people away.
Respond to those who message you or comment on your posts.