Having been one of LinkedIn‘s first users when it launched in 2003, I’ve had almost two decades to grow my professional network organically. I reached a milestone of sorts this week — albeit an arbitrary one — with my 10,000th LinkedIn connection, having recently started re-engaging with the community after a relatively quiet #COVID19 pandemic period.
Before the world was turned on its head by a tiny strand of RNA two years ago next month(!), I spent at least as much time travelling for work as I did at home, presenting at events, advocating and setting standards for cloud computing, and building relationships for myself and my employers including Google and Equinix, among other things. I also found time for travel, a spot of scuba diving, and of course an annual pilgrimage to the Burning Man event in the Nevada desert where I run one of the bigger bars.
For those just joining me following recent startup & venture capital events: I’m an Australian computer scientist living in (and working on!) the future in Singapore, after years living and/or working abroad in Ireland, France, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. At the start of the year I left DXC Technology — where I ran emerging technology R&D and a global network of innovation centres — to start Acumino, a venture studio focused on using emerging technologies in disruptive innovations. The first portfolio companies include productivity optimised accommodation platform for professionals Work Sleep Live and social live video platform Speakeasy, with others on the way — watch this space!
Now you know a bit about who I am and why I’m here, I wanted to share some tips I found most useful in growing a thriving professional network organically. I say organically because I believe that’s the only way it should be done, with inorganic growth leading to problems including low-quality connections and noise for you and for them. Happily Tim Queen has already written about How to get 10k LinkedIn followers in 2022 (organically), so I’m going to focus on my top tips while he covers over 50 in detail:
- Fix your profile: Fill in all the details and make sure they’re relevant, both to your education/experience and the community/s you’re targeting, and up-to-date.
- Connect to existing contacts: You no doubt already have many connections in your phone book and email contacts so if you haven’t already done so, be sure to invite them! Seems obvious but many skip this important step.
- Create relevant content: There are various forms of content options available, and you should use a mix of text, images, documents, and videos to get a relevant message across in an authoritative manner; don’t write about things you know nothing about.
- Use keywords and hashtags: People can and do find you by search terms and hashtags, so be sure to use them or you’ll remain invisible. Do not abuse them though as you’ll just annoy people when you show up in irrelevant results.
- Tag companies and connections: Only where relevant to their interests, tag others on LinkedIn both to identify the subject and to alert them you’re talking about them. I prefer to do this inline, weaving them into the text rather than in a list at the end which comes across as spammy.
- Post regularly: Find a balance between inactivity and hyperactivity (which will likely just get you unfollowed or blocked) by posting regularly, as often as a few times a week or even daily, but at least monthly or so.
- Interact with others: Social networks are not a one-way street and if you don’t interact with others on their posts and yours, you’re not going to get the most value out of the experience. You don’t know everything, and have more to learn from others than they have from you.
- Create pages: In addition to personal profiles (e.g., https://linkedin.com/in/samjohnston) you can create company pages (e.g., https://www.linkedin.com/company/acumino/) which makes sense if and only if you have a suitable entity.
- Be professional: From headshot to headlines, bear in mind people will judge you for what you post. I opt for authenticity and candour over superficial posts, but I’m generally still considerate of what people are expecting from a professional network. That said, there are exceptions to every rule, and I’ve made one or two recently posting Honest Government Ads on the COP26 Climate Summit and Net Zero by 2050 because it’s just that important and we need to shift the Overton window.
- Be positive: LinkedIn Recommendations and Endorsements are a powerful feature for sharing with the world your positive experience working with people. Be genuine and remember that if you advocate for someone who then burns a bridge, they burn the bridge for you too.
Here’s some anti-patterns I see on LinkedIn which you should also avoid:
- Don’t create personal profiles for companies; these are annoying and will likely be detected and disabled with you losing all your content and connections.
- Don’t presume others are as interested in your project or product as you are. This is particularly relevant if you’re going to invade their inbox uninvited.
- Don’t pitch irrelevant products unless you want to get promptly blocked; spamming me about widgets I don’t want is the fastest way to earn a block. IT outsourcing shops are notorious for this and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve deployed the ban hammer, which almost certainly has a negative impact on your digital reputation.
- Don’t create irrelevant content, particularly if it is going to come across as spammy and erode your reputation. Polls masquerading as posts and using abusing reactions to tally responses is one of my pet peeves, and it just looks tacky.
- Don’t create inauthentic recommendations or endorsements, as you owe it to your connections to give an honest opinion they may end up relying on.
Finally, on the topic of politics on professional networks, many publicly advocate keeping LinkedIn politics free, and saving such posts to feed dumpster fires elsewhere. Politics are a fact of life, and businesses are responsible for many of the most serious problems we face today (i.e., climate change), while actively advocating to maintain or even undermine the status quo (e.g., weaken environmental restrictions). As such it is not only totally acceptable to post and participate in professional political discussions, but very likely critical if we are to successfully navigate existential threats. If you don’t like it, ignore it.
Please feel free to give feedback or share this post along with any tips of your own, and I look forward to seeing you back here for the 20,000 connection followup in another 20 years!