The following is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of the recently released book Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits. These basic LinkedIn Profile tips for nonprofit professionals serve as a foundation for when and if your nonprofit is ready to utilize LinkedIn Groups and Company Pages. That said, I do not cover personal LinkedIn Profiles in my upcoming webinar How Nonprofits Can Successfully Use Twitter and LinkedIn, but LinkedIn Groups and Company Pages are covered in detail in both the webinar and in the book.
Finally, it’s important to understand that the line between personal and professional is blurry on LinkedIn, so much so that it’s completely respectable to use LinkedIn for personal reasons during office hours. The time you spend mastering LinkedIn benefits both your long-term career and your current nonprofit employer.
Unless you plan on working at your current nonprofit for the rest of your life, it’s entirely possible that during your next job search, recruiters and your future boss will be browsing your LinkedIn Profile. In fact, as long as you follow the tips outlined here, you’ll probably want to add your LinkedIn Profile vanity URL to your résumé. Until then, when you’re advocating for the nonprofit where you currently work, the professionalism of your profile directly reflects upon your nonprofit. Though it may take four to five hours, you should make the effort and invest the time necessary to complete your LinkedIn Profile in order to maximize its full potential. To create and then set up a profile on LinkedIn, go to linkedin.com/reg/join, then go to “Profile > Edit Profile” and follow the tips given here. You’ll also want to click on your name in the upper right of LinkedIn and select “Settings” to configure your privacy settings and e-mail notifications.
1. Fill Out Your Profile to “100 Percent Completeness”
As you set up your profile, LinkedIn will display a thermometer indicating the percent to which your profile is complete. Fill out all fields until you reach 100 percent. You should add a brief, succinct bio to the summary field. Include the majority of your work experience and all schools you attended (even study abroad programs). Maximize the website and Twitter fields. Fill out interests, groups and associations, and honors and awards. There are also special sections of your profile where you can list certifications, languages, patents, skills, and publications. For security reasons, do not add your phone number or mailing address. Connections can contact you directly through LinkedIn Mail. A profile that is 100 percent completed makes a strong first impression upon LinkedIn members and anyone who might be searching for you in Google or Yahoo!. LinkedIn Profiles rank very high in search results, so make sure yours is filled to 100 percent completeness.
2. Use a Professional Photo for Your Profile Photo
It’s best to use a profile photo on LinkedIn that speaks to your professional career, not your personal life (that is, not photos that were taken on vacation, with the family, in costume, and so on). Some personality is OK, but if you wouldn’t use a photo on the “Staff” page of your nonprofit’s website, then don’t use it on LinkedIn, either. In the spirit of merging the personal with the professional, you can help build your nonprofit’s brand recognition in the LinkedIn community by adding your nonprofit’s Twibbon to your profile picture. Also, it’s worth noting that your profile cannot reach 100 percent completeness without your uploading a photo. The LinkedIn community is skeptical of profiles without photos, thinking that they may be spammers, so LinkedIn makes uploading a photo a requirement for completion.
3. Customize Your Headline
By default, LinkedIn uses the title of your current position as your “Professional Headline.” You can customize your headline and add more detail and personality by going to “Edit Profile.” When people browse connections on LinkedIn, it’s your headline that is displayed most prominently, so craft it to make a strong first impression and summarize your most valuable skills.
4. Reserve Your LinkedIn Public Profile Vanity URL
To make it easier for you to promote your LinkedIn profile online, in e-mail, and on your résumé, it’s crucial that you go to “Edit Profile > Edit Public Profile >” and set your public profile URL. Use your first and last names to optimize search engine results, such as linkedin.com/in/heathermansfield. Fortunately, you can change your vanity URL at a later date if necessary—if you get married and change your name, for example.
5. Make Connections
Once you have set up your profile, you are ready to go public. Go to “People” and search individually by name, or import your contacts from your e-mail address books. You can also search for past work colleagues by going to “Companies” and searching for the company pages of places where you used to work (these are also accessible on the public view of your profile by clicking the company page icon next to each of your past employers’ names). When you find people you know, go to their profile and add them to your network. Finally, you should add your LinkedIn Profile vanity URL to your work e-mail signature.
6. Give Recommendations
Featured on your profile, “Recommendations” are like references, and they are highly prized and much sought after on LinkedIn. Connections can write a paragraph or two about working with you and about your skill set and professional attributes, and vice versa. Recommendations are, of course, meant to be positive. To get recommendations, however, in most cases you have to give recommendations. Make a commitment to give one or two a month. Proper etiquette is to reciprocate with anyone who gives you a recommendation (although not everyone does so). Don’t take it too personally if you don’t get one in return. More than likely, the person is just busy or not that active on LinkedIn. Still, hopefully, within a year you’ll have five or more recommendations.
7. Post Authentic Updates—Don’t Sync with Twitter!
Featured on the “Home” view of LinkedIn are the updates that have been posted by your connections. What you usually see there (and what most people ignore) are tweets that have been automatically posted in the LinkedIn news feed from your personal profile. Resist the urge and do not automate! Automated tweets just clutter the feed, and many people find them annoying. Make an effort to post authentic updates at least once a week. You’re more likely to get noticed and receive comments and likes as well when you post authentically. It’s worth noting that your most recent update is always featured at the top of your profile, so post updates strategically.
8. Use LinkedIn Apps
LinkedIn has a small application directory that allows you to feature your blog and PowerPoint presentations directly on your profile, among other things. To browse available apps, go to “Edit Profile > Add an application” and add at least one app. They add some color and pizzazz that can easily grab the attention of people who visit your profile.
9. Join, Participate in, and Display LinkedIn Groups on Your Profile
There are tens of thousands of groups on LinkedIn on topics ranging from “Autism Speaks” to “Zoo and Aquarium Professionals.” There are also a wide variety of groups related to nonprofit professional networking, job seeking, fund-raising, communications, and philanthropy. You should browse and join groups that are related to your nonprofit’s mission and programs, along with those that are specialized for the nonprofit sector, and then post links to your blog or website in discussions or promotions and engage fellow members. Be sure to monitor your LinkedIn referring traffic to your website and blog. The click-through rate on LinkedIn is phenomenal, often higher than that for Twitter or Facebook, provided your content is good. You’ll also probably start receiving more requests to connect, and possibly a recommendation or two, if you are active in groups. It’s beneficial to both your personal and nonprofit brands for you to spend a couple of hours per month participating in groups. Finally, be sure to allow your groups (under settings) to be featured on your profile. The groups you join and display on your LinkedIn Profile say a lot about who you are and where your interests lie.
10. Experiment with Answers
If you enjoy chatting online with strangers, then it’s worth experimenting with LinkedIn Answers. There is a nonprofit category where you can ask or answer questions in subcategories related to nonprofit fund-raising, nonprofit management, philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship. The more you participate, the higher you move up the “Top Experts” list. At a minimum, participate once or twice a month to get your name out on LinkedIn.
11. Don’t Engage the Narcissists!
There are countless experts, masters, mavens, rock stars, and gurus on LinkedIn. The vast majority are respectful, courteous, and helpful, but some are over the top in their arrogance and expertise. People in the nonprofit sector in general are humble and very good at keeping their egos in check, but occasionally you will encounter an outrageous personality on LinkedIn who enjoys inciting arguments with people, claiming absolutes, and constantly spamming your group. Experience will teach you that it’s best to just ignore or block these people. The more you engage them, the worse it gets. Encountering such narcissists is rare, but it is a uniquely LinkedIn experience that can be shocking to some nonprofit professionals when they first encounter it.