LinkedIn is a great tool to build a consultant’s web presence and demonstrate capabilities to other professionals, potential clients and colleagues. Used wisely, it is a social networking tool that can build search engine visibility and highlight key consulting competencies and niche expertise. Yet there are common blunders users make that are just as damaging on social networking sites as they are when committed face to face at a cocktail party. And it’s not just the management consulting industry that commits them?
Besides not keeping your profile up to date – users often misuse the powerful opportunities to connect and questions/answers posting feature on LinkedIn. The following are common pitfalls to be aware of and avoid as you join the conversation in your groups and communities;
1. Don’t Sell Me!
Incessant Sales and Self Promotion – How would you feel if you were invited to a social gathering only to find out you were viewed only as a potential target for the latest multi-level marketing sales pitch? Chances are, like most of us, you dislike being “sold”, and you would leave the event both annoyed and looking to avoid that person in future.
Social networking sites are no different. Professional sales reps know that they need to build a relationship before selling anything. Don’t use social networking sites for overt selling of your consulting services or programs. There are users who will continually talk about and sell their product – to the great annoyance of others in the group. Included in this category are those who post questions for which there is only one answer – their product, of course. Professional marketers know the goal is to sell to the converted with targeted, problem solving appeal to the correct audience – or the message will be tuned out by the jaded masses. YES – I know you just want the backlinks..but sheesh -it is still your brand for heavens sake.
Selling is an art – be careful before you pitch your consulting product on LinkedIn. As professionals, it is unlikely group members will resort to flaming, spamming or banning offenders from the community but you risk damaging your reputation without ever knowing what perception you left behind! And certainly – don’t send an email with a pitch for your product to someone you really don’t know! Do we really need to go over why this is a bad idea? Do you think the target will TELL you they were annoyed? Of course not – they will just ignore it or worse, tell others what a pushy sales type you are.
A better approach, particularly for consultants, for whom credibility is paramount, is to answer questions that provide value for the reader via well cited reviews of products or services, by providing trustworthy information with third party validation and including references combined with links to more comprehensive information. Don’t sell, do provide value and do keep your responses short!
2. “I Concur” Syndrome
There is a great line in Spielberg’s 2002 move, “Catch Me if You Can” when the lead character, a con artist, while impersonating a doctor, is queried with a medical answer he is imminently unqualified to make. The character mumbles, “I concur” – briefly saving himself from exposing his lack of credentials and generally wasting everyone’s time. If you admired an answer posted by someone else – please don’t post low value, time wasting replies like, “Hey, great answer, Bill.” Use the opportunity to demonstrate the value of your input to the on-line community rather than resorting to a quick “I concur” response just to be seen to be participating or put your web link in there.
Instead, build on the response with new information or send the person a private note congratulating them on their thorough, guru-like response and wait for an opportunity to show that you have the chops to do the same with a different question. Presumably, you are a professional in your field – so don’t be shy when you really know your stuff. Improve your on-line credibility with a well considered and researched response that provides value to anyone who might stumble across your answer in future. Try making a goal to be judged as having the ‘best response’ rather than allowing yourself to be seen as a tag along.
3. The Unattributed “Re –Post”
Somehow people have decided that they can re-post answers from LinkedIn on third party sites without attribution. Why not? Everything on the web is free, openly shared and transparent, right?
Not necessarily – here is the problem; Person A posts a question on LinkedIn, Persons B, C and D give terrific, well considered responses. Person D comes along and copies the question and answers to his consulting wordpress blog post or website without citing that the original conversation was held on LinkedIn or who gave him these amazing insights. After all – what can the harm be in just grabbing some quick info for your consulting site to make sure your site content is fresh? Well – how about the fact that it is plagiarizing some else’s work? And – yup – I caught someone doing this with my work..!
Let’s assume that Company X is doing a reference check on Person D – the “re-post Blogger”. Without much effort, the company will be able to find the original post on LinkedIn and the unattributed “re-post” blog. Who would you want to hire – the consultant who regurgitates someone else’s words or the consultant who provides well considered answers, examples and cites references? Hey – with Google alerts, we will all know when our words are re-used and THAT is a good thing.
LinkedIn is a great tool with a multitude of uses. Consultants need to be aware of their on-line presence and manage it just as carefully as they do their face to face interactions. Use your LinkedIn posts to broadcast your credibility and expertise in your field.
About the Author
Terry Rachwalski is President of Front Porch Perspectives, a Victoria, BC based management consulting firm specializing in product launch and go to market strategies for technology firms.