Do you have 30,000 connections in your LinkedIn network yet? Some say that’s the maximum, while LinkedIn denies there’s a “formal limit.” But do you really want (or need) that many in the first place?
Even more to the point, how, as a CMO or high-level marketer, can you make the most of what the network aimed at professionals has to offer–and bypass what’s not worth your time and effort?
“When you ask what’s the most important thing to do to get the most out of LinkedIn,” Alba told CMO.com, “making connections isn’t even at the top of my list. I personally expect a C-level executive to spend more time being an executive than growing their network.”
So where should you begin? Read on–Alba starts with getting the basics right, and then moves onto considerations when building a network, which groups are best to join, whether a paid membership is worth the price, and more. We also spoke to several high-level marketers who use LinkedIn, as well, for their take.
Your Profile Should Not Be A Resume
Just like building a house, you must “get all the LinkedIn foundational things right. Focus on your profile,” said Alba, whose extensive blog, ImOnLinkedInNowWhat.com, offers lots of free advice on how to get the basics in place.
A profile should not be a traditional resume that enumerates your employers, jobs, titles, and experience. “CMOs try to create a brand on LinkedIn. But they don’t use branding tools, they use their resume. Real executives have very interesting backgrounds. We don’t want to hear you have 20 years of experience. When executives have breadth and depth and amazing experience, we want to hear the juicy stuff.”
And Alba means juicy. “My dad was in the FBI. When people came over for dinner, they didn’t want to talk about anything except who he shot up–they wanted the stories. When you can go into your summary with intriguing stories that get people hooked, it makes you more real.”
Any CMO knows that a strong brand starts with a great story. “You’re the guy behind the curtain on the stage,” Alba said. “When you tell how you increased the line from $5 million to $500 million, then that makes you a real executive and not just somebody who was in the right time and the right place.”
Melissa Dyrdahl, VP of marketing at San Francisco-based Pivotal Labs, notes that “there is often substantially different information on a person’s LinkedIn profile than on the bio on their company's site. I like to know how people describe their roles.” She also pays attention to the corporate logos LinkedIn now permits on profiles. “You can quickly recognize familiar brands,” she said.
Alba pointed CMO.com to a LinkedIn profile that was created for former CNBC and MTV marketing executive Pete Danielsen by Robyn Feldberg, a professional profile writer. “It’s one of the most brilliant profile summaries for a TV executive that I’ve ever seen,” Alba said. “You want to read through all of it, and when you’re done you think, ‘Man, this guy is really accomplished.’ It was fun and engaging, but it’s also extremely well-branded.”
Executive coach and LinkedIn profile writer Erica Levy Klein’s clients include CMOs, CEOs, and SVPs who sometimes “have one or two strikes against them.” Her methods run totally against the traditional rules of writing resumes: “Rather than talk about yourself, step into the shoes of the person looking for you,” she said in an interview with CMO.com. “Your profile should be a statement of very specific capabilities and accomplishments written from the standpoint of the person who is looking for you. Use ultra-current keywords that the right people would search for. That’s how they will find you.”
How Many Connections?
Danielsen’s profile might trouble the novice executive LinkedIn user: He has only a few connections. Doesn’t that reveal social weakness in an executive? Alba has polled recruiters: “They say no, it’s not a big deal. You don’t need to have a certain size network. If I’m a venture capitalist, for example, I probably want to have 20 people in my network because I don’t want every Tom, Dick, and Harry asking me out for lunch and asking me for money when they’re not qualified.”
Executive coach Klein thinks the question of connections is a bit more complicated. She said she started out “promiscuously,” accepting all invitations to link, but later became more selective. This mix of connections paid off because, she explained to CMO.com, LinkedIn tees up recommendations to its users. The large number of connections in her network stimulate even more invitations to carefully choose from. Now Klein has a healthy collection of about 2,800 contacts.
Michael Gavaghen, VP of sales and marketing for SLPowers, a network management provider, concurs. “I respect anything that helps me build multiple pathways to peer-level conversations with people I'd like to target,” he told CMO.com. He’s less sanguine about the numbers game: “But I love that a lot of C-level executives in small- and medium-sized businesses proceed as if he who dies with the most LinkedIn connections wins.”
LinkedIn’s endorsements are another story. Klein thinks the endorsements she has received have pushed her to the top of the LinkedIn ranks for executive coaches. Pivotal Labs’ Drydahl isn’t so impressed: “I thought endorsements were cool at first, but now I find them superfluous and meaningless.”
And Gavaghen’s experience suggests that marketing executives could taint their reputations when endorsements are silly: “This morning I was endorsed by a guy I met at a creative writing workshop three years ago. He teaches English at a local middle school,” Gavaghen said. “He endorsed me for Managed Services!”
Networks: You Have More Than One
Is it good for CMOs to accept a lot of links? Alba warned that LinkedIn itself could wreak havoc on your executive network by “helping” you unintentionally merge your private network with your public one.
“LinkedIn is speaking out of both sides of its mouth [when it] suggests we should connect only to people we know and trust, to protect the quality of our networks,” he said. “But LinkedIn will periodically suggest you dump all your private Outlook contacts into your LinkedIn account so LinkedIn can send them all e-mails notifying them about who they might want to connect to.”
The message to CMOs with carefully curated private contact lists: Be careful what you give LinkedIn access to.
Alba said CMOs should think bigger picture. “In marketing or advertising, typically you’ll have a larger network than many other professions,” he said. “But execs might have more private networks that they don’t put into LinkedIn. They don’t want everyone to see them.”
He suggested some networks be kept separate: “I still get invitations from resume writers I met at conferences years ago, saying they can’t believe we’re not first degree contacts. Well, you know what, we are, but it doesn’t show that on LinkedIn. When I need you, I think about you—whether you’re on LinkedIn or not. LinkedIn is not my go-to place. And I think a lot of execs, especially older execs who have Rolodexes and Franklin Planners, obviously have contacts who are important to them who are not on LinkedIn.”
“The next thing for CMOs, and I would say the only other thing, is go out and find the appropriate LinkedIn groups to join,” Alba said. This is how you can get access to tremendous numbers of CMOs and other C-level executives without upgrading to a paid membership.
“If I pay $39.95 per month for an upgrade, I get only 10 to 15 InMails per week,” Alba explained, “I can go through those quickly. But if I join a group, I can do all the messaging I want to group members without paying for it, even if I’m not connected to them. I don’t think LinkedIn wants you to know that because they want you to pay $40 for the InMails.”
One LinkedIn group, Execunet’s Executive Suite, has more than 260,000 members. Alba cautioned CMOs about joining big, unwieldy groups.
“Let’s go back to our TV executive who is in a niche industry. The TV exec said, ‘I’m in transition, so I’m going to join Executive Suite.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, but your goal is to let people know who you are, what you’re thinking. If you were to throw out a discussion in Executive Suite, people would probably never see it. It would make more sense to find a group of 1,000 TV executives—a smaller niche.”
Alba and Klein agreed that CMOs should max out the 50-group memberships LinkedIn allows. But, Alba said, “there are lots of [peripheral people] trying to market to execs—there will be pages and pages of daily updates, and nobody will go through all that.” Klein said you can avoid the clutter: “Turn off the e-mail digests and the logos from your own profile.”
“Now let’s go to other extreme—ridiculously smaller groups for TV execs,” Alba added. “If I were Pete Danielsen, I would join all executives in southern California, not just TV execs. I define my space, which includes people in my industry, geography, or profession. I want to join those groups, regardless of what industry they are in. So go find 50 groups and mix and match any three elements of your geography, industry, and profession.”
Do It Yourself
To really establish your own brand, Alba suggested creating a group of your own.“It’s easier than dirt,” he said. “How powerful would it be for your personal career management, or working on projects, or finding other talent? Especially since you’re in marketing, what better way to show you’re on top of the times than showing you run a LinkedIn group, and you keep it active, and here’s the growth stats and engagement levels?”
While you might have someone on your comms team handle this for you, becoming a thought leader requires regular, thoughtful posting and commenting. “What’s that going to do for your brand or reputation? If you do this with all the groups you’re in, when these people encounter hidden job opportunities, you will be someone who is on their frequency because you’re who puts good stuff out there,” Alba said.
Skip The Job Board For Job Hunting Or Recruiting
According to Fortune magazine, licensing fees for LinkedIn’s recruiting software accounted for 54 percent of the company’s 2012 revenues. So should CMOs click the jobs tab on LinkedIn’s menu?
Alba didn’t mince his words: “The jobs section is simply a job board. In my personal experience, I wasted way too much time on job boards, zero return. When [surveys] say 80 percent of jobs are filled by networking, it’s a loose number. For example, a job at McDonald’s probably is not filled by networking. If you’re a CMO or other senior executive, 95 percent or 99 percent of jobs may be found through networking. So why are you spending time on the job board? If you do, it should be for competitive intelligence research, not to find a job.”
If you’re a CMO who’s recruiting for your own team, Alba suggested using LinkedIn’s do-it-yourself advanced search features.
“I’d go, for example, to the ExecuNet group just because it’s a big net and search for members. Or I’d go to a group of executives in southern California, but because it’s smaller I would not do a search. I’d browse the members,” he said. “More than that, look at who is starting discussions. Are they sharing good stuff? Are they people who really know their stuff?”
Alba said he likes an old networking tool: “I’ll call them on the phone. I won’t say I’m trying to fill this job, but, who do you know? [This is] the reverse of what the job hunter is doing.”
When he’s recruiting, Gavaghen also likes to browse LinkedIn rather than search because his own judgment beats keywords. “I find second-level connections valuable when I'm looking for new talent,” he said. Maybe it’s because he’s in sales that he views contacts not as candidates, but as only the beginning of the recruiting process. “The ability to work those connections hard can lead me to good candidates,” Gavaghen added. “But like anything else, you have to work them with some finesse.”
Should You Upgrade?
All the LinkedIn tools and networking methods we have discussed are free. But you can pay to access more, if you want. The question is: Is it worth it?
For $39.95, LinkedIn lets you send 10 InMail messages per month, and lets you use premium filters and search tools. For $74.95, you get 25 InMails and “full network visibility.” For an extra $325, you get 25 more InMails.
“I just wrote a scathing blog post about upgrades,” Alba told CMO.com (see “LinkedIn Free Or Premium?”). “I don’t need more search results; I need better search results,” and he said he can do better finding people on Google. Since joining groups provides access to enormous numbers of LinkedIn members for free, Alba said, “the limit on the number of InMails you can send at the paid levels is a joke.”
But if you work in sales and actually use the premium features all the time, they might be worth the fees. Said Gavaghen, who oversees a sales team: “I've just allowed my salespeople to expense the cost of subscribing to higher tiers of LinkedIn membership so they can explore the connections of executives they are targeting for their next sales, the better to build multiple vectors into that organization.”
“Most people will say they are proud of their upgrade status,” Alba said, “but they’re not getting any value out of it. There’s a whole lot of Kool-Aid-drinking going on out there. LinkedIn’s PR team is doing a great job. I’d tell an executive client the most important thing is to have a really solid profile. If you want, you can walk away after that. People will still find you.”
Alba drinks his own Kool-Aid: “Close down your computer and get on to the more important stuff. This week I forced myself to sit down and make outbound sales calls,” he said. “I know it’s scary to pick up the phone, but there is power in calling on the phone. You can’t sit around biting your nails waiting around for something to happen on LinkedIn. You’ve got to go out and make it happen.”