Are you falling behind on LinkedIn?

To many, LinkedIn is just another social network like Facebook and Twitter, with a bit more business emphasis. This view understates its importance. COVID-19 has helped make the very opposite true today: as a professional you cannot afford to either be outdated on, or missing from, the platform.

To whit: around this time last year, I viewed LinkedIn as an annoying requirement of modern professional life. I didn’t like using it, but reasoned that I needed to do so in order to keep up. Now, by contrast, I engage in regular weekly practices I simply couldn’t imagine doing a few months ago.

But these aren’t routine tasks I could do elsewhere. In fact, they can only be done on LinkedIn at scale…nowhere else. This exclusivity means that you must consider the app to be part of your professional arsenal. Here are a few examples why.

1. Online Advertising as a Novice

In 2020, I discovered that, contrary to my US experience, advertising to Caribbean audiences on LinkedIn was quite inexpensive and effective. For example, if you want a way to promote your services to “female technology VP’s in St Kitts”, paid outreach on LinkedIn is by far the best way to reach this narrow segment.

I also learned that the platform’s ads do more than “sell” – they build relationships, an all-important ingredient in the

Caribbean. In other words, these promotions allow you to create bridges to people who don’t know you personally, and construct the “weak ties” research shows are critical in business.

During COVID-19, this method has become a requirement.

However, there’s catch. Online advertising on social networks is no easy task. While I had done some testing in the past, this year I finally invested the time needed to move beyond the novice stage.

I experienced a painful learning curve. For example, I had to figure out how to focus on the handful of features which are required vs. those which are nice to have. This is a big challenge given the barrage of options you face as a beginner.

2. Events and the Changing Limits

In 2019, I couldn’t say if LinkedIn offered event management. Fast forward…and by the new year, I will have sent 10,000+ individual invitations to webinars and conferences.

What happened?

By a stroke of luck, I stumbled across the platform’s revamped event feature, which at one point allowed me to invite as many connections as I wanted. Now, the company has caught on and imposed a limit of 1,000 people per occasion. While this has cost me dearly, they have added a new element – bulk invitations – which makes the task easier.

This free function is perfect for these pandemic times in which all of us need to up-level our skills, via online methods of learning. Today, we just don’t have a choice if we hope to remain relevant.

As such, through its events feature, LinkedIn offers a unique, scalable business service.

3. Networking

Old-style networking involved meeting people in person and handing out business cards in the hope of being remembered. COVID-19 halted this approach.

Today, there’s no easier way than LinkedIn to build a trusted network. Furthermore, exchanging useful information for mutual benefit becomes a fruitful game to be played over decades, leveraging the platform’s ability to create relationships at scale.

Unfortunately, if your account is out of date or you don’t even have one, you risk sending a silent message: “I don’t care about building relationships.”

While you may think that the way you use LinkedIn is a matter of style, the effect of your actions has now moved out of your hands. Whereas a preference not to employ that platform could have been a personal quirk a few years ago, today it’s fast becoming the digital equivalent of “never carrying my business cards” or “not believing in resumes.”

In other words, it’s weird.

The fact is, all the practices I have mentioned above are new norms over which you have little influence. Everything you do online (or fail to do) sends a message. Consequently, I have personally declined to refer colleagues for opportunities with serious people due to a missing or mismanaged profile. I just pick someone else and keep moving.

My fear is that if you have decided LinkedIn isn’t important, you may not be paying attention to the latest developments. If so, stop falling behind and get into the game, setting aside any tired pre-conceptions. Instead, adapt to an emerging reality you can’t afford to ignore and take the necessary actions to bring yourself up to date.

How HR Needs to Improve Networking Skills

Caribbean HR professionals are no different from other professionals in the region in their need to expand their networks.

While the needs are similar, the results I have observed are quite different.  Executives and salespeople need no convincing that they need to always be improving their networking skills.  HR professionals, however, are often reluctant as they can’t clearly see how building a network is important to them in their jobs.

The argument I often hear is that salespeople have an external focus, which takes them outside the company, while HR professionals have a focus on the inside.

Yet, HR professionals across the region that don’t develop wide and deep networks often find themselves becoming stale, and increasingly irrelevant to their companies.  The fact is, many HR professionals fall behind on key issues in their companies, and don’t provide the kind of leadership that only they can.  They end up responding to problems and firefighting when they should be anticipating and creating awareness.

Given the importance of human capital to our companies in the region, the cost is tremendous to companies.  They end up floundering because their HR executives and managers aren’t using the latest information, don’t create ideas of value and employ tools that are more about limiting perceived damage, than they are about spurring on creativity and risk-taking at all levels.

They typically don’t have the time or inclination to return to school, and the paucity of practical  research in HR  means that the best ideas often don’t come from academics — instead, they come from fellow practitioners.  Without a deep and rich network, the best ideas that are available remain shared among a small group of people in Bridgetown, Montego Bay and Castries.

Reaching and learning from fellow professional in the region takes an investment.  Very few companies can even afford to send their professionals to more than a single conference per year, and rarely are they allowed to do more than attend something local. The response of too many professionals is, sadly, that they stop trying to expand their network beyond their current, comfortable set of friends and colleagues.

There is an answer, however, as most young professionals and IT-types will tell you.  Instead of getting on a plane, get on the internet, because new technology is providing amazing ways to connect, collaborate and co-create.

Unfortunately, too many HR professionals are not technically savvy enough to take advantage of the most recent tools.

The fact that most of these tools are either free or very cheap only heightens the urgency of the need to learn them from those who have some inkling of how to employ common tools such as VOIP and YouTube.

When HR professionals don’t use the internet and other technology enablers to network, their companies a disservice.  Other professionals in their companies simply don’t learn the key skills that are critical to their success.

To put it another way, the techies in the  IT department should never know more about the latest networking skills than HR professionals, because underneath the technology lies all the same issues with communication that are best understood by those with soft-skill training. While the techies know a lot about installing software, they know nothing about creating a software-driven culture change.

Email is a simple example.

It is an indisputable fact that the ubiquity of email in the professional workplace has changed the culture of every single company that uses it.  It altered communication, relationships, teamwork, conflict resolution and created new issues of trust, privacy and privilege.

As this culture change was underway, I fear that the HR professionals were caught unawares, and were probably among the last to attend the “Intro to Email” class offered in the company.  The poor email and time management skills shared by many HR executives stands testimony to this fact.

A culture change was undertaken without HR’s guidance, knowledge or leadership.

Today, in 2008, that’s just water under the bridge, but it’s not too late for Caribbean HR professionals to grasp the significance of technology and how it can be used to drive a culture change, to improve communication and to network.

P.S. Recently I wrote a book outlining the ways in which Caribbean professionals need to enhance their networking skills. It’s 37 pages long, contains several multimedia links, and it’s currently free to download. Click here to be taken to the download page — as of today, it’s been downloaded or referred at least 400 times.  It’s titled — The New Networking – Caribbean Professionals 2008.