As any social media professional will tell you, social media is in constant flux. Just when you think you have figured out which tools are out there and how to use each of them effectively, a new and exciting social media trend comes along to shake things up.
Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and LinkedIn are among the top contenders. When used correctly, these sites have the ability to boost your professional career in a way that a traditional job hunt or local networking is unable to accomplish.
But just as these tools can be used to advance a career when used appropriately, they also can cause quite a bit of damage to professionals who misuse them. LinkedIn is a perfect example of what can happen when an online tool is not used in the manner in which it was intended.
LinkedIn is perhaps one of the most misunderstood platforms on the social media market today. Unlike Facebook – which often is used for social networking rather than professional networking – LinkedIn is meant to serve as your online professional presence. It is a way to showcase your professional talent and advertise your abilities to prospective employers or clients.
However, the number of professionals who are misusing LinkedIn continues to grow. From inappropriate profile photos to improper use of the InMail feature, some professionals have done more harm than good to their reputations.
Drop That Selfie Stick and Step Away From the Computer
Let’s start with the profile photo. Just as most of us would not go to work wearing flip flops and shorts (unless, of course, you work at an amusement park or swimming pool), it’s not appropriate to post such a casual photo of yourself on your profile. While you don’t have to be in a three-piece suit, your outfit should at least reflect a professional look. So even if you have the most rocking body out there, posing in a skimpy bikini is not the right look for LinkedIn.
Selfie-style pictures also are inappropriate. This isn’t Facebook, Instagram or Tinder – although some folks do seem to get them confused judging by the number of photos of this nature on LinkedIn. Pouty lip poses and the selfie-in-the-mirror look are definite no-nos.
Full-body photos also are not ideal for this format. The size of the profile picture is relatively small, so if you hope to connect with former coworkers or other professionals in the businesses who have previously met you in person, it will be easier for them to visually identify you if they can actually see your face.
So what is appropriate, then?
A clean, crisp head and shoulders shot of yourself in a professional setting or with a neutral background is best. Put on your best natural-looking smile as well. Achieving the perfect LinkedIn profile picture does not necessarily require the assistance of a professional photographer; however, if you can afford to have it done, hiring a pro definitely will produce the best results.
If you are a frequent offender of the inappropriate profile picture, please be advised that LinkedIn reserves the right to remove photos it finds offensive or unprofessional. If LinkedIn administrators have to remove photos for the same person more than three times, you will find yourself stuck with the generic-looking head outline that shows up on profiles when people have not uploaded a real photo.
Be Mindful of Your Brand
As professionals, we hear the word branding thrown around a lot these days. But exactly what does it mean?
Branding is the practice of creating a name and logo/symbol/design that identifies a specific product. A brand sets your product apart from every other product on the market and lets your clients know exactly what they can expect from your products and services.
On LinkedIn, our brand is easily displayed by our profile headline. Far too often, generic titles grace this area of the LinkedIn profile, which does nothing to help attract visitors. If you’re currently looking for work, the best headline you can compose should incorporate your job search in some way. For instance, if you are a marketing professional seeking to advance in your career, something along the lines of “Marketing Pro Seeking My Next Challenge” would do nicely. It lets people know you are qualified for marketing positions and are actively seeking a new opportunity.
What a headline should never include is something along the lines of “Marketing Pro Seeking Other Single Marketing Professionals” or anything of that nature. LinkedIn is for professional networking, not relationship hook-ups.
Don’t be a Lurker
LinkedIn will recommend other users to you based on what is posted in your profile, which may include former or current coworkers, or other professionals who are connected to any of your present LinkedIn contacts.
While it’s nice to reconnect with other professionals we haven’t seen for awhile, what is not appropriate is lurking on others’ profiles repeatedly. Anyone who has a LinkedIn profile has most likely experienced this very unsettling occurrence. Unless you have taken steps to conceal your LinkedIn identity while looking at others’ profiles by adjusting your privacy settings, LinkedIn users receive a notification of those who have viewed their profiles in the last 90 days. Users who have upgraded to a premium account are able to see the complete history of anyone who has ever viewed their profile.
It may be natural to want to check in on a former coworker or even a direct competitor – but if you make a habit of stalking them on their LinkedIn page, it can hurt your reputation and even your chances of getting a job.
Don’t Collect Contacts
Have you ever come across a Facebook page and been amazed at the folks who have amassed a friends list in the thousands? Chances are, you’ve encountered a “friend collector” – someone who is obsessed with friending everyone who will accept their request.
LinkedIn is definitely not the place for this kind of behavior. While it may be tempting to want to expand your list of connections, do not just start randomly sending requests to everyone who looks interesting to you.
As with inappropriate profile pictures, LinkedIn reserves the right to suspend or delete the accounts of users who become serial connection seekers, sending out bulk connection requests. It is better to start with some professionals you know, and then consider asking those connections to introduce you to other connections on their lists who are relevant to your professional goals. Another way to find connections is by joining groups on LinkedIn that align with your professional products or services.
Don’t be Political
This is another area in which some users seem to experience some confusion. Posting personal political statements as your headline on your LinkedIn profile, or creating updates of a political nature, is inappropriate and can lead to disastrous results.
While social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are rife with political statements, LinkedIn is one place where such commentary should be avoided like the plague. Ask yourself if you really want to risk alienating coworkers, employers or prospective clients by expressing your personal political views in such a permanent, public forum. If you’re struggling with the answer to that question, let me help you out. The answer is always no.
While these are not the only mistakes users make on LinkedIn, they are certainly among some of the biggest and most damaging. Have some mistakes you’d like to add to the list? Please feel free to share in the comments.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.