This is Part II of a two-part series. Read Part I here.
The Holy Grail: Proactive Engagement
You’ve followed all the steps outlined in Part I of this guide. Now, your Profile is complete and you’ve made (or plan on making) 500+ Connections. You’re ready to do the real work and make a real difference—by taking your place on the LinkedIn stage.
Even the best of LinkedIn profiles is of limited value if its owner fails to embrace the opportunities for interactivity that the platform facilitates, on the site itself and offline, in person. Some lawyers take a shot at “using” LinkedIn, at the urging of their firm’s marketing professionals, but without a coherent strategy. The more extroverted among them may occasionally “like” an article a client shares on the news feed, high-five an old teammate in a private message, or add a perfunctory “Congrats” to the comment thread below an announcement about a former colleague. They may even attend the firm’s LinkedIn training program and start reposting press releases, Chambers rankings, and other recommended, firm-branded content—but nothing of their own creation or selection—nothing, in fact, of real “value” to their network.
In my view, LinkedIn is not a good place for a lawyer to self-promote directly. It is not even the ideal place for a lawyer to showcase her law firm. Rather, LinkedIn is a platform for communicating, even collaborating with—and promoting—others. And, should you elect to become active on the platform, you can gain real career traction and build a compelling brand by offering news, information and analysis of interest and value to your network, and by investing the time to communicate, directly and frequently, with your contacts and find ways to assist them.
Here are my suggestions for gearing up, taking aim, and making the very most out of this exceptionally powerful social media platform.
LinkedIn Best Practices: Engaging with Your Network
Daily: Checking Notifications, Crafting Response Messages, and Posts
1. Log on to LinkedIn each morning, or mid-day, for at least five minutes. Check Notifications and My Network. Consider and respond to connection requests and messages from connections, and react appropriately to interesting notifications about members of your network. This is the bare minimum engagement to which you need to commit and takes very little time.
2. Be vigilant. Keep track of your connections on the platform and off, using information gathered on LinkedIn to create frequent opportunities for connection and giving.
3. Learn to use hyperlinks to mention or tag people and companies in your comments and posts, assuring that your post will appear in their news feeds as well. First type “@”, then start typing the name of the person or entity you wish to mention and click on the right one when the list of options pops up. (If you don’t want to be tagged yourself, you can adjust your Privacy settings to thwart any such intrusive effort to enhance your reputation.) For obvious reasons, this critical feature is enormously useful in building visibility. And most lawyers have no idea it exists. You’re ahead already.
4. Avoid responses that look canned. Train yourself to respond authentically. Take the time to consider the possible approaches and how each will benefit your connection, and yourself.
5. Consider this example: The New Job
Let’s suppose that you learn from a LinkedIn “notification” that a former colleague recently joined a consulting firm that you know. LinkedIn offers several ways to congratulate him. You can do so 1) in a private message, 2) in a comment on the thread initiated by him or his new firm, or 3) or by calling him out warmly on your own feed, hyperlinking to both his @[name] and that of the new @[firm].
Most people will be pleased if you choose the latter approach. It’s not often that they get the chance to appear in the LinkedIn news feed, much less both your feed and that of their new employer. That exposure is significantly reduced if you send a private message—although its content may feel more natural. So do both, and don’t forget to use the private message to suggest a celebratory beer or coffee.
Keep in mind that this single interaction might also be of great benefit to you. Not only have you had a chance to reconnect with an old friend and colleague, but, if you post your congratulations publicly, your name and profile will travel pretty broadly through the LinkedIn galaxy, spotted by some of your friend’s connections and by anyone who manages or reads his new firm’s feed, all thanks to the magic of hyperlink.
6. If your Notifications tell you that a connection has “liked” a post or shared some content (their own or that of another), take a quick look and respond as appropriate. If the post is high-quality, or your contact clearly put a lot into the effort, be sure to weigh in, if only briefly, in the comments thread (“Excellent article Tim. Thanks for posting!”). Or step it up a notch by expanding your comment, engaging in a conversation with Tim or others in the thread, or resharing the article (with appropriate tags for Tim et al) on your own feed.
7. Keep an eagle eye out for information of specific value to individuals in your network, online or off. A private email attaching a link or pdf, with a few sage remarks, or better yet, questions of your own on its content, will be much appreciated and could lead to a conversation or a chance to meet in person.
Respect the “Social” in Social Media: The Rules of Engagement
Social media sites really are intended to be “social.” They are governed by rules of etiquette some lawyers may struggle to understand:
- I recommend an 80/20 rule when posting to LinkedIn and Twitter. At least 80% of your posts and shares should promote others (whether or not among your connections on the site, but not including your law firm) or offer information and news of clear value or incontrovertible interest to your network.
- A maximum of 20% (but much less, if possible) of your activities online should be to promote yourself directly (announcing an achievement or award, advertising an upcoming presentation, webinar or other sponsored event, or distributing a blog post).
We can earn the highest praise, and the longest-lasting positive word of mouth, simply by consistently helping others, by maintaining a lifelong habit of what Wharton Professor Adam Grant calls “extreme giving.”
Weekly: Share Information, Add Value, Build Your Brand
Sharing and curating valuable information and promoting others are by far the best ways to use LinkedIn (as well as any other social media site). This is how, over time, you will establish a reputation as a smart, creative, and insightful thinker; as a “go-to” advisor in your sector, industry, or niche practice area; as a person of many interests; a person of generosity and integrity. And you’ll do so not by claiming legal expertise, great connections, business acumen, and industry savvy, but by demonstrating all four in your posts and comments.
To clarify, let’s consider how the 80/20 rule plays out, or not, in practice:
- Compare, for example, 1) the negligible direct benefit to a lawyer who promotes her firm by sharing a blog produced by someone else’s practice group (a good thing to do, but not the thing) or posts nothing at all until she acquires Super Lawyer status and can humble-brag about this not-altogether-stunning achievement on the news feed, to 2) the certain impact of a generous comment publicly congratulating (and tagging) the person we learned about above, who just made an important career move, in a post that includes some impressive information about her new firm (also tagged).
- Compare also 1) an associate’s post sharing an announcement of his firm’s recent acquisition of a Boston office (now very much in vogue) with 2) one in which he shares an important business contact’s post of a top-10-trends article focused on the healthcare industry (Tip: Top Trends reviews are incredibly useful for learning about your client’s industry in time to ask knowledgeable questions over lunch), and in which he a) thanks his contact for posting the piece, tagging both him and his consulting firm, b) mentions the #healthcare industry using the hashtag (“healthcare” being one of his Heading keywords by the way), and c) includes a few brainy, carefully crafted sentences of his own, knowledgeably exploring one or two of the more interesting trends.
Needless to say, constructing a winning post requires a good deal of time and reflection, as well as attention to detail and commitment to a brand and business development strategy holding it all together. But this approach really does work. It builds reputation and engagement. It generates positive word of mouth and prompts new connections and deeper relationships. And it educates and benefits your network.
Advanced Engagement: Sharing Quality Content
You can take the fullest advantage of the LinkedIn platform by serving as a network “curator,” strategically “helping” its members by gifting invaluable information and news, and always including a roadmap to the meat of the matter, and your own take on the topic:
- Try to find time every day to scroll through your LinkedIn and other news feeds (email newsletters, mobile news sources, Facebook posts and so on), checking for posts of interest.
- Look for a single piece of news or information worth sharing. When you find it, focus on the core message (and/or the “money quote”) and write an insightful two-sentence intro.
- Your goal is to demonstrate your own intelligence and savvy, your understanding of your client’s business and industry, the depth of your connections in the industry—and perhaps even your sense of humor.
Now, take a look at the following examples of effective posts. Assume for this purpose that each of the posts was created by a healthcare lawyer practicing at a small law firm, to share articles posted by members of her network. As you read, consider the writer’s content, style, length, and tone. What is she trying to accomplish in each share? How would you have written this differently to fit your personal style and your business development strategy?
In the first post, our subject is sharing an article by a healthcare and cybersecurity lawyer, breach coach and referral source:
Well said. An important call to action to health care providers by [@name] of [@name]. OCR’s request for comment on possible improvements to #HIPAA offers a golden opportunity to address issues from improved management of the opioid crisis to relief from burdensome administrative and financial burdens. #Healthcare
Sharing a video interview posted by Healthcare IT news:
So interesting. For most of us, viewing the #healthcare industry from a distance, #cyberthreats are addressed with defensive technology. This interview reminds us that the most frequent serious breaches come through employees, and that it is as important to “secure the human” (my favorite phrase of the day) as it is to protect the firewall.
Congratulating a former colleague and BigLaw partner and circulating an article about him, so he doesn’t have to do all the bragging himself. (Note that these heartfelt words might instead be offered in the form of a comment to the article if you find it (or some other “shout out”) shared on someone else’s feed. Whatever feels most natural.)
So pleased to share this post about [@name] just named one of [@name]’s 40 under 40. So very well deserved. [name]is one of those rare super-smart, super-skilled lawyers who also has the self-confidence and guts to take chances in his career in order to find the right place to build his practice. We are a pretty risk-averse crowd. Kudos.
A “business of law” share, referencing an article about a UK accounting firm’s acquisition of a law firm:
I follow [hyperlink tag to journalist—who, by the way, greatly appreciated the shout out and reached out to connect to our hero] on Twitter because he is very smart and writes so well. This article on EY’s recent acquisition of a British #ALSP is an example, and essential reading for anyone who follows the march of the #BigFour into sacred law firm ground. The last line: “[T]he biggest question for the Big Four remains unanswered—when will they enter the U.S. market (note the use of “when” rather than “if”).”
Sharing an article posted by CNBC Tech about the new Amazon, Berkshire, JP Morgan health care joint venture:
It’s a brand new year, and this still unnamed, ultramodern new three-party healthcare joint venture, with Atul Gawande and Jack Stoddard at the tiller, gives me hope that the nation’s healthcare crisis will one day abate. Tech-focused, with an open-ended agenda and over-the-top brilliant, visionary leadership, I think this company will finally right the boat—with big data. And they’ve just hired Dana Safran away from Blue Cross Blue Shield to be “head of measurement.” #Blockchain anyone? #healthcare #supplychaininnovation #Amazon #TheEverythingStore #bigdata
The skills required to design this kind of high-quality post are not hard to pick up. The real trick for the busy lawyer (already “sacrificing” otherwise billable hours to look after his career and plan for his future) is to develop a knack for speed-scanning the news, quickly spotting the most intriguing pieces, reading them only as carefully as you must to grasp the key points, then writing an excellent introductory sentence or two, in his distinctive voice—all to engage, educate and perhaps even benefit your readers. If you are thoughtful in the topics and the authors you select, if you offer value in your posts, you will gain the respect of your audience, remain “top of mind” among your connections, and generate positive word of mouth. They will see you as you are: business-savvy, curious, on the ball, sector-skilled, self-confident, authentic… whatever genuine combination of traits and skills comprise your brand.
LinkedIn Publishing and Thought Leadership
If your online business development strategy includes thought leadership, as it does for many, you will, of course, be writing and speaking frequently, and sharing what you produce on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Five years ago, I would have urged you to start blogging, perhaps on a firm-hosted blog, or on your own. But now I’m not so sure. Many lawyers who grasp the power of content marketing have abandoned their blogs, or those of their law firms, in favor of publishing directly to LinkedIn, which offers a remarkably user-friendly vehicle to do just that. This is faster, easier and cheaper, and you can start right now.
Go For It!
We all know that old-fashioned, person-to-person contact is, with few exceptions, superior to online communication as a means of building rich relationships and developing business. Nonetheless, almost every traditional, in-person opportunity can be enriched by using LinkedIn proactively—to research and prepare for a meeting in advance, to follow up with your contact, to stay in touch and engaged, and, coming full circle, to identify the next opportunity to interact in person.
In our profession, a strong presence on LinkedIn is an essential part of any coherent marketing or career development plan. Properly used, with discipline and purpose, LinkedIn can anchor or enhance almost any strategic component of your plan: Networking, relationship building, branding, business intelligence research, sector and practice area specialization, financial literacy, knowledge gathering and gifting, and business generation.
So now that that’s settled, why not get started right now?
About the Author
Elizabeth H. Munnell is a business development coach and career consultant, advising lawyers of all ages. A partner for 25 years in a large law firm, she Chairs the Board of the ABA’s Career Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top 20 Tips for a Strong LinkedIn Presence
Here is a summary of my Top 20 Tips for A Strong LinkedIn Presence, derived from this guide. As an additional resource, I recommend the ABA’s LinkedIn in One Hour, by Dennis Kennedy and Allison Shields. For a live tour of LinkedIn, Twitter, and HootSuite, you can also watch the video from my ABA-Legal Career Central webinar.
- A comprehensive, searchable personal profile, with a current professional photo.
- Say it all in the 120-character Heading.
- Be authentic: Articulate your unique value in a 40+ word conversationally written Summary.
- Include rich media—photos, webinars, videos, podcasts, articles.
- Avoid ethical lapses. Know the rules and your firm’s social media policy.
- Keep your profile public and personalize your URL.
- Regularly review and adjust privacy and other settings to keep up with LinkedIn improvements.
- Join sector/practice area groups and follow key companies, influencers, news sources, commentators and topic #hashtags.
- Optimize your own “shareable” news in your LinkedIn feed, but observe the 80/20 rule.
- Minimize bragging. Self-promote by sharing content of value to contacts
- On a daily basis, monitor and respond appropriately to “notifications” and connection requests.
- Build your network: Import professional email/CRM lists, search alumni from your schools and former employers. Use personal notes in connection requests.
- Find ways to engage with connections and beyond, via your news feed & notifications.
- Don’t waste your time by only “liking” interesting posts. Go deeper.
- Identify shareable content. Demonstrate your smarts, insight, and expertise
- Share news, knowledge, and opinion with a well-written, brainy introduction. Consider publishing your own content.
- Don’t share great content without including [@name] shout-outs to the creator and those featured in the article.
- Promote, credit, assist, and thank others.
- Cross-share/post to Twitter and any other social media platform you use professionally.
- Always: Add Value, Help Your Network