LinkedIn is presently the most popular networking site for professionals with over 30 million registered users spanning over 150 industries (in contrast to sites like Facebook, which are used more for social networking). As explained by Wikipedia, LinkedIn allows registered users to maintain a list of people they know and trust in business, called " first degree connections." Since, in most cases, you are able to see the "connections" of your connections (called "second degree" contacts), the site provides an opportunity to expand your network of professional contacts by requesting introductions to other users, inviting other users to become "first degree" connections, or contacting other users via LinkedIn's email system (called InMail).
As an example, there may be someone who attended the same college as you many years ago (let's call him "Jim"). You and Jim were quite close, but haven't spoken in years. One day, you notice that Jim is a "second degree" connection through one your first degree contacts. You also notice that Jim is now a partner at a major law firm. Since you're quite certain Jim will remember you from your college days, you can ask Jim directly to join your network in order to reconnect (you'd want to make sure to mention your common alma mater in your invitation to Jim).
But more than just networking, LinkedIn is about "getting things done," as explained in this entertaining video from CommonCraft. As an example, suppose you need to locate an advertising firm to design the creative for a campaign you've conceived. You can query your connections on LinkedIn, and will likely secure referrals to one or more advertising executives within your extended network who can meet your needs. At the same time, in addition to asking for assistance, professionals can provide assistance to other users by responding to questions, thereby highlighting their expertise. We'll further discuss these tools later in the post. Given these benefits, LinkedIn is becoming increasingly popular among lawyers.
The remainder of this post after the jump summarizes the steps a lawyer should take to begin using LinkedIn effectively as a marketing and business development tool, and provides links to numerous online resources that attorneys will find helpful as they begin their "LinkedIn" journey.
After reading this post, should you wish further guidance in learning how to use LinkedIn and other online networking tools for marketing and business development, consider contacting us for a brief tutorial. Click here to download our "social media training" brochure.
1. Register and create a thoughtful profile.
The first step in using LinkedIn is to register at the site. Provide some basic information such as your name and e-mail address, and you're in.
Once registered at LinkedIn, it's important that a lawyer write a comprehensive and thoughtful profile highlighting their current position, past experience, and other indicia of expertise. As per a presentation by Oliver Picher, president of Visible Influence, last year, a LinkedIn profile should include words and phrases that you believe visitors to LinkedIn may use when they are searching for a lawyer in your area of practice.
Also helpful is Christine Pilch's list of 10 mistakes people make when composing their LinkedIn profiles (published on Larry Bodine's Law Marketing Portal). Try to avoid these ; - ).
2. Start building your connections
To help build your connections, import your business contacts into LinkedIn from other software and Web sites. You can then use the imported contacts to connect with people you know who are already using LinkedIn, or to invite other colleagues to join LinkedIn.
Does building up your connections help generate new business? Law firm marketing consultant, Larry Bodine, says yes, and provides case studies in this article about Wisconsin lawyers who have used LinkedIn to do exactly that. One lawyer has obtained additional work from existing clients simply by inviting them to join his network on LinkedIn. The invitations reminded the clients of matters they wanted done, so simply making those contacts resulted in more work for the lawyer.
Another attorney uses LinkedIn's automatic notification feature to learn when new people join LinkedIn and connect with someone already in his network. The attorney looks at the profile of the new LinkedIn member and, if they are someone he would like to know, he phones the person with whom he is directly connected and asks them to introduce him to the new connection. The attorney has picked up new clients and cases as a result of those introductions.
Curious who are the most "connected" users on LinkedIn? Check out TopLinked.com for a running tally (believe it or not, the #1 connected user has over 44,000 connections - sort of like the Bill Gates of LinkedIn).
3. Seek and give recommendations
LinkedIn provides a feature that allows you to ask your connections for recommendations, and for you to reciprocate by recommending them. In this way, connections can help each other build their reputations for quality work.
4. Tap your network for assistance
As per the Common Craft video - LinkedIn in Plain English - that we referenced earlier, LinkedIn can make you more productive. It does this by making your extended professional network visible to you so you can quickly tap your network to help you locate resources you may need.
A powerful tool to use for this purpose is LinkedIn's "Answers" feature. In "Answers," attorneys can ask other LinkedIn members for information, suggestions, and referrals. For example, a trial lawyer wanted to know how he could use LinkedIn "to help his clients more effectively." Within a few days after that lawyer had posted his question, he received four detailed answers explaining that LinkedIn could help him find both fact and expert witnesses, obtain referrals from other attorneys, and locate technical experts who could help with activities like managing electronic discovery.
In his blog, The LinkedIn Lawyer, attorney David Barrett offers further examples from his extensive experience of using LinkedIn about how lawyers can use LinkedIn to work smarter.
5. Provide assistance to other users
Kevin O'Keefe recommends that lawyers also answer questions on LinkedIn. Observing that reporters for major news publications post questions on LinkedIn to garner expert knowledge to use in their stories, O'Keefe advises, "Lawyers should be taking advantage of connecting with reporters this way." He notes that reporters are likely to quote credible sources in their news stories, which may be syndicated to a number of different publications. Additionally, O'Keefe points out:
"Not only will reporters see your answer, but professionals and execs with an interest in the area see the answered questions. Plus your answer is displayed on your LinkedIn profile page."
Thus, by answering questions, you can use LinkedIn to demonstrate your expertise in various areas. In this blog post and short video on the LinkedIn Blog (another great resource, btw), Steven Shimek, a senior Vice President at Ruder Finn Public Relations in Los Angeles, explains how he used the "Answers" section to obtain a contract worth $250,000.
Of course, an attorney, when responding to questions on the site, needs to be careful to avoid inadvertently creating an attorney-client relationship with online contacts. If the response involves discussions of the law, one approach a lawyer might take is to stress that your response should only be considered as a general guideline to the issues raised by a particular question, but that to provide legal advice you would need to speak personally to better understand the particular facts of the case being presented.
6. Join groups
LinkedIn users are able to organize themselves into different groups based on schools attended, industry, geography, and various personal or professional interests. Join groups to become acquainted with like-minded peers who may be interested in joining your network and sharing advice, ideas, and referrals.
As a member of a group, you can initiate discussions about topics other group members might be interested in. You can also submit links to articles of possible interest to the group prefaced with your own commentary. Both activities provide you with an opportunity to increase your visibility among your peers.
You might even consider launching your own group in a niche where you are an expert and asking others to join.
7. Maximizing the value of LinkedIn
Linked Intelligence has published an article entitled, "100+ Smart Ways to Use LinkedIn," which provides links to various online resources providing guidance on how to maximize the value of LinkedIn in the following areas, among others:
- Business development/marketing/sales
- Career management/personal branding/resumes
- Job search
- Keeping in touch
- Meeting your LinkedIn contacts face to face
- Organizing and extending groups
Readers may also want to listen to Stan Relihan's podcast, The Connections Show, which interviews guests who share their experiences and insights on how they've successfully used LinkedIn and other social networking tools to advance their businesses.
8. Explore some of LinkedIn's add-on applications.
You can customize LinkedIn with a variety of applications that you can add to your profile. The library of applications is growing; browse them and select those that will be useful to you. Here are just a few of the applications currently available:
- display links to your blog posts in your LinkedIn profile
- display past Powerpoint presentations in your profile
- see which of your connections plan to attend upcoming events
- set up collaborative workspaces
- share travel plans and coordinate in-person meetings with people in your network
LinkedIn is changing the way lawyers work and build their practices. Hopefully, this post gave you some pointers to get you started. In the end, the most effective way to understand the potential of LinkedIn is to start using it. LinkedIn will only get bigger and more important to the legal community, so don't delay.