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How to turn LinkedIn into a relationship filter

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Brands & Campaigns

This interview is with Dave Gowel, who has been recognized as a “LinkedIn Jedi” by and The Boston Globe. He is the CEO of RockTech and the author of “The Power in a Link: Open Doors, Close Deals, and Change the Way You Do Business Using LinkedIn” (Wiley, December 2011). Gowel co-founded RockTech with Mark Rockefeller to build software that helps corporations increase productivity through quicker adoption of underutilized technology. The interview has been edited for clarity.

A lot of people see LinkedIn as a recruiting or job hunting network. What are some of the other ways professionals can put LinkedIn to work, once they’ve landed that dream job?

I think one of the key ways to think about it is really a relationship filter, that when you put in all the relationships that you already have, it allows you to see the ones that you could have more easily, or get information about potential ones. That’s the real element of LinkedIn that I think is not really utilized as well by primarily senior executives still looking to figure it out, as well as either sales or marketing-minded folks who are outwardly looking: Trying to have that differentiable element that gets them to the person they want to get to.

How I can I turn second- and third-degree connections into valuable first-degree ties?

Well it all starts with your first-degree connections and the quality of them. So we recommend that people create a litmus test and think actively about who they’re connecting to — because then those second- and third-degree connections actually mean something. If you, say, connect to 5,000 people or you just connect to anyone for no reason, then what that does is it might increase your ability to have e-mail address for those people you connect to, but then it doesn’t accurately reflect who those second- and third-degree connections are. So the way to convert them is to start with a really high quality first-degree connection pool that fits your litmus test. The one I generally use is: I’m confident that if I reach out to them, they would either respond to me via e-mail or phone and then they can help progress my business goal.

Where [LinkedIn] really gets useful is thinking about what your business goal is, in terms of who you’re looking to meet, and then you create your advance searches and save them, which basically automates the. So then the search engine automatically looks through those second- or third-degree connections without you even being in LinkedIn and sends you an e-mail with the people you want to get to.

What makes a great LinkedIn status update? How is it different from a great update on Facebook or Twitter or some other social network?

I think every social network has a target audience and people know the dynamics are different for different networks. Twitter is not necessarily mutual acceptance; Facebook is much more social, perhaps more fun. In my mind, in LinkedIn people generally have one key professional focus … and therefore I think it makes sense to think about, before you send a status update, a couple of things. One: Who are you connected to and who do you want to actually see your status update? And also, what you’d want them to do? … And then, the frequency which would be overwhelming to those people — because a lot of time people get excited with that ability to send lots of status updates. But it’s really [important] that you don’t overwhelm them, because LinkedIn does have the ability to hide status updates.

How much does an employee’s profile reflect on their employer’s brand? Are there ways companies can use their employees LinkedIn presence to improve the way a brand is perceived?

That depends on the kind of business. So a consulting firm may have more person-to-person interaction with clients and employees whereas other businesses may have less interaction. But, in general, what we’re seeing is that the customer of any … product or service has more access to see who’s actually responsible for building or delivering that. So without a doubt, if somebody wants to do business with a company, they’re going to look at the company page, which has a lot of information about that company, but what’s even more valuable are the people that are in there. …

In terms of how a company can use the individuals’ profile pages, I think it’s important that companies recognize that the individual owns their LinkedIn profile. If any company tries to infringe on that, then that starts messing with the dynamic of who people will connect to and how they’ll use it or how they won’t use it. … Don’t send out a boilerplate thing that’s impersonal — because this is still a socially inclined network — but provide some guidance. ‘To be consistent with the message that we want to project as a company, to align us all, we’d appreciate these keywords, these messages.’ Maybe give recommendations for your peers or request recommendations from your clients.

What’s the biggest mistake you see people making on LinkedIn?

Depends on the person. Generally, I think it’s over-excitement about the potential. And either trying to say too much and including way too much information in a profile that’s overwhelming, or doing too many status updates or group postings too often. Or not thinking about who their target market is and what they’re trying to accomplish.

I think it’s important to think of LinkedIn as a business tool that is going to accomplish a goal for you. Now, that goal can change throughout the lifetime of your career. So for instance, if you’re job searching now and you get that job and you become a salesperson, well then you want to … use LinkedIn in a way that’s going to help you do lots of sales. And now, leading a bunch of sales people, you have to think as a leader hiring other people.

Is there a big difference, in terms of best practices, in terms of how job seekers use LinkedIn and sales professionals use it?

I would say the basics are generally the same. It’s always important, whenever you’re in a networking situation, you don’t want to be seen as ‘that guy’ who’s just looking to do something for themselves. … Generally, the way I break it down is: Actively look to give before you receive — which I think applies to both. If you can provide some value or some information to a client when you’re selling, that’s equally as valuable as when you’re trying to meet somebody and get an introduction to something that can get you a job, the mutual contact is someone you might want to try to make an introduction for, do something of value for. …

The difference is that when you’re job seeking it’s a lot harder to know who has the relationships that are about to open up a position. There’s a lot of knowledge about those job that are out there now — but the really valuable ones that you can get to are the ones that haven’t been posted, that when someone who you know happens to be like ‘I just talking to my friend and he said that they’re going to be opening up a position. I think you’d be a good fit for’ — obviously the earlier you can get in, the better chance you’ll have of getting an early interview and maybe even getting the job before they post it.

What’s your take on Facebook apps such as BeKnown that are trying to offer a LinkedIn experience within Facebook?

I think it’s still a very much evolving ecosystem. There’s a lot of data out there, there’s a lot of relationships and there’s a lot of motivation for people to use their relationships to help other people find jobs, either because of their job or because they’re friends. So it’s a very interesting market for me, because I think it still has a lot to be proven in terms of how people are going to be most comfortable sharing knowledge, making introductions and referrals, etc. I think it’s important to watch them all if you are a job seeker.