By Leia O’Connell, MSW, GCDF
Corporate Recruiter, APUS
More than any other social media site, LinkedIn remains a mystery to many people. When I worked as a Career Coach, I encouraged students and alumni to engage with the LinkedIn community. But often, I would field objections; LinkedIn just didn’t interest many people as a job search and networking tool.
Start a management degree at American Public University.
Even professionals in my industry have reservations about the platform. Just the other day, I was chatting with a colleague who admitted, “I never message people, and I would never think of a reason to message someone. I have no idea how or why to use LinkedIn.” Making connections on LinkedIn isn’t as obvious as on a site like Facebook, where you likely know those you’re connecting with or messaging.
With Twitter and Instagram, you might have a mixed bag of followers and people you’re following, but your primary use of these sites is for entertainment. With LinkedIn, your messages and posts have a very specific intent. This is what sets LinkedIn apart — and what makes it tricky to navigate.
Using LinkedIn effectively is not intuitive. Thirty seconds of research will find you bobbing in an endless ocean of posts and articles with tips on how professionals can use the platform. So what is LinkedIn’s purpose?
The Purpose of LinkedIn
Here’s what makes LinkedIn unique. You have the opportunity to make connections with professionals you’re unlikely to interact with in any other arena. Unlike other platforms, LinkedIn enables you to have meaningful interactions with professionals in your field, desired field or even folks on different teams in your current company!
The loudest voices on LinkedIn are those who have grown their profiles alongside the platform, but it’s not too late to start developing a voice of your own. By growing your network, you can get more eyes on your professional accomplishments and the incredible work you’re doing. You just have to keep putting yourself out there.
The downside to LinkedIn? There can be a lot of rejection or perceived rejection. Do not assume people will have any desire to help you, as they have no obligation to.
Users are likely to pick up quickly on the type of posts that do well on LinkedIn, but messages are another story. Let’s circle back to the initial note from my colleague who isn’t sure why a user would send a message on LinkedIn. I’ve answered a few common questions about LinkedIn messages to get her started.
Should I Send a Message with Every Connection Request?
You don’t need to send a message for every request. Here’s the thing: many LinkedIn users will accept a connection request if you work in the same field, have the same alma mater or work for the same company, even if you don’t work together.
Typically, you should only send messages if it’s not immediately clear why you’re connecting with them. If you saw a recent post of theirs and would like to see more of their content, this is a great note to put in a connection request!
If you do decide to send a message, remember the #1 rule to follow: do not ask for anything in your initial message. You are likely to be ignored, as it’s unreasonable to ask someone for help if you have no other connection to them and haven’t spent any time building a relationship. As a rule of thumb, I do not accept connection requests when someone asks me for something in the initial note — and chances are, others don’t either.
How Can I Use Messaging to Build Relationships If Users Don’t Want to Receive Messages?
You don’t have to send a message that requires a response. You can simply send a note saying you enjoyed one of their posts or an article they shared. Start building a relationship on your end without expecting anything from them.
Even better, you can comment or like some of their posts. When you see something you like, like it, and when you have a comment, write it! Consistently promoting a user’s content (without going overboard) is a small way to build a relationship.
What about Sending Messages to Users Who Aren’t Very Active?
If you’re going to take the time to write a well-thought-out message, it’s best to take a peek at the user’s activity first. When you look at that person’s profile, go to “Activity” and click on “See all.” If you don’t see much, it’s likely he or she is not very active and may not view your message until long after you send it.
On the flip side, if their posts receive a lot of attention, assume they are inundated with messages. They might see your message, or it might get lost. Reach out, but make sure to clearly illustrate why you’re reaching out.
Remember, a message isn’t always the best way to reach someone. When you write a meaningful comment on their post, you help them too by boosting the views on their content.
If you’re new to LinkedIn, start with writing comments instead of messages. If your comments are well-thought-out, this tactic will help build your network and improve your relationships. Writing a comment is also less intimidating than sending a message—a good place to start!
What Do I Do If Someone Sends Me an Inappropriate Message?
If you receive an inappropriate message from a connection, block and report them — don’t hesitate. My policy is to immediately block a connection if I receive messages related to my appearance. I’ll even block users with messages like “Good morning, Sweetheart.”
Under no circumstances is it ever okay to send messages like this on a professional platform. This type of communication is akin to a cat call (and trust me, I would block folks who cat call on the street if it were possible).
Before I accept a connection request, I look through that person’s activity to see the types of comments the user makes on other posts. This research often tells me exactly what I can expect from a new connection. And it is an easy way to vet your connections and ensure you’re growing a professional and respectful network.
Conduct a LinkedIn Review to Ensure You’re Using the Platform Effectively
LinkedIn is a unique platform, and other platforms can’t compete with what it offers professionals. You can connect with some of the most talented people in every available industry and even get your own work in front of them.
Message etiquette is only one piece of the puzzle, though. While LinkedIn is technically a social media platform, your profile should reflect your professional brand. To cultivate a professional image and ensure you’re using the platform productively, have someone conduct a review of your LinkedIn profile.
If you’re a university student or alumni and would like to have a LinkedIn review conducted, contact Career Services. And if you’re actively looking for a new position, you can also request a social media review to ensure your accounts aren’t negatively affecting your job search.
The way you use social media can make or break your professional career. Understanding how to use different platforms and engage with different audiences is critical. To learn more about how to use LinkedIn and optimize your profile, view our excellent video tutorial series available in the ecampus Success Center.
About the Author
Leia O’Connell has worked for American Public University System since 2012. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF). Leia has been an Academic Advisor for the School of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), a Graduate Academic Advisor, and a Career Coach. In her current role as a Corporate Recruiter, she forms mutually beneficial relationships with diverse employers. Leia holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Hartwick College and a master’s degree in social work from Binghamton University.