By guest blogger Paul Castain

After several months of getting no results from being on LinkedIn, I had to face the hard, cold reality that I had basically shown up, sat on the sidelines and expected the world to beat a path to my computer. So I changed my approach and started actually using LinkedIn. Wow, what a difference! Here are 25 powerful lessons I picked up along the way.

1. Change your expectation of Social Networking. There is no quick fix, silver bullet, get rich quick. This is a long term strategy to say the least. Kind of sucks, huh? Well, I think it’s safe to say that thanks to this economy, many things are now long term strategies, so perhaps a little patience is in order! Social Media Jedi Master Chris Brogan says “It’s not the kind of project where you show up, build your profiles, friend a few people and call it good. It’s a lot like tending the farm.” Be sure to check out Chris’s blog by visiting http://www.chrisbrogan.com/

2. Put some thought into your profile. Make sure it does justice to the wonderful brand we call you! Want to improve your “Googleability”? Then by all means make your profile public by clicking here http://www.linkedin.com/myprofile?editwp

Thought: Do you want your connections visible to everyone in your network? Do you have some clients that may get a tad pissed if they find out you are doing work for their competitors? Then click here and change that bad boy https://www.linkedin.com/secure/settings?browse=&goback=%2Eaas

3. Use a cool tagline to help set you apart from the masses. Examples: Craig Wilson is the Chief Appreciation Officer of his Sendout Cards business. Mi Amigo Hank Trisler isn’t the President of The Trisler Companies…He’s the Supreme Commander! Desire McBride is The Print Diva. My favorite is John Hudson who is The Dark Lord of Staffing. Our biggest challenge these days folks is being memorable. These people get it!

4. Join Groups. The biggest mistake many people make is joining groups in their industry exclusively. I think that’s great, but you better branch out. I mean, how many widgets do you think other widget dudes are gonna buy from ya, Gomer? My advice to you is to join some sales groups as well. First, it will help you keep your finger on the pulse right now since sales people are pretty much out there on the front line. Second, you will pick up some good best practices. And finally, sales people can be a point of entry often overlooked in getting in the door. I would also recommend that you join some industry groups for the verticals you want to penetrate.

Did you know? You can join up to 50 groups. When you share a group with someone you can usually send them a direct email without paying for inmails.

Did you also know? Emails sent through LI have a much higher open rate than traditional emails. Can you leverage that as a sales rep? Damn right you can!

5. Get off the damn sidelines! This is where I screwed up big time. I joined groups but didn’t participate. Get the feel of your group. Contribute! Add value. By the way, doesn’t this help make you more visible and help with the whole branding thing? If you do it right it does! Start your own discussions in those groups. This is how you stand out! What are some thought provoking, appropriate discussions you could start in your groups?

6. Want to look like a Grade A, A-hole? Then spam the discussions with ridiculous infomercials on your company, start discussions that are blatant self promotions or get cute and start a discussion with the old “For the rest of the story, click here.” That’s how you build a brand as a jackass real quick.

Do you belong to a group that is littered with spam and self promotion? Tell the group moderator and if that doesn’t work, then put your efforts in elsewhere. They aren’t worth your time!

7. Facilitate your discussions for God’s sake! This is by far one of my biggest pet peeves on LI. If you start a discussion and then disappear, you are an idiot! You not only display bad manners in doing the disappearing act, you allow your discussion to go inactive sooner. Why wouldn’t you want your discussion up at the top of the first page of discussions? Isn’t that a great visibility position? Check out my rant on this subject here http://salesplaybook.blogspot.com/2009/04/play-39-david-copperfield-and-linkedin.html

8. Show appreciation for those who contribute to your discussions. First, you should always thank people in the discussion with a simple “Thank you for your input (insert name here)” By the way, do we all enjoy being acknowledged in front of our peers? Do you think acknowledging contributions encourages additional contributions as well as folks following you to other discussions and groups? Worked for me. The other way I show appreciation is by sending a thank-you in a quick email. It’s a great door opener and helps me differentiate from the masses!

9. Avoid ninjas like your online life depended on it. It amazes me how many otherwise intelligent adults will attack someone online in front of thousands. Trust me when I tell you it will happen to you and if you are like me you will want to stick your virtual foot up their virtual ass. In a word, don’t! You won’t change ignorant people and you will damage your brand in the process.

10. Use a hyperlink in your signature when you contribute to a discussion. If all you do is put the old “www” it won’t read as a link. Here’s how ya do it the right way: Put a handy dandy http:// in front of your domain and viola. Check out how I do it.

Respectfully,
Paul Castain
Vice President Consolidated Graphics
http://salesplaybook.blogspot.com/

11. Don’t use the automated invites. They are lame and you will sound like every other clueless person. Take a moment to make your invite personal. Think about the power of first impressions and more importantly, the power of being memorable. Reference something you have observed about them in the groups, a point they made, their company, some common ground or simply:

Dear Jake:
I would be honored if you would join my network.

12. Minimize IDK’s. IDK stands for I Don’t Know. If you invite someone and they select “I don’t know” you get a real nifty snotgram from LI. If you continue to get them, LI can remove your ability to invite, because everyone has basically labeled you a dick. The real problem isn’t with LI, it’s the ignorance of the recipient. They simply don’t know how to tell you to piss off gracefully. That’s why you have to educate them.

Dear Jake:
I would be honored if you would join my network.

Should you choose not to connect, that’s fine, simply hit the “archive” button rather than the dreaded “I don’t know” button.

13. Start your own group. One bit of advice I always give in conventional networking is to get on a board in a leadership position. The same can be said for LI. I waited until I had enough involvement in the groups and started The Sales Playbook group. It’s grown by more than 2300 members in 3 months and has dramatically enhanced my brand. I’m also happy to say that I have done so by enhancing other people’s brands.

Come join our Linkedin Sales Playbook community by clicking here: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=1832739&trk=anet_ug_grppro

14. Post interesting articles in the news section. Use the “share” button to alert other folks in your network when you read an article of value to them. Comment on interesting articles. This contributes value to your group and keeps you visible in the process!

15. Add value to your network. One of the best ways you can do this is to be a matchmaker. Introduce them to people they want and need to meet. With so many displaced workers in these challenging times keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. Not a bad idea to have a recruiter or three in your network while we are at it. Neil Wood replied to me privately when I asked for advice on some good branding books. He told me he had an extra copy of a really good book and sent it to me. Stacy Stateham has given her time very freely to folks that have needed advice and I too try my best to give value (even to my competitors, believe it or not) When you do these types of things ladies and gentlemen, you don’t create followers, you create evangelists spreading the good news of your brand!

Branding 101 Moment With Uncle Paul: Do you think it packs more punch when someone else says cool things about you and your company or when you self-promote? Sorry to get basic on ya but if you are on LI then you know there are many who didn’t get the spam memo!

16. Use LI as part of your pre-call planning. I think it’s an incredible way for me to get inside my prospect’s head by getting a feel for how they think in the groups, perhaps they have a link to a blog, etc. This is a great way for you to get the inside track!

17. Let people get inside your head. Use applications such as Amazon Bookshelf, Slideshare and links to your blog. People buy from people they trust. One of the first steps towards trust is familiarity. Make sure you give your network every opportunity to experience “Brand YOU”

18. Cross-pollinate your efforts. Put a link to your LI profile in your email auto signature.

19. Post interesting Status Updates. This is a great way for you to stay on your network’s radar screen. Avoid boring play by play. Donna Highfill puts inspirational quotes in her status updates. Others will put a link to a timely article, links to articles and blogs you have written. The key here is to stay on the radar screen by continuing to add value and avoiding over-saturation while taking it easy on the self-promotion. You also need to use your head. Trust me when I tell you that your network doesn’t find value in a status update that informs us that a bottle of Cuervo has your name on it or that you are having a meltdown. Make sure you comment on status updates from your network. Example: someone in your network just mentioned that they started working at ABC company this week. Leave a congratulatory comment, etc.

Tip: Scan the home page daily. There are tons of opportunities for you there but you have to remember everyone’s favorite subject is themselves, so make it about them!

20. Comment on the blogs of your connections. Doing this opens you up to their community. In today’s online world, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you and who knows those who know those who know you and…well, you get the picture.

21. Be consistent. You won’t build your brand worth a damn if you show up two days in a row, take two weeks off, come back for a day or two. This needs to be a daily activity. Remember, this is a long term investment. Don’t ever forget that!

22. Solicit Recommendations wisely. Use your head on this one. Please! One of the quickest ways for me to yell “Jackass” is when someone I barely know, hits me up for a recommendation. When I call them out on it, I’m usually given an explanation that they used the automated send to all feature, which is just plain stupid if you ask me. Be selective who you ask and be selective who you give recommendations to. Remember, it’s your credibility, dude!

23. Stop with the juvenile “I want to have the most contacts” BS! How in the hell can you realistically connect properly with 12,000 contacts? Seriously, dude! Better to have quality contacts. Be selective in who you ask to join your network. Be selective who you allow to connect with you too! Be deliberate and intentional. By the way, I’m in the process of writing a book. When I first started I didn’t know a thing about finding an agent, a publisher and all that fun stuff. I purposely hunted folks with experience in these areas and avoided contacts that had nothing to do with what I do or who I can impact.

24. Ask and answer questions to further position you as a thought leader. You can do this by clicking here: http://www.linkedin.com/answers?trk=hb_tab_ayn

Cool Tip: Want to get a better response and greater visibility when you ask a question? Choose the option to send the question out to up to 200 people in your network.

Hook a fellow Jedi up by suggesting someone from your network as an expert to a question. This is a nice way for you to continue to add value to your network and encourage a really cool thing called reciprocation!

25. Understand that you must move this virtual online stuff to real time or it’s absolutely meaningless! One of the things I do is make a goal each week that I will connect live (face to face, phone, coffee, lunch, drink, etc) with at least 2 people from my network. When I do, I make sure my time with them is about them, not me. My goal is to not only get to know them, but to find out who an ideal client would be for them, their goals, their dreams, their challenges.

I want to leave you with a bit of a challenge. One I wish someone had issued me when I first got on LinkedIn. Try these things for 90 days. Give it your all. Be consistent and do something daily to enhance your online brand. Give value to people unconditionally and don’t keep a scorecard. Learn everything you can and, if at the end of 90 days concerted effort you feel it was a waste of time, then move on.

I for one am quite pleased with my results. The Castain brand is alive and kicking and as a bonus, I’ve made some wonderful friends along the way. Also been talking to a few publishers, so it’s nice to be moving toward that important milestone in my life!

I want you to think about something else that many people don’t realize. Your LinkedIn experience is about community. All human beings want to be a part of something. Can you leverage that? There’s your million dollar question to chew on! 

Paul Castain is the Vice President of Sales Development for Consolidated Graphics, one of North America’s leading general commercial printing companies. He has trained, mentored and coached over 3,000 sales professionals and delivered numerous keynote addresses. He has authored numerous training manuals, articles, blog posts and is currently working on his first book for release in 2011. Feel free to email Paul at ctstrainer@yahoo.com and visit the Sales Playbook blog.

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