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Network: How to Use LinkedIn to Connect With Your Community

Articles about the rise of social media will often lump LinkedIn with Facebook and Twitter, branding it the dull one of the bunch. But LinkedIn, although quieter than the others, is actually extremely useful: a network of professional connections that can be a research tool, a jobs board, a source of trustworthy recommendations, and more. If Facebook is a giant party where everyone swaps pictures of cute babies, and Twitter is a constantly flowing, overlapping conversation, then LinkedIn is a magnificent library—a four-dimensional, seemingly infinite lattice of resumés and CVs.

The success of LinkedIn depends on rules. If you want to add someone to your network, LinkedIn gives you a warning: “Only invite people you know well and who know you.” While Facebook has fake profiles, funny profiles, and literary magazines pretending to be people, LinkedIn strongly discourages all these things. This focus on accuracy and sincerity is what makes LinkedIn fascinating—and potentially useful to writers as they try to advance all aspects of their careers. Here are a few simple rules to get you started.

Be Honest. As you work on your profile—which, on LinkedIn, amounts to a virtual CV—remember always to tell the truth. A large percentage of people are said to lie on their resumés, but there’s no getting away with whoppers when many of the people you may be hoping to network with are former colleagues, either at your day job or at a literary journal that’s published your work.

Be Consistent. What bona fides are you uploading—your professional resumé, your writing credits, or both? I know a fiction writer who only uses LinkedIn for her day job, politely declining offers to connect with compatriots in the writing world. But that’s a missed opportunity. I’m connected to former coworkers, college friends, editors for whom I’ve written, writers I’ve edited, and a few cousins. Perhaps my economist cousin in Anchorage will know an editor at Alaska Quarterly Review. Or perhaps he’ll want to connect through me to a market analyst I know in Washington, D.C. On LinkedIn, all your worlds intersect.

Just Be Yourself (in Your Interview Clothes). Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld recently agonized in the New York Times over which self she should present on Facebook: “Professional Writer Curtis (upbeat, friendly, responsible) or Real Curtis (disagreeable, slovenly, judgmental)”? But on LinkedIn, there’s no such conflict: You put your best face forward. You don’t have to worry about whether you should let your hair down, because the answer is simple: You shouldn’t. This is not a forum for baby pictures; this is where you put on a tie, smile, and hand someone your business card.

Be Thorough. Not everyone will agree, but I love it when writers put details of their work experience on their profiles. Think of it as a great writing challenge: What did you teach at that university? What did you accomplish at that nonprofit? Editors are most likely not trawling Linked-In for poets to publish on the basis of previous credits, but recruiters are searching all the time for new employees; the more details you have, the more likely your profile is to come up in search results. You may not be looking for a better-paying day job—but is there a better-paying day job out there looking for you?

Be Polite, Forthright, and Judicious. For Linked-In to work properly, only genuine connections should be made. The question I always try to ask is, “Can I vouch for this person?” Without these links of authenticity and trust, the lattice falls apart. So only connect with the people you actually know. Of course, this might include people you want to know better. When you click the Add to Your Network button, you have the option to send a standard message or a personal note. Always take the time to personalize, reminding people how you know them, and even explaining why you’re eager to get to know them better.

Pay It Forward. “Don’t be stingy with your recommendations,” says author and blogger Ron Hogan. “Don’t say stuff just for the sake of saying stuff, but if you have honest praise for somebody in your network, put it out there!” By joining this giant library and duplicating the actual, genuine connections you have in the real world, someone may very well be able to help you advance your career—and you may be able to help someone else, too.

Thomas Israel Hopkins lives in Kingston, New York, with his wife and son. His short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Fence, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Indiana Review, Cincinnati Review, One Story, and Quick Fiction, among other journals. His website is tomhop.com.

Reader Comments

  • sandys says...

     

    I cancelled LinkedIn about a week after signing on, realizing that it collected far too much personal information and worse, included my friends and associates in its data-collection efforts. I am still contacted by LinkedIn from time to time, even though I repeatedly asked to be removed from its distribution lists and insisted they "cease and desist" in all contact with me. Now I just zap everything to the spam folder.

    Today on radio news, I heard statistics about the issue of identity theft in our country, which has risen to epidemic proportions. The number one place personal information is gathered is SOCIAL MEDIA; in that category,  LinkedIn is cited as the Number One Culprit where Identity Theft perpetrators obtain their information.  BE WARNED.  Source for information:  Clark Howard financial advice program.

    Be warned.

     

  • Collaborative Writer says...

    I should have looked more carefully to get your name right! I'm losing my eyesight!

  • Collaborative Writer says...

    @Mbrennan, your experience is not unusual, it seems to me. This is why I started an online forum for writers that is not about critique, or 'dominatrix' style comments. I teach writing, and one of the things I learned through many years of working with writers (everything from beginning to professional) is that we are all pretty sensitive as human beings when it comes to our writing, our self-expression. These thoughts we put on the page feel very raw.

    I know many pooh-pooh this level of sensitivity, and say some version of 'it's just a job; I never feel this way about my writing,' but one of the groups I sat in on where the writers actually said that, turned out to be travel writers and magazine writers.

    Then, many months later, when the same group was trying out writing they'd never done before (personal material to be turned into a novel) I heard a lot of sensitivity; a lot of 'oh god, I had no idea it was this hard.' So, when you finally "get it," that writing is a process of self-revelation, it seems to me, you learn to be kinder on one another, and not to be so competitive. I prefer the collaborative spirit, which is what my work with writers is all about. 

    You can check out collaborative-writer.com or the forum, which was set up with the hopes that writers would just simply talk to one another, and not compete or critique (unless critique is asked for, that is). I have been turned off far too many writer's groups for precisely the reasons you mention, and was pretty fed up with the competitive model in general. 

    Here's the forum link: http://546939.xobor.com/

    ~Alison 

  • mbrenman says...

    I belong to a number of groups on LinkedIn.  The only one I've left is one concerned with writing.  It was a pretty awful experience, dominated by a moderator who was a nasty dominatrix.  The comments from some other members were not very helpful.  Some were genuinely dumb.  The whole thing was a bad experience.  I cannot in good faith recommend LinkedIn as a good place for writers to go. 

  • Richard Geller says...

    While in general I agree with the author's talking points, LinkedIn can provide the writer and/or artist with incredible, really unprecedented opportunities to network with professionals he or she would never otherwise meet or have access to. Of course, there are matters of etiquette to carefully conside first, and the first rule is: never waste someone's time. You certainly will not get a second opportunity to approach this person if you do.

    Currently, I belong to 46 different groups on LinkedIn with a personal network of 700+. Many of these connections came as a result of writing a brief note to someone whose profile looked interesting and inviting them to visit my website and providing them with a reason why I thought they'd be interested. My website, aSiteAboutSomething, is what Seth Godin calls a 'purple cow,' which translates as something unique, unexpected and interesting. In my case, the site is on-going experiment in actively using the web to build a platform for a relatively unknown poet, novelist and songwriter. On average it gets about 4000 visits per month from up to 68 countries. I also provided people with a legitimate reason for why I was interested in connecting with them personally. In the beginning, that reason was generally to explore creative ways to use the web to build an audience. A lot of my contacts are in the arts (all over the world), but a lot of them are in marketing, PR and Advertising, media, the sciences and engineering. They are all smart, curious people, who are very interested in this wired collaborative world that is being born.

    If people see that you are indeed doing something bold and different, it's quite amazing how many will share their expertise and make suggestions. (Some even buy a book or a cd, but that's not the purpose.) The main purpose is to build a useful network, where you haver permission to judiciously solicit ideas or make an announcement that is of interest to most parties.

    For example, in my first year of marketing in this manner, the lead song on my website was selected by a director from Norway for a TV campaign for the Norwegian Cancer Society. It ran on national TV in Norway for two week in Christmas, 2010. That is an example of the kind of thing that can happen using LinkedIn responsibly and creatively. As you might expect, I announced it to everyone in my entire network both to promote it, but also to encourage everyone to keep trying new things. 

    In that spirit, I share whatever works and what doesn't with everyone about the realities of building an online platform; aBlogAboutSomething is my primary vehicle for doing that. Recently, I've started sharing blog posts with certain of my LinkedIn groups, where I believe the content is useful or likely to be of interest to the group.  And if I read, hear or see something fantastic, I'm all over sharing that as well! 

    Bottom line: you'd be amazed who you can meet with just a little effort (okay a lot of effort). 

  • karenmillen1 says...

    Don’t be stingy with your recommendations,” says author and blogger Ron Hogan. “Don’t say stuff just for the sake of saying stuff, but if you have honest praise for somebody in your network, put it out there!karenmillen

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