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HOW TO: Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

 With more than 85 million members in more than 200 countries, LinkedIn is a professional social network worth using, understanding and optimizing.
After you’ve covered the basics of setting up your LinkedIn presence, features including recommendations, applications, LinkedIn Answers, and the Resume Builder can add value to your profile. Many of these highly useful features, though, are often overlooked or underused by newcomers.
We spoke with four LinkedIn aficionados to get their top advice on making the best use of these tools. Read on for their thoughts and let us know which tips you’d add for optimizing LinkedIn profiles in the comments below.

Cover the Basics

The first step to spiffing up your LinkedIn (LinkedIn) profile is to fill in as much information about your work experience as possible. It’s your online resume; pay as much attention to it as you would your cover letter or paper resume.
Sharlyn Lauby, president of Internal Talent Management, HR blogger and guest contributor for Mashable (Mashable), believes that a person’s LinkedIn profile should, at minimum, reflect his or her current situation. That includes an up-to-date headline along with information about his or her most recent position. A recent photo and contact information are also musts.
If you’ve covered those bases, our experts recommend focusing on making connections, joining groups, getting recommendations and posting status updates. Once again, the focus should be on quality additions in each of these areas.
“[A status update] is a great place to share an article of interest or something new you’ve been working on. People do comment on status updates, so it’s a nice way to start a conversation,” says Lauby.
If all else fails, just follow LinkedIn’s built-in status bar for recommendations on how to complete your profile. When you hit the 100% mark, though, don’t think you’re finished; there’s plenty more to be done.

Ask for Meaningful Recommendations

Astute recruiters aren’t going to take your word for granted when you describe your top-notch abilities. Instead, just as in offline recruiting, they will want to hear from those who have worked with you and have a grasp on your working style, personality and skills. That’s where recommendations come in.
Lauby notes that gathering recommendations is all about quality over quantity. “If someone has dozens of recommendations that are generic in nature, it’s not as valuable as a handful that are specific about a person’s experience and contribution.”
Focus on asking for meaningful recommendations from your supervisors and colleagues who work closest to you. Before sending out a request on LinkedIn, approach each contact in person to explain the importance of his or her recommendation. Adding a personal touch to your request will probably result in a better response rate, as impersonal, default requests can sometimes fall on deaf ears.
Be sure to thank each of your colleagues who recommend you on LinkedIn, and consider returning the favor with a follow-up recommendation.

Use Value-Added Applications

One of the hidden jewels on LinkedIn is its ability to incorporate applications. Check out its Application Directory for a taste of apps that can spice up your profile.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
  • SlideShare Presentations: If you’re a public speaker or publish lots of reports, SlideShare is a useful tool for getting the word out about your work. If you don’t have a SlideShare account, get one. If you do, this app is a great way to showcase your most recent reports or presentations on your LinkedIn profile.
  • WordPress (WordPress): Add personal flair to your LinkedIn profile by importing your latest WordPress blog posts onto your profile. You can choose to display all posts or only those tagged “linkedin.”
  • Tweets: If you’re a huge LinkedIn buff with a passion for Twitter (Twitter), Tweets is a great Twitter client for accessing the microblogging service right from LinkedIn. Plus, you can choose to display your most recent tweets on your profile.
  • My Travel: Powered by TripIt (TripIt), this app enables you to see where your professional network is traveling and post your upcoming trips. It then shows you who in your network will be close to you on your travels.
These apps give visitors to your profile a better idea of who you are as a person and job candidate. Lauby also recommends checking out the Events app, which enables you to discover professional events and indicate which ones you’re attending, giving you more opportunities to connect with fellow attendees.

Become an Expert With LinkedIn Answers

LinkedIn Answers is a Q&A platform that enables members to demonstrate their business acumen by answering questions from other members. When questioners choose another user’s answer as best, that user gains points of expertise. These points rank members on the Answers leaderboard, called “This Week’s Top Experts.”
We asked three of this week’s top experts about their best practices on using the product. Each of these experts spend a few hours per day answering up to 50 questions daily, which is the maximum for 24 hours.
Cristina Falcão, lawyer and pharmaceutical manager at Farmácia F. in Portugal, says that the biggest reason for using Answers is networking. “‘Expertise’ [points] is given by the person who asks and categorizes a question. Networking is about meeting people, sharing knowledge, and helping each other,” she said. “I enjoy learning from other professionals and the input from other users’ real life experiences is priceless.” For Falcão, Answers is a platform for demonstrating expertise, as well as a platform for getting answers to her own pressing questions.
“I consider it my daily marketing investment,” said Christine Hueber, a social media and search marketing strategist, referring to her activity on LinkedIn Answers. She said she usually answers questions until she reaches the daily maximum. Her dedication has paid off thus far, as she now sources most of her clients from LinkedIn. She explained:

“Since I started focusing on Answers about a year ago, all of my new clients I’ve gained either directly or indirectly through Answers, since my ranking and demonstrated expertise is very impressive to them. Plus, it’s brought other opportunities my way, like giving presentations on LinkedIn, being featured in YouTube videos, being interviewed by people like you, etc.”

Hueber isn’t alone in having benefited from being an active Answers user. Dinesh Rãmkrishna, NeST technologies business development manager, agreed that his input has been rewarded in the form of “connections, friends, well wishers, business queries and job offers.”
All three experts recommend answering questions in areas that you are well-experienced in — they also get lots of great feedback for answering questions about how to use LinkedIn, in general.

Use LinkedIn’s Resume Builder Tool

Remember when crafting the perfect resume entailed sitting at your computer for hours, using the perfect action verbs and nitpicking the formatting? Sadly, much of that process has remained unchanged for decades, but formatting is getting a bit easier, with tools like LinkedIn’s Resume Builder.
The tool enables LinkedIn users to craft resumes by simply choosing a template and customizing the content. Lauby commented on Resume Builder’s usability:

“It’s incredibly easy to use, and I was very impressed with the number of different resume formats available. Keep in mind, the quality of the resume is directly attributed to the quality of information on your profile. If people want to take full advantage of this feature, they will need to keep their profiles updated regularly with the information they ultimately want on their resumes.”

If updating your resume in Microsoft Word, again and again, is one of the monotonous tasks you’d like to shake, check out Resume Builder the next time an update is needed.
These recommendations will help LinkedIn users utilize their profiles as much as possible. Which tips would you add? Let us know in the comments.

How the U.S. Engages the World with Social Media

The perception of the U.S. abroad varies widely, and is subject to many forces, including world events, media coverage, policy changes, and presidential administrations. In response, the U.S. State Department, America’s public relations branch, has been charged with the difficult task of engaging in the dialogue surrounding the controversial policies discussed in almost every corner of the world.

Social media has proven to be a valuable tool in this regard, and the State Department has made impressive gains in their mission to turn conflict into conversation. Cabinet officials, foreign dignitaries, and embassies are experimenting with ways to inject America’s voice into the global chatter. Some of their experiments are paying dividends that few expected. Here’s a look at some of these efforts.

Social Media Can Bridge the “Last Three Feet”
President Barack Obama garners an enormous response when he solicits the country’s opinion online, as when he circumvented the White House press corps with YouTube-submitted questions this past February an effort that received over 11,000 responses.

But when Obama fields Internet questions from local residents during an overseas trip, the numbers are staggering a whopping 17,000 responses during a visit to Ghana, and an astounding 250,000 in South Africa (though some responses did come from outside Africa). Given the relatively smaller population and shallow Internet penetration, these numbers speak volumes about the world’s web-based engagement with U.S. leaders.

Obama’s responses alone, just out of sheer publicity, may have some positive impact on foreign attitudes. But, for Bill May, Director of the State Department’s Office of Innovative Engagement (i.e. social media), being at the epicenter of online chatter is what he thinks of as the “new version of the last three feet.”

May was invoking Edward R. Murrow’s famous public diplomacy strategy where he wrote, “The real crucial link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.” In public diplomacy, there are a latent number of people throughout the world who will befriend America’s vision after a thorough conversation. The reverberation of Obama’s message, coupled with the hyper-local follow-ups from America’s Embassies, can reach more of those hidden friends than ever before.

Indeed, when Elizabeth Tradeau of the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria tweeted, “South Africa, what’s the impact of new media in your view of America?” there was a mix of negative and positive comments. But, one in particular seemed to prove May’s point:

@USembPretoria: for one, the US seems much friendlier than I imagine and accessible.

America is Fun
For every serious news or political blog, there are likely twice as many dedicated to sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll. And when Bill Clinton pioneered a youth outreach strategy answering questions from MTV fans, it was the infamous “boxers or briefs” question that garnered him the most attention. In the end, entertainment is just so much more appealing.

Seizing on this strategy, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia has seen Facebook fan growth of jaw-dropping proportions, an increase from 36,000 to 120,000 in roughly one month. On a single Facebook post, the embassy often receives between 700 to 1,000 comments (that’s about 10 times more comments than The Huffington Post). This is especially astonishing when you consider that less than 10% of Indonesia’s population even uses Facebook.

So, what’s their winning strategy? Simple social games, where users can dress up Barack Obama in local garb and share the creation with friends, or suggest what Obama should eat during his next visit.

While the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia does delve into some culturally thorny issues, foreign diplomat Tristram Perry admits that Facebook is “not a good venue for hard policy topics.” Instead, he says “we make our Facebook fun. Jazz, technology, tourism we have a fascinating history. There’s lots about it that people admire.”

The embassy saw huge traffic from an essay contest to win a trip to “Barack Obama’s America” (Hawaii and Chicago), where winners will blog about their tour for what will surely be a stadium’s worth of jealous peers back home.

Many of the messages texted to President Obama plead for “not a hand out, but a hand up,” says Trudeau of the South Africans she speaks with. Centuries of colonization, war, and resource scarcity have paralyzed innovation in many parts of the world. To jump-start the economy, the U.S. helps plant what is seen as the seed of technological innovation: Education.

For instance, in the humble rural township of Mamelodi, just outside Pretoria, the Embassy provides technological and scientific literacy to disadvantaged children. In the Mae Jemison reading room, which is named after the first female African-American astronaut, children are “introduced to the Internet,” says Trudeau. She tells them, “This is how you use Google this is how you get an e-mail account,” and my personal favorite as a writing teacher, “don’t use Wikipedia as a source.” The students’ curiosity is limitless. During class, Trudeau observes that students bunch up by computers “six-deep” in line “looking, exploring,” and are eager to learn more.

The current business culture in South Africa points to some promising returns on this educational investment. “It’s like being in Silicon [Valley] or San Francisco in 2004 with Biz Stone and all of his friends,” said one visiting American at a local technology conference, as recounted by Trudeau. “It’s journalists, it’s editors, it’s tech entrepreneurs … they all use Twitter to connect. It’s a very interconnected, very engaged community,” Trudeau notes.

Media Outreach
The State Department has taken to providing timely information on crises and policy via social networks. During an attempted coup in Madagascar, a rumor began circulating that the threatened president was seeking refuge in the U.S. Embassy. After refuting the rumors themselves, the State Department tweeted out the correct information, “and immediately we started getting retweets and people saying ‘thanks for the correction,’” notes Daniel Schaub, Director of Digital Communications for the State Department. “And, then within probably an hour or so, the traditional media had caught it,” helping to blanket the spreading fire of a rumor that “could potentially put embassy staff at risk.”

Moreover, Schaub’s department manages Secretary Hillary Clinton’s blog, Dipnote, which provides rich context for otherwise curt policy pronouncements. Dipnote is now cited by news organizations such as the Associated Press and The New York Times for detailed explanations of Department policy and procedure.

The importance of this supplementary information should not be underestimated. A recent study suggests that the clarity of White House rhetoric can impact the political world. “If the president is able to define an intervention in simple, compelling terms, he is likely to get considerably more support from the public,” says Associate Professor Cooper Drury, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Analysis.

Every single Department official I spoke with admitted that the era of one-way broadcasting is dying. The ubiquity of mobile and social technologies means the U.S. must now have an ear as well as a voice. It seems like an unprecedented opportunity to open a dialogue with people and communities all over the world who would otherwise be isolated.

It should be noted that members of the State Department often disagree with their bosses on best practices. But, they also understand that conversation, even in 140 characters, may one day mean the difference between conflict and peace.

By Greg Ferenstein
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