Your online reputation: Leveraging LinkedIn

By Jennifer Kavur, Computerworld Canada |  Career, LinkedIn, Social Networking

Make the most of your LinkedIn account. Part 3 in our series on how to maneuver your professional reputation through Web 2.0.

Learning how to successfully maneuver your reputation through Web 2.0 is critical if you're planning on that long-term career.

Web 1.0 was essentially about the democratization of Web access, but as we've moved into Web 2.0, what we see is the democratization of participation, said Chuck Hamilton, virtual learning program manager for IBM Canada Ltd.

IT professionals are wise to remain cautious of the lure of self-expression. And while you may control who initially views your activities, you can't control what they do with that information. Nor can you decide to take it back.

But refusing to participate isn't the answer, as a Web presence is necessary to let potential employers and clients know that you exist. A quick Google search on your name will influence whether or not they even want to meet with you in the first place.

Yesterday, we revealed tips and strategies for marketing your professional image using all that Web 2.0 has to offer. Today, we focus on LinkedIn.

IT pros concerned about their online reputations should focus on LinkedIn first and foremost because it is aimed at the professional, according to John Carson, social media consultant for Echo Communications.

Your LinkedIn profile is also critical because of its high rank in Google search results, suggested Michael O'Connor Clarke, vice president at Thornley Fallis Communications.

"One of the things that you'll see very often when you Google an individual is the third or fourth result will be their LinkedIn page. If it's a businessperson or potential employer who's doing the search, that's probably the first link they're going to click," he said.

"Right there, they'll have a good feel for your background, what your Rolodex is like and they want to see if there's any recommendations or interesting connections," Clarke continued.

To ensure this first impression is a good one, fill out as much of your profile as possible. "Make sure you use all of the search tools that LinkedIn provides to find as many people as you can in your network and get connected to them. If you have past clients, past employers or past business associates that are willing to provide a reference, then do so," said Clarke.

While debate exists over the quality versus quantity of LinkedIn connections, most IT professionals admittedly take their LinkedIn network more seriously than contacts established on other social networking sites.

"I'm very protective of the [LinkedIn] environment in terms of referrals and connecting to people that are very specific to my work," said Hamilton. "The reputation I project in that space is one of a professional working in the space and working in a certain capacity in an area that I have professional qualifications for."

Transparency is one of the reasons hiring managers will perform a Google search on you to begin with, so be careful not to stretch the truth. In addition to finding and speaking with your former colleagues, hiring managers can search for a company you've worked at, find out how the company did while you worked there and determine whether or not you contributed to this, explained Carson.

Network wisely, advised Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in the staffing firm's Seven Tips for Managing Online Reputation. Be gracious with everyone you encounter, follow posted protocols, don't forget to say thank you and return favours whenever possible, he said.

But the true power of LinkedIn -- which is often overlooked -- is the Question and Answer section, said Carson.

First, participating in the Q&A helps you stand out. "Headhunters are always trolling LinkedIn...if they see you are keen to actually answer questions and help people without being asked, I think it gives you a head start," said Carson.

Second, you get expensive advice for free. "A lot of these people that do answer these questions are CEOs and VPs," said Carson. "If you were to talk to them face-to-face, their time would be worth a few hundred bucks an hour and there they are for nothing at all and it's great."

Third, you become an expert yourself. "You have these top-level people asking questions and looking for expertise. It takes 10 minutes to jump in and answer one of those questions. Then people see that you've answered one of those questions and they can say, 'Okay, this guy knows his stuff,'" said Carson.

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