Originally published December 9, 2017 on LinkedIn
100,000 followers. It is a bit surreal to have surpassed that number this month. It is an exciting opportunity to reach so many professionals to promote cross-pollination ideas, dissemination of best practices, and creation of discussions (with participants ranging from experts to students). This last year on LinkedIn has been stimulating, edifying, and fun. Below are some tips on how to master and maximize your own LinkedIn use:
1) The more you use it the more benefit you will get
The first step to success in any activity is your own level of engagement. I recommend checking in anywhere from daily to a few times a week. When you log in, be sure to participate rather than lurk. "Like" things or leave a comment. This allows others to see your profile and respond. It also gives the system data that helps to customize your feed.
2) Repurpose your "wasted" time
I frequently check in, interact, or post via LinkedIn when I'm on the tarmac waiting for a plane to take off, in an taxi/Uber/Lyft, waiting in line at the grocery store. Transform wasted time into LinkedIn time.
3) Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good
If you have a provocative or interesting thought, share it. Don't wait for it to be perfect. Since I have gained a following, I have offered colleagues that I am happy to promote their work or successes. Often I get "let me think about that" and then I receive nothing. In fact, one of my most read posts was composed as I was deplaning and I was disturbed by an issue with in air medical response protocols. I began writing my thoughts in the airport and completed it in the taxi.
4) The best work is iterative
When you post your immediate thoughts, you force yourself to record the thoughts in a somewhat coherent sentence. You get comments. It allows you to refine your thoughts. That post started in the airport? It generated a robust discussion. It caught the attention a LinkedIn editor who offered to feature it as a promoted post. That's when I formalized my initial thoughts and added some more flesh to the bare bones, incorporating feedback and ideas recorded in comments.
5) Take risks, including risking rejection
I will acknowledge I have cold emailed people I do not know. Those connections have sometime resulted in genuine and fruitful friendships, even some referrals for jobs. Other times there is someone who has been in a similar department but several ranks above me in a very hierarchical work setting. It may not have been appropriate to contact them via a work email but it can be more acceptable to connect via LinkedIn.
6) Accept the invitation
Even if the person inviting you to connect or asking to speak to you is substantially junior, if the profile shows something you respect or shows potential, then make the time. I had a medical student contact me who then joined a volunteer team with a medical society that then led to a successful grant submission.
7) Take it offline
Be willing to meet in person or talk by phone. That deepens the connection, makes each other more human, and allows for the nuances that come through facial expression or tone of voice. Yes, especially as a woman, that means I have had to screen out some shady characters, both male and female. Do not accept an invitation to a beach house on the Cape or dinner on a Saturday night at a hotel. Do not agree to give anyone money or give out your bank account because someone claims to want to give you money. Meet for lunch or midday coffee in a public place and in a place that you choose yourself.
8) Don't pigeonhole yourself
In your formal career, especially academia, it is often wise to brand yourself with deep expertise and a specific skill set. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a great way to learn from those in completely different fields and to diversify your network. After all, many quality improvement methods used in healthcare come from other industries like auto manufacturing.
9) Investigate career paths
As a physician who has pursued a non-traditional career path aligned with innovation, I have had to blaze my own path. Mentors within academic medicine often had more traditional paths, were unaware of the new opportunities, or were more risk averse. The same was often true of career coaches. It is via LinkedIn I could peruse a range of profiles and track how people got to their current jobs. It gave me insight into what experiences and skill sets were relevant and how to prioritize my goals.
10) Plan ahead
Current trends show that people stay in a job 3-5 years. Rather than wait to use LinkedIn until when are looking for a job (thereby flagging to your current boss you are "looking"), be a constant and active user. The network you will leverage in 3-5 years can be created and maintained now. That network may also help you find people to hire or collaborate with in your current job.
Bringing it all together:
The limitations to your effectiveness on LinkedIn are often internal and based on false assumptions. A small investment of time can pay substantial dividends for your career development. Put yourself out there, be open, be spontaneous.
Of course, at the same time, be sensible and professional. Make sure anything you post would not flag any HR issues. Keep it positive. It's okay to have discussions on controversial topics as long as you frame it as looking for solutions, you rely on credible data and opinions, you are fair-minded and civil towards those who have opposing opinions.