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Mastering LinkedIn

Jan 1, 2011 12:00 AM

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In the spring of 2008, I addressed the Consolidated Graphics (CGX) national sales force and told them they needed to get on LinkedIn. I told them it was the best thing since sliced bread, and their personal brand depended on a venue like it. Within two months, I wondered what all the fuss was about, decided to write it off and moved on.

I had shown up on LinkedIn, sat on the sidelines and expected the world to beat a path to my computer. I don't think I'm the only one who went about it all wrong. Here are some tips for you to leverage this powerful venue to enhance your personal brand.

Change your expectation of social networking

There is no instant gratification. This is a long-term strategy. I tend to look at it as a courtship, not, “Hi, how are ya…will you marry me?”

Put some thought into your profile

Want to improve your “Googleability”? Then make your profile public. Consider using privacy settings if you don't want people to know that you viewed their profile. This way, you can check out a potential client without anyone thinking you're a stalker.

Join groups

The biggest mistake many people make is joining groups in their industry, exclusively. You'd do better to branch out. I mean, how many widgets do you think other widget people are going to buy from you? Here are 5 types of groups you need to belong to:

  • Industry groups (don't overindulge)

    It's always good to know what's going on, and perhaps you want to bounce things off of peers. Just know that, at times, this can be like that familiar face you cling to at a networking event. It's safe and can become a convenient excuse for you not to branch out. Don't spend all your time here.

  • Vertical groups you want to own

    A vertical group is an industry that you are targeting. For example, if I am targeting IT, I will want to join a group from that industry. Go where the money is. Certain industries are thriving, right now, such as education, healthcare, food products, etc. By joining these groups, you learn lingo, challenges and opportunities. You also begin to position yourself as an authority to your target audience.

  • Local groups and groups in areas you want to build up

    I live in New York, so it would make sense that I belong to a few local groups. At the same time, I travel quite a bit to Houston, hence my membership in the InHouston group.

  • Professional groups that help you hone your craft

    As an aspiring sales rock star, I belong to numerous sales groups; my recruiter friends belong to recruiting and human resources related groups. Make sure you surround yourself with other professionals in your chosen line of work. Sales groups are important on many levels. First, they will help you keep your finger on the pulse, right now, as sales people are out there on the front line. Second, you will pick up some good best practices. Lastly, sales people can be a point of entry often overlooked in getting in the door.

  • Parallel groups

    These share the same target audience as you but are in different industries. When I owned my sales training business, I networked with recruiters who placed high-level senior sales leaders. I benefited because I had a newly anointed sales maverick who was open to my Jedi ways. My recruiter friends benefited because I knew sales leaders who needed talented sales Jedi. You can do the same when building your network through various parallel groups.

Try these strategies 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 you feel it was a waste of time, then move on.

Your LinkedIn experience is about community. All human beings want to belong to or be a part of something. Can you leverage that? There's your million-dollar question to chew on.

Paul Castain is vice president, sales development, Consolidated Graphics (
Contact him at To download more tips on social media, visit

Did you know?

You can join up to 50 groups. When you share a group with someone, you can usually send a direct e-mail. According to a study published by Epsilon, e-mails sent through social networks have a 24% higher open rate than traditional e-mail. You can leverage that as a sales rep.