LinkedIn’s Underbelly

Let me say this upfront: I like LinkedIn – I use it frequently because it delivers tangible professional value to me. It’s my uber online calling card, a searchable rollerdex and a cross-industry research tool rolled up into one; and the live status updates from my 500+ connections for market intelligence purposes are profoundly useful.

But here’s what I don’t like about LinkedIn. They’re a law unto themselves; a private company based in a faraway land with the ability – and sometimes the will – to arbitrarily suspend or delete your profile account. It has happened to me.

Many people fail to realise that their profile information which may sit on an online networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook is not their property. Yes, it’s your profile, but it’s not legally yours. If LinkedIn for instance were to delete or suspend your account you would have no legal redress. And where your account goes your profile information and network follows, resulting in immediately reduced online outreach and online visibility.

Some of us have spent years building up our profiles and our network of professional connections; for many it has become an important business asset. But again, an asset I have only limited control over.

LinkedIn suspended my account without notice because they claimed I owed them money. I ran some ads as a trial and authorised $100 to come out of my credit card (as an aside the click-thru results were fairly ordinary). But LinkedIn kept running the ads after the $100 had been exhausted. By the time I had worked out what was happening, several hundred dollars worth of advertising had been spent. LinkedIn asked for the money, and I replied by email as to what the situation was – pleaded my case – and heard nothing back. Then one day shortly after my account is suspended. Talk about rotten customer service: no discussion, no notice, no compromise. Just a big heavy hand flicking the off switch.

This is the kind of service you would expect from a monopoly – which is exactly what LinkedIn and Facebook have become for millions in their respective categories of professional and social networking. These are monopolies not in the traditional sense of there being no other choice, but rather they have each acquired the critical mass necessary to render other online networking options as practical non-options.

Yes, I paid the money and they restored my account – I had no (real) choice. But now I know who’s really in control here – and it isn’t me. As a professional I would advise anyone to maintain at least one other strong online presence aside from LinkedIn – a personal website or a blog would suffice from a search perspective. After all, professional online invisibility, whether by accident or design, is not a desirable thing these days. And I would also regularly export my full network contact data for safekeeping – just in case.

LinkedIn contact export option


Why You Need a Website Capable of Sending Out all the Right Signals

This article was written from the perspective of being a Business Coach, but the foundation ideas equally apply to any business.

Why It’s Important to have a Website

Your website is a global electronic window onto your business. It’s your online calling card, your gun sales rep that never sleeps or takes holidays, and your warm ever-smiling receptionist, all rolled up into one. For many prospective clients your website will form their powerful first impression of you and your level of professionalism: they’re asking themselves  – can these people improve my career prospects, my business, my livelihood? Can I trust them? Do they seem likable?

It’s all about credibility; day in, day out people are using your website as part of their decision-making process: before committing themselves in any shape or form – sending an email enquiry, making a call, setting up a first meeting – people will check you out online.  What will they find? Hopefully it’s something you’re proud of, a window that frames you in a strong and positive light.

DIY or Professionally Designed?

Don’t falsely economise when it comes to your online presence. You wouldn’t turn up to a first meeting wearing old shoes and a cheap suit, so don’t do the online equivalent. Get a professional to do a professional job. Or I guess you can always get an amateur to do an amateurish job.

How much to invest a website? Like cars, the sky’s the limit; but I would be budgeting $5,000 – $10,000. Amortised over the next 3 years, that’s not a big ask for a round-the-clock global presence. And I haven’t even started in on the lead generation potential yet.

The ‘Must Have’ Features of any Website

The first must-have of any website is an ability to send out strong clear marketplace signals via the online search process: the services you offer, the needs you meet, and the areas you operate (geography). This is known as search engine optimisation (SEO).  And it’s easier than it sounds. If you want to appear in Google’s search results for ‘executive business coach Freemantle’ then at a minimum you need a page on your website with those very keywords in place. No keyword match, no search result listing, no business lead.

Secondly, your website content needs to be fully within your control to add to and adjust. Most modern websites are developed with web-based, integrated content management systems (CMS) to manage this process. Think of your website as a means to publish your marketing communications and thought leadership ideas directly to the web. And the more content your able to publish online, the easier it becomes for the search engines to connect people online to your ideas, your services, your website and your business.

Thirdly, think about your homepage. It should contain the key information signposts for each of the most important groups of anticipated visitors to your site; in the words of web design guru, Steve Krug: “Don’t make me think”. The homepage should also reflect some of your personality – lighten things up a bit, be human, drop the corporate speak and the clichés. People want to deal with other people, not a faceless entity. If you’re not proud enough of your personality to feel comfortable expressing it, then maybe you’re in the wrong business – try boat building instead. Oh, and don’t forget to include your telephone number, the most overlooked and obvious call to action on any website.

Lastly, analytics. Sounds boring I know, but think about it: who in their right mind would invest money into a business level initiative and not want some success metric reporting around it? Modern website analytics applications are very powerful and easy to use.  One of the best out there is Google Analytics – and they give it away for free. So, you have no excuse not to (unless you like flying by the seat of your pants).

The Do’s and Don’ts of a Successful Website

Keep the quality content flowing – old content develops a weird online fishy sort of smell. Make use of (free) streaming video, use quality photostock. Consider integrating a blog.

Don’t neglect your website, and look to give it a good revamp every three years or so. Don’t underestimate a website’s power to attract online leads, and to aid in the conversion of off-line leads. It’s your online street-cred bro.

Photo by Radio Rover

Online Reputational Capital

Reputation – so hard to build up, and oh so easy to lose. Your reputation online greases the wheels of business and personal networking – it’s capital, it’s currency, it helps get things done – so look after it.

Take one example, online business reviews. As these become more visible within search results, business owners are starting to tune into their importance for lead generation purposes; a typical first reaction to this new dynamic is to want to give your own business a shining review (and/or diss a competitor). My advice is to avoid doing either. Firstly, it’s just not professional; secondly, the risks are too high; if you get found out – and chances are that you will –  you’ll start eating into any store of reputational capital you may have built up over time. People talk, online amplifies talk, and online brand stains are indelible. This in turn will make it more difficult to engage meaningfully in various forms of social media and online networking – both for you and for your brands. Here are my guidelines for online business reviews:

– Never write reviews for yourself.
– Never bad-mouth a competitor.
– Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews.
– Never incentivise anyone for a positive review.
– Post positive reviews for those businesses around you that do good by you.

I’m not a spiritual person, but I do believe in online karma.

Illustration by mushon