Last week I was invited to speak about LinkedIn to the legal department of a highly strategic Microsoft customer and partner. My presentation was entitled “LinkedIn and You: Increasing Your Visibility with LinkedIn.”

I love talking and writing about LinkedIn – and other social media platforms like Twitter – as they can help us establish and deepen professional relationships, build both our personal brands and the brands of our organizations and they can help us learn. LinkedIn is a highly powerful social media tool that I believe is an underutilized technology by lawyers.

Ever since Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in June 2016, LinkedIn continues to grow. Statistics indicate that there are now over 600 Million LinkedIn users, 45% of those users are in upper management, two people join LinkedIn every second and 3 Million American jobs are posted on LinkedIn every month.

When I graduated law school during the 1990s, we were still in the midst of the Third Industrial Revolution – which was led by iconic technology companies like my former employer – IBM and my current employer – Microsoft. Exchanging business cards were the primary way of initiating professional relationships during the Third Industrial Revolution. Here is a business card of mine from back in the day when I was a “baby shark” lawyer for IBM working in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in beautiful Boulder, Colorado.

While many of us still exchange business cards, we are in a new era called The Fourth Industrial Revolution.  When I meet people nowadays I usually do not provide them with my business card (in fact, I’ve been meaning to order a new batch of business cards for the last several months). Instead, I search for them via the LinkedIn app on my smartphone and I send them a request to connect on LinkedIn. In my opinion, LinkedIn is our digital business card of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I have been a power user of LinkedIn well before the Microsoft acquisition, here is my profile and I have learned a lot (and continue to learn a lot) about LinkedIn. Here are some of my LinkedIn best practices:

Build a Thoughtful LinkedIn Profile: A key foundation of using LinkedIn is to make sure you take the time to construct a strong profile that reflects your authentic professional self. Your profile is in essence how you brand and market yourself to the business world.  Developing your profile is not a “one and done” proposition – instead it is a journey that requires frequent updating. Check out the profiles of people you admire on LinkedIn as you may be able to pick up some tips on how to structure a compelling profile.

Here are some key focus areas for your profile:

  • Profile Pictures: Please be sure to include a relatively current professional headshot of yourself as your primary photo on your profile. As an example, I would not use the dated picture above of myself flexing in a black cowboy hat as my primary photo on LinkedIn. It is worth spending a few bucks for a nice headshot of yourself by a professional photographer – and I’ve attended many legal conferences where they have someone on-site taking headshots so that may also be an option for you. In addition, since you may leverage LinkedIn for work-related purposes, do not be shy in asking your manager if your employer would be willing to reimburse you for the costs associated with your headshot. Also do not forget that LinkedIn allows you to have a secondary/background photo on your profile. I have seen a range of secondary/background photos from company logos to picturesque sceneries to uplifting quotations to other interesting pictures.
  • Headline: The headline area is right below your primary photo and name – and you have 120 characters to provide a short description of yourself via compelling keywords. Your headline is a very valuable piece of “real estate” as it occupies an important section of your profile that is one of the most visible – especially since people are often viewing profiles on their smartphones. Be sure to give special thought and attention in constructing a headline that is Twitter-like to briefly summarize you as a professional and serves to differentiate yourself. As lawyers we have a tendency to develop headlines that are somewhat boring – so figure out how your headline can really “pop” and capture the attention of a reader.
  • Summary: Your summary is basically an executive overview of yourself as a professional. In many respects a summary is similar to your professional bio. While LinkedIn limits your summary to 2,000 characters, in my opinion your summary should just be a few short paragraphs long.
  • Experience: The experience section is akin to the work experience section of a resume and should contain appropriate and accurate information pertaining to your jobs experience.
  • Education: This section is fairly straightforward to depict your education. You may also want to consider capturing any executive education-level coursework that you have completed.
  • Licenses & Certifications: Please be sure to list your various state or local bar-related licenses in this section. Also do not forget to identify any unique certifications (e.g., privacy, compliance, technical) you have obtained during your career.
  • Volunteer Experience: Most everyone appreciates people who volunteer their time to help non-profit organizations and other worthwhile causes so do not be shy in listing out those experiences in this section – and it could be a source of similar interests with other LinkedIn users.
  • Skills & Endorsements: I think this section is of limited value to LinkedIn users as your skills can be highlighted elsewhere in your profile. I also do not routinely endorse the skills of other LinkedIn users.
  • Recommendations: I remain torn about the value and importance of recommendations on LinkedIn. On the one hand they can be useful – especially for people who are interested in seeking new jobs. On the other hand, I do not think I have ever seen a negative recommendation about someone on LinkedIn since the person seeking a recommendation would not be doing so unless she/he knows that the recommender will be providing a positive recommendation.
  • Accomplishments: This is a very valuable section that is often overlooked by LinkedIn users. I am a very big advocate of adding applicable content to the “Publications” area of this section – and not just for articles, blogs, etc…that you may write but to also include your external speaking engagements, presentations and panels that you may participate in. The “Honors & Awards” area also provides an opportunity for lawyers to amplify the various honors/awards that they may have be recognized for during their careers.

LinkedIn Connections: A fundamental premise of LinkedIn is to be connected to or “linked” with other professionals for networking-related purposes. I have heard from some LinkedIn power users and recruiting professionals that LinkedIn users should strive to have at least 500+ LinkedIn connections. While I am not sure that there is any sort of magical number associated with how many LinkedIn connections you should have, LinkedIn limits users to have a maximum number of 30,000 1st-degree connections (which is a LOT of connections). While I consider myself a very active user of LinkedIn, I have almost 4,000 1st-degree connections.

  • Who to Connect With?: A question always arises as to who should you connect with? While of course that is ultimately up to you, here is a suggested list of professionals that in-house counsel may want to think about connecting with:
    • Other members of your legal department.
    • Members of your outside counsel law firms and alternative legal services providers.
    • Your internal business clients.
    • Legal counsel and business professionals representing your customers, partners, vendors and competitors.
    • Law professors, deans and other law school personnel.
    • Legal professionals focused on legal technology.
    • Legal recruiters.
    • People you meet at legal-related conferences, continuing legal education events, etc…
    • People you may volunteer with.
    • Your college and law school classmates.
    • Your friends, neighbors, parents of kids who attend the schools of your kids, etc…
    • Your relatives.
  • Personalize Your Invite: Whenever possible try to send a personalized invite to connect with someone via LinkedIn. While doing so certainly takes more effort than simply pressing the “Connect” icon in the LinkedIn App on your smartphone, sending a personalized invite will help you stand out in the eyes of the invitee, provides a warm bespoke “touch” and increases the likelihood that someone will accept your invite.

  • Find Nearby: The “Find Nearby” feature of LinkedIn is great for legal conferences, continuing legal education events, etc…as it enables us to discover other LinkedIn members that are near you.
  • Be Bold: Sometimes we may be reluctant to send invitations to professionals who are very senior in our organizations or other organizations. My advice is do not be shy in connecting with these senior leaders and make sure you personalize your invites to them.
  • Follow Others: Keep in mind that there is always the option to “follow” people on LinkedIn versus actually connecting with them. For example, I follow several people on LinkedIn who have been designated as LinkedIn “Influencers” and although I am not technically connected to them, I can see their LinkedIn activity.
  • Thoughtfully Accept Connections: I used to always blindly accept connections from other people. While I accept most of the connection requests that come my way, nowadays I have become a bit more cautious and I always check out profiles before I accept any connections. Over the past few years I’m seeing more profiles that look suspicious/stealth in nature and I have become more reluctant to connect with people who seem to just want to sell something to me. That said, as a “seasoned” lawyer who prides myself in serving as a mentor to “junior” lawyers and law students, I think it is important for senior lawyers to connect with the younger members of our profession (who quite frankly we have a lot to learn from).
  • Unfollow/Block Users: Keep in mind that connecting with someone does not mean you cannot get separated or divorced in the future. It is easy to unfollow someone (but still remain connected to that person) so that you do not see their LinkedIn activity and you can also formally block a LinkedIn user via your privacy settings.

Evangelize, Evangelize, Evangelize: LinkedIn provides us with terrific opportunities to highlight our respective organizations and to showcase our personal brands as lawyers via posting content. As you share and post content think about how such content provides value to your audience of LinkedIn connections (and their connections). The more valuable content you share, the more people will want to connect with you, the more people will like/view/comment on your posts/comments and you may soon receive formal requests to speak publicly and write – which in turn helps to increase your visibility, credentials and brand. Active evangelism via LinkedIn can help you get noticed by others in the legal industry (and even in your own legal department if you are part of a large legal department), develop relationships with professionals that you will not have met but for your LinkedIn usage and grow your professional network.

Here are some evangelism strategies:

  • Likes: Consider actively using the “thumbs up” like feature of LinkedIn – which is a quick and “low touch” way of using LinkedIn. During the course of any given day I will typically like several LinkedIn posts/comments – especially those posts by my Microsoft legal team colleagues and those posts that serve to demonstrate Microsoft’s leadership in the technology marketplace. I have often found that by liking the posts of various LinkedIn users, many of those users may provide a form of “reciprocity” back to me by liking my own posts.
  • Comments: Consider providing a comment (or two) on posts/comments to share your opinions, demonstrate your knowledge and to keep the conversation moving forward on the topic of a particular post/comment.
  • Posts: Periodically posting content via LinkedIn is fundamental to increasing your professional visibility. I try to post information that reflects positively upon both my employer Microsoft and my own brand as a lawyer. I try to post content that I am passionate about or which may be of interest to my professional network and provide value to them. I will also post about external presentations that I deliver, panels that I serve on at legal industry events or articles/blogs that I write. For example, knowing that artificial intelligence is of great interest to me and one of the hottest topics in the business world nowadays, I shared this post about serving as a co-chair for a Practising Law Institute program entitled “Artificial Intelligence Law 2019” in New York City a few weeks ago. One way to measure the “impact” of your posts is to see how many views, likes and comments that you receive.
  • Be Visual: To attract more people to view your posts be visual by adding interesting pictures to your post. Take care in adding pictures that are clear, have proper lighting, are well-centered and are appropriately cropped. LinkedIn also enables you to add videos to your posts – which is another excellent way to deliver messaging to your professional network in a compelling format. While I have only posted this one video on LinkedIn when I traveled to Shanghai last November, I look forward to incorporating more videos into my posts in the near future.
  • Use @Name Feature:  When you want to recognize someone or give them a “shout out” in your posts/comments, use the @name feature to specifically reference them and their name will appear in blue highlights that then links to their LinkedIn profile. The @name feature is not limited to individuals as you can also use it for organizations. Doing so provides a nice personal touch.
  • Give Thanks: Get into the habit of thanking people that may have some association with your post and use the @name to reference them. Also if someone provides a positive comment on your post or comment be sure to like that comment and reply back to that comment with a thank you.
  • Careful Cadence: Some social media marketers may disagree with me, but I think you should develop a very thoughtful frequency as to how often to post content via LinkedIn. While I generally do not limit myself on my likes, I do limit the amount of my comments and I typically do not formally post items more than a few times per week. In my opinion if you post way too often, people in your professional network may start to ignore you or “tune you out.” There have also been a few people in my network that I stopped following as I thought they were “over-posting” content. In addition, you need to be very sensitive and careful about potential perceptions of “over-posting” as some in your management team within your organization may be of the view that you spend too much time on LinkedIn/social media and not enough time doing your job.  In my opinion if you want to constantly post social media content then use Twitter.
  • Be Current: I also believe that when you post content it should be based on relatively current events/initiatives/information to help draw maximum attention otherwise it may be viewed as being stale and dated.
  • Be Positive: There is already so much negative energy on social media so I always try to remain positive, upbeat and complementary in my posts. I also try to avoid responding to any social media trolls that try to draw people into negative discourse.
  • Use #Hashtags: Consider using #hashtags for key trending words and phrases in your posts to help increase their visibility with others.
  • Write Articles: Since many lawyers love to write, a neat feature in LinkedIn is that it allows you to write your own articles so you can serve as your own author. A few years ago I wrote this article about the importance of taking a “Real Vacation” after spending a fantastic family vacation in spectacular Jackson Hole, Wyoming and not looking at any work emails or taking any work-related calls.

  • Edits to Posts/Comments: Please do not be afraid in making any mistakes in your posts/comments as they can easily be changed by you afterwards.
  • SlideShare: SlideShare is a company that was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012 and is a feature that you can use to add content in the form of PowerPoint presentations – and of course lawyers deliver many PowerPoint presentations.
  • Increase Team Morale: LinkedIn can also be used to build more “esprit de corps” on your team. When a member of my team posts content on LinkedIn, I try to support and encourage them with a like and a positive comment. LinkedIn also has a nifty feature where you can provide a “Kudos” to someone.

Learn via LinkedIn: LinkedIn offers plenty of opportunities for users to embrace the growth mindset and to learn from others as there is a wealth of information at the fingertips for all LinkedIn users.

Here are some examples:

  • Insight on LinkedIn Users: In my role I work closely with the legal and compliance professionals who represent our customers and partners. It is important for me to try to develop relationships with these professionals so I spend time reviewing their LinkedIn profiles to better understand their backgrounds, I connect with them via LinkedIn and I try to begin to develop and sustain a professional relationship with them. I also try to do the same with my business clients – and I try to like the posts of many of my more senior business clients.
  • Business Intelligence: LinkedIn is full of incredible information that is available in our news feeds. Increasingly LinkedIn has become one of my primary sources of business-related information where I can learn a lot about the technology marketplace, Microsoft, our customers, our partners and our competitors. Having this wealth of information at my immediate disposal helps me provide more high impact legal counsel to my business clients.
  • Follow LinkedIn “Influencers”: You can follow business and world leaders who are officially designated as  LinkedIn “Influencers.” For example, two LinkedIn Influencers that I closely follow are Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft President & Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith.
  • Follow Companies: LinkedIn also enables you to follow companies and other organizations. To help me embrace both a customer and partner obsession mindset in my role as a lawyer, I follow several Microsoft customers, partners and competitors on LinkedIn so that I can have visibility to the content these organizations are sharing via LinkedIn.
  • Follow #Hashtags: You can follow various #hashtag words or phrases via LinkedIn. Some of the favorite #hashtag words that I follow are #cloudcomputing, #artificialintelligence, and #digitaltransformation.    
  • LinkedIn Learning: LinkedIn Learning is an excellent resource where you can have access to world-class on-demand video courses taught by industry experts.

Miscellaneous Considerations: Here are some additional considerations to keep top of mind as you use LinkedIn:

  • Office 365 & LinkedIn Integration: LinkedIn has now been integrated with Office 365. If you are an Office 365 user (and thank you for being a Microsoft customer) consider taking advantage of features like Profile Card to build relationships and Resume Assistant.
  • LinkedIn Messaging/Email: Remember that it is very easy to send messages/emails to your connections – including composing group messages/emails.
  • Find Great Legal Talent: LinkedIn is a tremendous resource for lawyers and legal teams to help identify great legal talent.
  • Help Resources: LinkedIn has very robust and easy-to-use “Help Center” resources that can assist users in troubleshooting issues and addressing common questions. Do not be shy in leveraging those resources.
  • Cybersecurity: Make sure to be cyber aware when using LinkedIn as social media has been an area that has been increasingly targeted by cybercriminals. Embrace strong password protection practices when using LinkedIn.
  • Social Media Policies: Many organizations have policies governing social media usage by employees. Please be sure to follow those policies when using LinkedIn.
  • Legal Ethics: Many national, state, and local bar associations have legal ethics opinions, rules and guidelines in connection with a lawyer’s ethical usage of social media. Please be sure to follow these applicable opinions, rules and guidelines.
  • No Confidential Information: Never ever disclose or post any confidential information on LinkedIn.
  • Be Smart: As I like to tell my business clients, assume that whatever you convey in a digital format can find its way to the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Please embrace a similar practice when posting on LinkedIn and always “be smart” with your LinkedIn usage.

Just like any leading technology you need to use LinkedIn on a regular basis for it to have a positive impact for you. I routinely check my LinkedIn news feed first thing in the morning, during my lunch break and in the evening. Best of luck in using LinkedIn as a valuable tool to achieve more.