How to be different on LinkedIn without boasting

This post is a direct response to a question posed on the LinkedIn Discussion Group of the UK’s Institute of Interim Management. The conversation was about LinkedIn profiles. Then came this question about how to be different without boasting.

LinkedIn Discussion questionDear Marc,

You raise one of those questions I believe a lot of people grapple with. The answer might well be hiding in plain sight in the word differentiation. I’m talking about the word ‘different’, of course.

LinkedIn is a sea of bland, throw-away assertions.That’s why I’m personally turned off by anyone claiming to be ‘passionate’ about the most unlikely work-related things – it just comes across as bogus and unoriginal. If you’re familiar with the writing of FT columnist Lucy Kellaway, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

So the first thing to say to anyone using LinkedIn is this: are you going to follow the herd or stand-out and really try to be different? Hold that thought. I need to rewind.

You’re a senior marketing guy. You know better than most that you have to define and understand the customer before you can effectively convince and convert. You also need to understand the competition and how they are pitching themselves.

So before anyone decides if and how to be different, there are some more fundamental questions. These include: do your (well-defined) customers value ‘different’? If so, what exactly does ‘different’ mean to them? Only armed with good answers can you figure out how to be different, and in ways that actually matter.

You raised the issue of national culture earlier in the discussion. It will either be a weapon you could accentuate to your advantage, or a hindrance you might choose to downplay. All nationalities have reputations for positive and negative things. These will be a consideration in your quest to be different in a new country.

To your point about using superlatives, I’d say this: it’s a question of not what you say but how the message is delivered, and by whom. Everyone accepts that LinkedIn profiles are self-created selling tools. They are adverts in all but name.

So viewers are naturally wary – just as they ought to be with more recognisable advertising. We all know the best advertising stands out by being original, helpful, arresting, persuasive and memorable. I could go on, but you understand all this anyway. My point is that the words – and how they are strung together – matters enormously.

Reputations are built by what you do and what people say about you as a result. With that in mind, gather and organise testimonials from people who have direct experience of working above, below and alongside you.

Don’t make claims of your own brilliance and then hope someone will afterwards endorse those words. Let others tell the world how good you are in their own choice of words. Timing can make a huge difference. Ask them when they are most likely to think well of you – when you’ve just done great work together and the memory is still fresh, for example.

When thinking about how to be different on LinkedIn, remember that nobody else is you. So what is it that makes you ‘you’? LinkedIn might be a business-to-business network, but fundamentally it’s people-to-people.

We buy from people we have some kind of affinity with – both professional and personal. Does your profile contain information that could trigger affinities? Striking the right balance between professional and personal information could provide all the difference you need.

One final thought is this: I’d imagine people trawling LinkedIn for interims fall into two camps:

  1. they’re clients looking to save an intermediary’s fee
  2. they’re intermediaries with an active brief looking for someone because they’ve already exhausted their direct network.

There could be a third category – other interims already on assignment looking for alliances. Can your LinkedIn profile be organised to appeal to all three? If not, it’s probably the wrong medium for the job.

The solution could be to quickly encourage people away from LinkedIn and onto your own website where you can better segment visitor information in the most appealing and logical way.

Selling ourselves is tough and doesn’t come naturally to most of us. In such circumstances an outsider’s view can create breakthroughs.

If I’ve helped you or any other interim managers, even in just a small way, then writing this will have been worthwhile. Good luck on your quest to be different!

One comment

  • Andy Davy  

    Very helpful, thank you.

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