The LinkedIn Challenge and how social impact consultants should use LinkedIn
Should I be on LinkedIn? How should I use it? Should I add people I don't know? What should I post?
These are all questions we get at the IC-Hub, so we thought we'd share some thoughts on how we use LinkedIn as independent consultants in the social impact and international development space.
Our LinkedIn strategy
In short, this is how we do...
Grow an audience of relevant stakeholders: We add people who are either: a) professional connections whom we've met in real life; b) potential clients; or c) people who do similar or complementary work. For "potential clients", you can use the LinkedIn search bar to filter types of organisations and keywords. This can also help with identifying who your archetype client is (the organisations and job titles that will procure your services). Is it "Director of Communications or Fundraising" at health-focused NGOs? Is it "Programme Manager - Migration" at a UN agency? Find them and add them - ideally with a covering note, but that takes time and you may find it quicker to grow your audience by adding a larger number of connections without a covering note (taking as assumed that some will not accept). You can also find like-minded people in specific groups, but LinkedIn groups tend to be less active than Facebook groups when it comes to engaging in discussions.
Build relationships with them: As you grow your connections on LinkedIn, think of it as growing your overall audience and also as a way to loosely bring people into your "space". Once they're in your space, you can get to know them and give them the chance to get to know you. You do this by interacting with them - liking or commenting on their posts, giving them praise, sharing content with them, etc. Remember, people hire independent consultants if they know, like and trust them. That doesn't happen with a cold "request to connect" on LinkedIn. That happens through relationship-building over time.
Demonstrate your authority and expertise: Again, "know, like and trust". Through LinkedIn, you can show your audience what you do and demonstrate that you're an expert in doing it. You can do this through commenting and posting. The most effective way is to share your own content.
Beyond that, checking LinkedIn can be a great way to keep your finger on the pulse about what's going on in your area of work and who is doing what. People often use LinkedIn to share consultancy (and job) postings, as well as to identify useful contacts for project work.
And if you're wondering whether to get LinkedIn Premium or not, we personally have never found it useful. The value seems to be in making it easier to look up and contact people you don't know, which isn't the focus of our strategy. That said, it might be worth trialling it for free.
A few additional pointers
Cast the net wide: As we said, ideally you'd only add people you know and add nice covering messages when connecting with those that you don't know. This is time-consuming. The other option is to add lots of new connections (relevant connections - see point 1 above), thereby gradually bringing new people into your "orbit" or "space" or "sphere of influence". It's very difficult to zero in on specific "potential clients" and to directly target them. Business development, in our experience, comes from cultivating a network over time and cultivating the serendipity that leads to people referring you to others.
Share your own content: This will come out in the points system below. Blog, podcast, YouTube, etc.
Praise others: Most people love getting a bit of recognition and by giving others praise, you highlight the types of people you're connected with. So say positive and sincere things in your comments on their posts and tag them in your posts to thank them for the support or work that they've done. And it's just a nice thing to do, isn't it?
Be authentic: Show your personality. Make jokes if you're the kind of person that makes jokes. Again, this comes back to "know, like and trust". Allow your audience to get to know you.
The LinkedIn Challenge
Since we humans all only do things when we think there's an element of gaming or competition, here's a point system that gives you an idea of the types of LinkedIn activity that, in our experience, yields positive results in terms of generating views, engagement, and potential consulting opportunities.
Disclaimer: Just based on our own experiences and there is no correlation between points won and consulting projects achieved. You'd think we wouldn't have to specify this, haha.
0.5 point: 'Like' someone else's posts
It's better than doing nothing... just about. I suppose it's a nice thing to do, though, so definitely don't stop doing it. It can also show others that you're connected with relevant people.
1 point: Share a news story
It's easy to do and at least shows your audience what topics you're interested in and working on.
1.5 points: Add new connections
Every new connection is a possibility. Consulting is a people business and every new connection brings someone new into your sphere of influence - with a chance to get to know them and demonstrate your authority and expertise in your area of work.
It's also incredibly easy and quick to add people.
2 points: Share a news story with your own short comment
Again, this shows what you're interested in and working on - but you get an extra point because you've stepped out of your comfort zone and perhaps helped your audience to get to know you (and what you think) a bit better.
The only caveat here is "virtue signalling". As a migration specialist, I could post any article about migrants and write something generic about "migrants should not be left behind". But I'm personally not sure whether that really adds any value to my network or demonstrates any expertise. Just my opinion here. I did, however, get 7000 views, 151 reactions, and lots of comments and reshares on this post... the perfect storm of something topical (the day after Euro 2020 final), visual, and related to my work (and that of much of my network).
5 points: Share a news story with your own analysis (1-2 paragraphs)
As above, except that you've actually (hopefully) added some value to your audience. This is a good way to get comfortable with the types of content creation that are going to really demonstrate your authority and expertise towards your audiences.
It's also an opportunity to show that you can write well and that you think analytically, which is important for pretty much any form of consulting.
10-15 points: Share a "win" or another update about your work
This is when you "show-off" or "humblebrag" by posting something you've been working on or an event at which you spoke.
It demonstrates that you are doing cool stuff. And people like working with consultants who do cool stuff. These sorts of posts tend to get more engagement from people who actually know you... which the algorithms then help make sure that your wider audience sees the posts too.
It's also a way for connections that you bring into your "space" to see what you're doing - which can be useful if others are doing similar things and that general ongoing progress of letting them get to know you.
10-15 points: Praise others
Just like the "liking" and as mentioned above - and beyond being a nice thing to do - this can increase engagement of your posts while demonstrating that you're connected to the right people. It's also a way to pave the way to connecting more substantially with your connections.
Once you've cultivated some goodwill, they'll be more likely to respond positively to any messages or requests you send their way.
20 points: Share your own content or a resource that adds value to your audience
This is the hardest, most time-consuming, but ultimately most impactful way to use LinkedIn. As independent consultants, it's critical to demonstrate your authority and expertise to your audiences (I think we may have mentioned this before!).
You can blog, podcast, create resources like infographics, etc. You can use this to both serve and add value to your audiences while drawing them towards your website and emailing list... but that might be a subject for another blog post!
We hope this blog post has helped. Feel free to let us know what you thought about it and share it with others if you found it useful.
You're also welcome to tag us in any of your LinkedIn posts - we love re-sharing our members' work!