By Lucy Hoang & Samantha Bond, Northstar Research Partners

Last month, LinkedIn celebrates its 10th anniversary. Connecting more than 200 million members worldwide, LinkedIn has become the most powerful professional online network – allowing users to manage their professional identity, build upon and interact with their connections and access knowledge and opportunities. LinkedIn can therefore be viewed as a manifestation of the technology based network society in which we live, where location knows no bounds and individuals are given a platform to influence their role in society. This concept, theorised by the sociologist Manuel Castell, has given rise to the online self – our digital persona.

In this modern day, there is an increasing expectation that those who want to enhance their professional self should look to online. Googling individuals is common practice and the search results can speak volumes. LinkedIn, as the go-to professional online network with high SEO status, is the key platform from which individuals can enforce that first impression. While there are many who simply use LinkedIn as an online version of their CV, there is a growing incentive to become an active user and learn how best to leverage the tools on offer.

With the interplay of digital and a challenging economic environment where competition for clients and jobs is rife, it is now more important than ever for individuals to acknowledge, ‘you are your own brand’. Just as the largest global food and beverage companies exercise brand development and maintain relevancy and connectedness with their customers, individuals too must do the same.

How do we master the art of the professional self?

LinkedIn provides the unique opportunity to build and market the professional self to millions worldwide and develop your personal brand. Whilst it is important to optimise your profile page, the online gateway to the ‘self’, and build your pool of connections, in order to differentiate your brand, a savvier approach may be required.

In recent years, particularly with the development of social networks, networking practices have evolved to become more subtle and below-the-line versus extroverted self-promotion. This means more emphasis is being placed on the sharing of knowledge and ideas as a step to building more organic relationships. As a result, in mastering the art of the professional self, one must leverage the opportunities provided by LinkedIn and embrace the role of a thought leader.

The following are some examples of below-the-line practices that can be adopted to become a thought leader on LinkedIn:

Join discussion groups: to increase industry knowledge and engage in topical discussions – don’t just remain a voyeur

Interact with others: add positively to conversations and acknowledge other’s content to enhance awareness of your brand and build upon your existing connections

Have an opinion: always offer a perspective to disperse your viewpoint and maximise reach

Share knowledge: publish articles and blog pieces you have written to offer your contribution to the industry and stimulate conversation and ideas

By acknowledging and utilising the full potential of LinkedIn and embracing the role of a thought leader, users are able to maximise the diffusion of their professional identity in a subtle, non-evasive manner whilst standing out from the competition and ultimately increasing personal brand equity. In a world where commercial brands are having to work harder to stand out from the crowd, so too are we and LinkedIn must be celebrated for its role in aiding us to do so.

*Based on qualitative research conducted by Northstar in April 2013

About the authors
Lucy Hoang is Research Executive, Northstar Research Partners. Samantha Bond, Junior Research Executive, Northstar Research Partners

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