On LinkedIn, Who’s the Boss of You?

I approached my employees and asked them how they’d feel if I asked them to revise their profiles and use “brand language” that I provided. For many, they felt the request was invasive, and it indicated that I was too controlling (there’s a shocker). But if one of my company’s goals is to present a unified brand front in every channel, how much responsibility should an employee take towards supporting that objective?

There’s no doubt that business to business interactions have shifted to the social media marketplace—especially when researching a company, its executive team or an individual you’d like to contact.

On any journey of discovery, you might start by visiting the organization’s website, subscribe to an RSS feed on their press releases, follow them on Twitter and check out their Facebook page. And eventually, like any good voyeur, you’ll review profiles of key executives on LinkedIn.

But many potential buyers/sellers take it one step farther—and start investigating the profiles of other employees of an organization. After all, if you’re trying to get an introduction into the company, it helps to know if you’re connected to someone (or know someone who knows someone) already employed at your target business.

Those in business development functions will tell you that LinkedIn is their new best friend. It’s a virtual cornucopia of names, titles, functional responsibilities and, if you do a little additional sleuthing, one could assemble a virtual org chart for any business.

If LinkedIn is used so heavily, and if brand perceptions are shaped by every interaction with that brand, just how heavy handed could you (or should you) get around your employee’s LinkedIn profile?

I approached my employees and asked them how they’d feel if I asked them to revise their profiles and use “brand language” that I provided. For many, they felt the request was invasive, and it indicated that I was too controlling (there’s a shocker) or was being an overly micro-managing boss. Another commented that any profile written by me wouldn’t sound authentic.

But if one of my company’s strategic positioning goals is to present a unified brand front in every channel, how much responsibility should an employee take towards helping to support that objective? Could it be viewed as a workplace responsibility akin to giving feedback/coaching on how to answer their business phone?

As one employee noted, your Facebook profile is personal, and since you have to “invite” or “approve” friends, you don’t have to worry about who might be looking at it. But LinkedIn is a very public forum, open to anyone who registers an account.

I might argue that, as an employee, if you’re not looking for work, your LinkedIn profile could be crafted with a goal of supporting your company’s strategic goals. If I wanted to demonstrate to potential customers that I had engineers on staff with an immense depth and breadth of experience, for example, should I “coach” my engineers on their LinkedIn profiles? Should I help those engineers craft language in their Summary statements or within their job responsibilities to ensure it will bode well for my firm?

Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, offers an interesting perspective in his book “The Start-up of You.” He suggests that you “establish an identity independent of your employer, city and industry. For example, make the headline of your LinkedIn profile not a specific job title … but personal-brand or asset focused … that way, you’ll have a professional identity that can carry with you as you shift jobs. You own yourself.”

Hmmm … weight that advice from a guy who currently labels himself “Entrepreneur. Product Strategist. Investor.”

Jeff Weiner, on the other hand, labels himself “CEO at LinkedIn,” and his job description sounds like a strategically driven, carefully crafted marketing message: “Connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. Since joining the company in December, 2008, LinkedIn has increased its membership base from 33 million to over 300 million members, increased revenue by over 20x, and rapidly expanded its global platform to include 23 languages and operate in 27 cities around the world.”

It’s no surprise to me that it closely mirrors the company’s description of itself on the LinkedIn Company page.

And that’s my point exactly.

But if you’re not Jeff Weiner posting your profile on the site that your company owns, should you (could you) influence/demand/suggest that the description of the company you work for, or the summary of your skills at that company, be in words that you dictate/control?

Or would this heavy handedness be just another disingenuous marketing attempt? Like trying to start a conversation in a LinkedIn Group on a particular topic just so you can demonstrate your or your company’s, expertise in that arena?

I could argue either way … but I’m more interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.

Author: Carolyn Goodman

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.

5 thoughts on “On LinkedIn, Who’s the Boss of You?”

  1. I think it is a terrible idea to ask your employees to brand their profile to the company they work for. I would rather ask them if they’d like help writing it as opposed to demanding it. As a marketer I am aware that not everyone has the ability or know-how to craft the right message to convey what they do or describe the company they work for. If they’d like the help, than yes, I would write their profile (for their currently employer only) using some brand specific language. Otherwise, leave them be. In my opinion, LinkedIn is much less about the company I work for and more about my specific skills and experiences.

  2. Very thoughtful post. In the 1970s, my father worked for Anheuser-Busch in a union job. Glossy company magazines were mailed to our home and they spent wisely on employee company meetings and even entertained retirees. All employees from the shop floor to the family members in the executive suite could talk about beachwood aging and the superior process, ingredients, quality and taste of AB products. If they had had social media then, I bet my Dad’s Linkedin profile would have been pretty consistent with the messaging of Gussy Bush’s profile (the Jeff Weiner of AB). Employees used to go into to taverns and if they didn’t see AB products on tap,the left in protest. Corporate almost worried that the employee-ambassadors needed to tune it down. . . . But these employees weren’t coerced. They were inspired.

  3. An employee is always going to know their own job best. That said, the ability to express themselves to best advantage or with accuracy/clarity it far from a level playing field.

    I would also find a request to use specific language not in my own voice to be an invasion of a profile that, while public, is still an individual profile. The reality is that you might not know who is looking to make a move and who is there to maintain brand presence. It’s often a mix of both.

    In this situation I might be tempted to craft “talking points” and offer them for use as a starting point for employees that personally decide their profile could benefit from the additional insights a brand manager/pr spokesperson/marketer could offer. It might strike that delicate balance between how the brand is represented by it’s employees and what they as individuals bring to the table in task as well as voice.

  4. My Linkedin profile is mine. Any company I work with wanting me to change this would be wrong in my opinion.

    In the marketing Biz, the avg tenure of a CMO is increasing, but it is still around 42 months (up from a horrible 23.4 months in 2006 though).

    My point… my linkedin profile is my website to sell me and my services.

  5. While my LinkedIn profile is mine, I do want the description of the company for whom I am working/have worked to be consistent with their description. After all, as their marketing person, I helped craft it and communicate the “brand story” throughout the firm.

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