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.