Get a head start in 2021. 77 tips for your LinkedIn profile
In December 2019 I wrote that it was the year New Zealand had woken up to LinkedIn. I also said that in 2020, LinkedIn would become THE social media platform for business to business (B2B) commerce. While that turned out to be correct, I hadn’t factored in that this would be caused by a worldwide pandemic. That little bomb had yet to explode this time last year.
Twelve months on and the world is a very different place. As well, LinkedIn is now a very different place with numerous changes to both the platform and the algorithm. Millions more people signed up in 2020 and have begun their own LinkedIn journeys. Total membership now is in excess of 710 million.
In 2020 this article proved very helpful to many and was searched for often so I decided to update it for 2021. It incorporates the changes that make the platform essential for any business professional and the latest research based on changes made to the algorithm.
It is in checklist form and covers everything you need to know to make LinkedIn work for you – whether that’s becoming known in your industry; developing as a thought leader in your business; generating leads for your company; widening your network of peers, colleagues and leaders; or enhancing your profile to boost your chances of being spotted when a potential client is searching for someone with your skills.
This article is arranged by topic. Find the topic that most interests you and skip what you already know. The sections are:
- Top Secret Tips
- Company pages
- Direct messaging
Disclaimer: each point on this list is briefly made. An entire page could be written on each one. More information on these topics can be found at the resource library here on our website.
Top Secret Tips
- Send personalised video messages.
When connecting with someone for the first time, send a thank you video message. It makes you stand out from everyone else and starts the relationship off well. Video messages are sent from the mobile app and can be found under messaging. An alternative I recommended last year was voice messages and these are still impactful as few people send them.
- Document posts now receive the highest number of views.
Previously text-only posts were the most viewed of the post formats but these have been overtaken by document posts. This will be because of the time viewers spend reading them and reflects the new algorithmic formula ‘dwell time’. Text-only posts rank second behind document posts in terms of reach.
- Posts attracting comments in their first 24 published hours are seen by more people.
Engagement is the key to posts performing strongly. Comments are the most useful, shares are the least. Likes from the post author on comments within 24 hours also assist reach.
- When inviting a LinkedIn member to connect with you, make it personal.
The recipient is more likely to say yes. Use the Add a Note field to write a message that explains why they should connect with you.
- Delete duplicate profiles.
Duplicate profiles are common but send all the wrong messages about your interest in and activity on LinkedIn. They are also confusing to potential connections. Get rid of any profiles except your main one by following the links at Merge or Close Duplicate Accounts
- Use your personal email to log in to LinkedIn, not your work address.
Many people lose access to their LinkedIn account because they use their work address to log in. When they change jobs, they no longer have that email address and can’t get into their account.
- Create a longer headline to properly showcase your skills.
Headlines can now be a maximum of 220 characters. They can include emojis and symbols so be creative and make yours stand out.
- Choose well-followed hashtags in posts.
LinkedIn uses the first three hashtags in a post from a personal profile in the post’s URL so choose popular ones. Find out how many followers a post has by putting it in the search bar and clicking Enter.
- Update your profile image to a current, professional head and shoulders image.
Wear your usual work attire, smile and look either directly into the camera or slightly from right to left so you are looking into the page. Zoom in so your face will be recognisable when viewed on a mobile phone.
- Make your cover image eye-catching and information rich.
This adds visual interest to your LinkedIn profile, helping you stand out. When you include a tagline, web address and relevant background image to your cover, it grabs attention. This is valuable and important real estate that is often overlooked. Read more about LinkedIn background images.
- Ensure your profile image doesn’t hide an important part of your cover image.
Profile photos sit at the left or the middle of your cover image depending on where they are being viewed on LinkedIn, so don’t place critical information where it could be hidden.
- Cover image words need to be BIG.
The dimensions of the cover image change, depending on the device being used so always look at how it will display on both desktop and mobile to ensure the text can be clearly read. The size ratio between profile image and cover image also changes; on mobile the cover image becomes smaller than on desktop.
- Claim your personal LinkedIn URL.
Having a personal URL allows you to use it neatly and tidily in your marketing without a multi-digit suffix. The result is then your version of www.linkedin.com/in/lynnairejohnston rather than www.linkedin.com/in/lynnairejohnston-a9b16343.
- Update and complete your contact information so people can easily find you.
LinkedIn allows you to add a physical/postal address, an email address, your phone number, three websites, your Twitter handle and a range of instant messenger platforms including Skype. Include as many as you have.
- If you don’t have an address clients come to, use the space to list your services.
Just because the heading says Address, doesn’t mean that’s what MUST be there. Be inventive. Instead of your address, list your services, add your Calendly link or your YouTube channel. Just don’t leave it blank.
- Use all three website listing opportunities offered in the Contact Info section.
Even if you have only one website, choose three different pages, list those URLs and describe what visitors will find there. There are 30 characters available for this. If you haven’t checked the websites you have listed for some time, do so to see if they need updating.
- Display the university you attended.
If you have a tertiary qualification from a recognised university or polytechnic, tick the box that asks if you wish to show Education in the top section of your profile. If you don’t have a tertiary qualification but went to a ‘good’ school, add its name.
Connect to the organisation’s LinkedIn page (listed under Schools) to display their logo.
- No tertiary qualifications to display? Add your professional development courses.
Most of us have completed some kind of course or courses as part of our jobs or in our businesses. Instead of thinking of Education as being only academic, think of it as the different skills you’ve learned. List any courses you have done and the organisation that offered them.
- Add your location and post code.
LinkedIn claims that profiles with a precise location (city as opposed to country only) come up in more searches. If you work nationally or internationally, you’ll need to decide which is more important – that people know where you are located or that you are not confined to working in your local area.
- Use the About section to tell your story.
Previously known as the summary, this section is an opportunity to summarise your career, showcase your skills, identify your points of difference and persuade readers you can solve their problems. Write it in the first person, not the more impersonal third. Use emojis and lists for visual interest and ease of reading.
- Add a call to action to your summary.
Make it easy for people to get in touch by adding those contact details you are comfortable sharing. Give them a reason for doing so by offering a free download, useful document, white paper or other helpful information.
- Use the new Featured section to good advantage.
To give your profile visual interest, include media. This could be images, videos, documents, certifications, website links, posts and articles – anything that is relevant to your work. This helps you stand out from others in your field while also enhancing your own credibility and reputation in the industry. Update this often.
- Rearrange your Experience section and list it by skills or services.
Move away from the CV or resumé style of profile. Be creative and group your experience into sections that make sense for you. If you’re a business owner, that might be by the products or services you sell, or the audiences you serve. If you have multiple skill sets, list these and detail the work you’ve done, for whom and the results.
- Link to appropriate company pages.
Not all companies have an official company page, but when they do, link to it in order to display the logo on your profile. This will mean ensuring you have the same name on your profile as the LinkedIn company page listing. If you have your own company, set up a company page even if it’s merely a placeholder.
- Write this section as though talking to a friend.
Don’t copy the text straight from your resumé, write about it more conversationally, including highlights and milestones. Like your About, add media which at the very least could be the company’s website.
- Use the Experience section to talk about more than just jobs.
If you have had governance roles with not-for-profit organisations, written a book or done something noteworthy outside your employment, add it to your Experience section. Leaving it to the Accomplishments section virtually guarantees it won’t be seen. Plus, you can include images, links or visual media.
- Don’t ignore the Accomplishments section just because it’s at the end.
The categories you can add include courses, honours and awards, organisations, publications, projects, patents and languages. You can add descriptions and URLs but not images.
- Add to your Recommendations. You can never have too many.
Every time you receive a compliment for a job well done, ask for a recommendation. Send a request by going to the person’s profile, clicking More under the cover image and choosing Recommend. Always send a personalised message with your request even if you’ve previously arranged for a connection to write one.
- Give recommendations. You can never be too generous.
In general, people will respond in kind if you write recommendations for them. Especially if you recommend someone who is in a position to recommend you. But if they don’t reciprocate, it is unlikely to be in your best interest to harass them!
- Tidy up your Skills section and turn on Skills & Endorsements.
Remove duplicate or similar skills so your endorsement numbers are higher. Delete anything not relevant to your work, especially skills LinkedIn has added automatically. Take out any skills with less than 10 endorsements or work to get them into double figures.
- Set up a company page for your business.
Every company wanting to use LinkedIn in its marketing needs a company page, not least because it’s free, high-value online real estate. This should include all the contact and business information, plus an overview of what the company does, for whom and the points of difference.
- Add followers.
LinkedIn says the minimum number of followers a company page needs to start having impact is 150. While the page may attract followers organically, it takes time so get the ball rolling by requesting follows from team members, suppliers, clients, business colleagues, networking group members, friends on LinkedIn and anyone else you feel might benefit. You can invite 100 connections per month to follow your page, and for every one who accepts, you can invite one extra person.
- Replace the default company page cover image with one that represents your brand.
If possible, have it match the cover image on your profile so there is continuity between the two. Elements you could include are a tag line and/or web URL. LinkedIn recommends the image be 1536 x 768px.
- Include your logo. Without it your profile won’t display it, either.
The designated space for the logo is a square, which makes it difficult if your logo is long and thin. An alternative is to have a second version of your logo that is ‘stacked’, with one line above the other so it looks squarer.
- Add images, documents and videos.
This is free online real estate so make the most of it by including media (videos, images, documents etc) that represents your business in the best possible way. These are added by way of posts as you would on your profile page. Documents aren’t common on company pages yet, so stand out by adding some to yours.
- Post regularly on your company page.
While followers of your company page will be the most likely to see posts from there, if you share posts through your own feed by commenting on the post they will be more widely seen. Have other team members do the same.
- Separate your company page from yourself.
If you are a business owner, you may be seen AS the business. Make it clear that you are not just the business by publishing posts from the page that are different from your personal profile posts. This could be as simple as talking about the business in the third person and yourself in the first.
- Posting quality content regularly is the best way to build a following.
Consistent posting is rewarded by the algorithm which will distribute your posts more widely. Conversely, disappear after a few weeks or months and when you reappear you will be starting from scratch again. Another reason to show up week after week is that it helps you build an audience of followers who know your name as synonymous with quality posts.
- Use all the different post formats available.
There are five main types of posts: text-only, video, image, polls (new in 2020) and document. Interchange them so there’s plenty of variety for your followers and connections to see.
- Polls offer the opportunity to conduct mini surveys.
After an absence of some years, polls returned in 2020. Through a short question (140 characters max) and up to 4 answers (each 30 characters max) you can find out what your audience thinks of a certain idea. But be aware that research indicates polls are one of the least effective post types in terms of reach.
- Stories arrived in late 2020 and are a mobile-only addition to the publishing line-up.
Still in their infancy, stories are a copy of the same function available on Facebook and Instagram. Their usefulness is still in question because of their 24-hour lifespan but some LinkedIn authorities believe it is a good way to build relationships with connections.
- Text-only posts no longer score the highest views. Document posts do.
To gain the largest reach with your posts, publish good quality document posts. The best format is one of the slideshow programs, such as PowerPoint. Your documents need to be visually appealing and not text-heavy. Remember that they are likely to be viewed on a mobile device.
- Only post videos that have captions.
Many people can’t listen to a video if they are in an office, travelling or don’t have headphones. Give them the opportunity to see your text instead, via captions.
- Be professional in your videos.
LinkedIn is a business platform so your videos should be about your business or at least business-related. There’s no reason you can’t be personal in them, though. If you’re videoing yourself be warm, friendly, personable and professional. Do not be offensive, include sexual references or in any other way post like LinkedIn is Facebook. It’s not!
- Make videos technically proficient.
Reduce wind noise if you’re recording outside, use a lapel mic to improve voice sound and avoid recording in bright sunlight or dark rooms without additional lighting to give the most professional results possible.
- Encourage engagement on your posts.
Posts perform best when they receive likes and comments within the first 24 hours of publishing. Have a small network of colleagues who are willing to engage on your posts and send them the post once it is uploaded using the Send button underneath the post.
- Text-only posts can be made more visually appealing by adding emoticons.
This is extremely useful for bulleted lists and can include 📍, 👉, ✔ etc.
- Adding a link to a post no longer represses views.
For many moons LinkedIn penalised posts containing links. This is no longer the case, at least not to the same degree. It is still best to upload the post first, without the link, and then go back and insert it. But this isn’t nearly as important as it was.
- Writing only promotional posts is not best practice.
A good rule of thumb is to upload one promotional post for every five value-added posts. That way you are showcasing your knowledge while helping others instead of merely touting for business which is off-putting to many on LinkedIn.
- Use 3–9 hashtags at the end of each post.
Choose a mix of highly popular (100,000+ followers) and your own such as your company name. Make hashtags relevant to your post.
- Don’t tag people in posts in the hopes they will comment.
This strategy doesn’t work; it only irritates those you’ve irrelevantly tagged and if they do not respond, your post will be penalised. Do, however, tag people who appear in photos you post. Or tag people and then send them the post to comment on.
- Articles still have a place in LinkedIn publishing.
While articles are more time-consuming to produce and rarely receive as many views as posts, they are nonetheless important for topics that require more than a mere 1300 characters. They build into a library which increases your credibility. Aim for at least one article per quarter. Furthermore, articles remain archived on your profile and can be added to Featured while posts have a shorter lifespan.
- Many LinkedIn members are voyeurs.
Many more people will see your posts and activity than those who actively engage with them or you. You won’t know who these people are unless they get in touch with you but they are out there. Watching.
- Commenting is the most valuable form of engagement.
Commenting on another person’s post makes you a good LinkedIn citizen, gets you noticed by other people and, depending on what you write, demonstrates your own knowledge of the topic under discussion.
- Hijacking posts is frowned on.
Making comments unrelated to the post and pushing your own barrow will not endear you to other LinkedIn members. By all means add to the conversation but not at the expense of the original poster.
- Sharing doesn’t work so be creative instead.
The algorithm doesn’t promote shared posts very widely. If you want to share someone’s post or article a better plan is to write a post about it and include the link. That way you’re being credited with the post and it gives you an opportunity to add your take on the issue under discussion.
- When commenting, make an effort.
A comment that reads “great post” is a poor effort which wastes your time and that of the poster because it adds no value to the conversation. Instead, ask a question or express your opinion. LinkedIn is one platform where it’s ok to disagree with someone provided you do so politely.
- If someone tries to derail your post, delete it.
A post’s author can control several aspects of the comments including removing any @mention (or tag), reporting it and deleting it. There are options to do this in the three dots menu (…) at the top right of each comment.
- Don’t hijack another person’s post.
It is considered very poor form to subvert a post by promoting yourself or your business in the comments. It also makes you look ill-informed and untrustworthy as no-one wants to have someone who behaves so badly in their network. You could also find yourself blocked or reported to LinkedIn.
- Unhappy with a comment you’ve posted? Change it.
It’s easy to edit a comment, just as you can change a published post. Click on the … at the top right of the comment, choose the editing pen, make your changes and save them.
- React to a post instead of just liking it.
LinkedIn now offers six variations on liking a post. They are the blue thumbs up, hands clapping (applause or congratulations), heart (or love), a lightbulb (insightful) and a questioning face (curious). This year they have been joined by a purple hand indicating support. Any of these is counted as a like, and they display alongside the person’s face under Reactions immediately below the post. It is believed that use of the Support reaction gives a post up to 10 percent more views.
- View comments by Most Relevant or Most Recent.
By default, LinkedIn puts Most Relevant first but if you want to look at the entire thread in order, choose Most Recent.
- Connect with generous commenters.
When you spot someone who’s regularly commenting on posts you’re interested in, invite them to connect if it’s appropriate. You can then reciprocate on each other’s posts which benefits you both.
- Have a reason for connecting.
Don’t connect with just anyone and everyone. Have a solid reason for asking another LinkedIn member to connect with you. Perhaps you know or have met them, they’re in your network, they’re a potential client or supplier, or you could learn from them because they’re industry leaders.
- View someone’s profile before inviting someone to connect.
This increases the likelihood of their accepting and also ensures you know something about them to personalise your invite. You can also be sure you want to connect and that the account does not look like it’s fake.
- Choose parameters for invitees.
If someone has no profile photo and an incomplete profile, they’re probably not spending much time on the platform so won’t see your posts or messages. Likewise, if they have only a few connections and there is little or nothing showing in the Activity area on their profile.
- Never send a connection invite without a personalised message.
Take the time to send a personalised message of invitation if you want someone to accept. The chances of success are much greater if you have explained why you want to connect, mentioned a connection in common or shown that you’ve visited their profile.
- Always follow up with a thank you.
If someone has agreed to connect with you it is only polite that you acknowledge this with a thank you. It can also open the door to a discussion or opportunity if you make it sufficiently personal. Voice or video messages make great thank you messages.
- Strike up a conversation with your most valuable connections.
While not everyone you connect with will want to hear from you personally, some will, and they’ll respond to messages. Forge relationships with these people by sending them voice, video or written messages that are useful and helpful.
- Never spam a new connection.
A LinkedIn connection is about building a relationship, not about touting for business. Connecting to someone simply to sell to them is a mistake and your connection will most likely react badly unless you just happen to be offering the very thing they are looking for at that very moment. The chances of that are slim.
- Check out the profiles of people who invite you to connect.
While LinkedIn is a much safer social media environment than other platforms, not everything or everyone is necessarily as they seem. Never feel obliged to connect to someone if you feel uncomfortable about doing so. The use of fake LinkedIn accounts is on the rise and it is in your best interests to have only real people in your network.
- Follow instead of connecting.
If you want to see what a competitor is doing on LinkedIn but don’t want them to know you’re looking, follow them instead of connecting with them. Their activity will then show up in your notifications.
- On connecting, send an invite to your company page.
Strike while the iron is hot with new connections and, if it is appropriate, invite them to follow your company page. Unfortunately, these can’t be personalised.
- Use the direct message option to reach out.
While direct messages on LinkedIn are increasing in popularity and use, they have still not reached critical mass. If you want to personally reach out but don’t have a personal email address, send a DM instead.
- Don’t use direct messages to spam connections.
This too is considered very poor form. Just because you don’t legally need their permission to contact them for marketing purposes (like you do with emails), doesn’t mean you should abuse the privilege.
- Beware of creating messaging groups.
Groups are useful if all members are aware of what’s going on, but they will get annoyed very quickly if they weren’t consulted about or agreed to being included in the group in the first place.
- Instead of sending a document, send a link.
Documents don’t display well on small devices so offer an alternative to your pdf – a link. Still send the pdf if you wish, but you may find the link is more regularly opened than the attachment.
LinkedIn is constantly changing by adding new features and improving existing ones. This article gives you an overview of useful features and ways to use the platform going into 2021.
Many LinkedIn experts contributed directly and indirectly to this list and I am truly grateful for their dedication to their craft and to their willingness to share what they know. They are Mark Williams, JoAnne Funch, John Espirian, Jeff Young, Kevin D. Turner, Karen Tisdell and Andy Foote among many others.
Lynnaire Johnston is the author of Link∙Ability, 4 powerful strategies to maximise your LinkedIn success and is an internationally recognised LinkedIn expert. She works with individuals and companies to help them achieve their business and professional goals. Lynnaire shares her knowledge on LinkedIn, YouTube, and here on her website.