September 23, 2019 (Updated )
It’s 2019. Your career teachers have been badgering you to death about setting up your LinkedIn since you were about five. But, love it or loathe it, it is actually a useful tool for journalists. So, here’s our guide to exactly what you should be doing. It might not necessarily be what you thought…
The self-proclaimed ‘professional social network’ is almost as much as a behemoth as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. It has more than 645 million users in 200 countries and territories worldwide. In the UK alone there are about 27 million profiles, set up by anyone (as LinkedIn put it) ‘looking to navigate their professional life’.
These stats make for for an intimidating volume of knowledge and expertise. From pages and profiles to groups and the newsfeed, there’s a hell of a lot of content out there – and not a lot of consensus as to what you should be doing.
Among journalists and media professionals, LinkedIn remains a highly contentious careers platform. Is it even useful? Should we leave it to the business men in suits and the start-up founders who get up at 5am to eat a raw egg?
We’ve delved through the quagmire and sifted through truckloads of conflicted opinions to come up with our rundown of exactly how you, a real-life journalist, should be using LinkedIn…
A Valuable Research Tool
One word in particular that just kept cropping up was research. To put it simply, the value of using LinkedIn as a tool for finding stories, interviewees or case studies should not be underestimated.
“For me, personally, I do use it as more as a research tool than anything else,” says Alya Zayed, a reporter at Cambridgeshire Live.
“I find it useful when I just want to double check someone’s job title [without having to remake a phone call], or I’ll look before interviewing them so I can get some background information. I also use it before job interviews.”
Look out for their previous jobs, any career achievements, their latest posts or where they went to university. It’s all good inspiration for more insightful interview questioning, or working out whether you have anything in common as a conversation starter.
Similarly, if you’re up for a job interview (or just working out how to get your dream job), looking through LinkedIn can show you a bit more about the company’s corporate values than their other social feeds.
Looking at their senior staff will give you a sense of the different routes you can take to get there.
“Research is 90 percent of what I use LinkedIn for,” adds Alya.
Hashtags Aren’t Just For Instagram
Basically, If you’ve just been focusing on LinkedIn for finding jobs, it’s time to rethink your strategy. It’s just as much about looking at the profiles of others as it is about developing and maintaining your own.
Similarly, when you’re looking for cases studies or trying to track someone down, LinkedIn is often a person’s only social network. After all, not everyone is a social media-obsessed journalist who tweets, Facebooks and Instagrams.
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But how do you “use it to research”, as we so blithely put it? With so many profiles it’s clearly not that simple, especially if you’re not exactly sure what or who you’re trying to find. Here are just a couple of suggestions:
- Follow #Hashtags, Trends And Pages: They’re not just for Instagram, pals – they are increasingly used by people having conversations around certain topics. They’re a great start for case studies and inspiration. I found #LinkedInTips pretty handy for this piece! Equally, we always seem to forget it, but LinkedIn also has a newsfeed. Check what’s trending in case you’ve missed something, and make sure to follow companies and people that you’re interested in – even if you’re not doing a piece on them right now.
- Join Groups: Again, if you’re looking for case studies or some ideas, you’ll find groups for everything you can think of on LinkedIn. It’s a great place to see topics people are into, and case studies abound.
- Put Your SEO Hat On: Just like if you were Googling, think about the key words people might use to describe themselves, or what they might post. Crucially, they might not be the same thing you’ve got in your notebook. Think about where they might talk about the key words – could you find them by searching for employer? Might they have commented on or shared a particular article?
- Look At The Connections: So you’ve found someone, but they’re not quite right, or you need more? Don’t stop with just one person. Look at their activities, connections and what they’ve posted for more people who might fit the brief. Equally, if you discover you’ve got a connection in common, it can be a good ice-breaker.
And, if you take nothing else away from this, don’t be afraid to message people. So many of our interviewees for this piece told us that they found work experience, jobs, or stories through directly messaging people on LinkedIn.
Alex Brown, a local radio presenter, told Journo Resources: “There was one time where I got invited to Capital Birmingham – the only way I got that was through connecting to the head and sending a message and just chatting. I wouldn’t have got that opportunity if I hadn’t used LinkedIn.”
There’s no set method to messaging people, but the main thing is to not sound like a bot. Personalise your message, and be warm and friendly. The main thing is to show that you’re not that awful business spam “reaching out and trying to connect”.
Your Profile Is Just As Important
Okay yes, we know this whole piece is about using LinkedIn for research, but don’t forget to also keep your own profile up to date. If you’re messaging people through the platform, they are going to check out who you are, what your work’s like and how approachable you feel.
But remember LinkedIn isn’t quite the same playground as Twitter. “I have my Twitter and Instagram where people can see my personality – I keep my LinkedIn strictly professional and up-to-date with my most recent writing,” cautions Corrie David, a freelance journalist. That’s not to say you have to speak all proper and sound the dullest, but maybe leave the baking pictures out.
It goes without saying that you should definitely check your profile for spelling and grammar, use a professional picture and clearly list your work and experience, while still keeping it relevant (perhaps leave out your cycling proficiency and 100m-swimming badge).
“You can look at other people’s profiles and implement how they do it,” adds Ben Hackney-Williams, a freelance journalist and digital marketing manager for Escape Fitness.
“So, for example, search for ‘sports journalist’, or whatever you like, and then see what the top five people in the search results have in terms of layout – they must be doing it right because they came up in search first, right?” Remember that SEO tip we mentioned earlier? This, again.
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But as freelancer Neil Merrick explains: “It is difficult when you are a freelance journalist to explain what you do on LinkedIn. LinkedIn makes it difficult to explain what self-employed means.”
But there are some things you can do. Be selective in what you choose to post, and focus on your best creations, as well as a snappy, all encompassing bio. If anything, over explain. Assume people don’t get what you do.
And, finally, always take LinkedIn with a pinch of salt. “Part of the issue with LinkedIn is clearing through the muck,” says Steven Mair, Editor of The Strathclyde Telegraph.
“Before you know it, you’ll have dozens of these people clogging up your feed and making it harder to use LinkedIn in a useful way.”
So, put your BS filter on and go forth, my friends, and multiply your wonderful contacts list.
This article was produced with the support of Cision Jobs, the leading journalism jobs board. Visit them here to find hundreds of journalism jobs live right now.