Thinking Aloud: How to apply the science of first impressions to your LinkedIn presence

Dr Amy Cuddy’s work on first impressions indicates that 90% of your first impression is a mixture of your competence (can you do what you say you can?) and your trustworthiness (do you have good intentions towards me?). If this is true, then how might you project the impression of being a trusted adviser through your LinkedIn account?

Your LinkedIn profile

Demonstrating competence

So, how do you answer the question “can you do what you say you can?” with your LinkedIn profile? I think it’s important not to go overboard or you’ll lose people in the endless scroll, but there are a number of places in your profile where you can pile a few pebbles on the cairn of competence.

  1. Job Experience section: This would be a good place to include a credential or two per job. This will prevent endless scrolling, and focus your reader’s attention on a few key ones.
  2. Honors & Awards section: If you have industry rankings (as we do in law) or awards, then there is a section for them. Include these as third-party accolades are much harder to challenge.
  3. Organisations section: Many of us learn through activities with specific organisations outside our work. For example, I volunteer with PrimeTime, a network for professional women based here in Singapore. This exposes me to leadership opportunities and gives me a place to try new ideas.
  4. Endorsements: Nothing beats a third-party accolade from a specific person. Embrace endorsements if you can, but keep in mind that some of your clients may want to keep their relationship with you confidential.

Demonstrating Trust

On to trust. How can you demonstrate that you are likely to have good intentions towards your reader using your LinkedIn profile? In the context of your profile, I would suggest giving this aspect a secondary position to competence, and boosting it with the dynamic content such as posts and articles. Having said this, there are a few ways you can use certain sections to demonstrate your trustworthiness.

  1. Organisations section: People who are involved with their community are more trusted, so if you are involved then go ahead and include details of that.
  2. Volunteering section: Perhaps you are not heavily involved with one particular organisation, but you are involved in an ad hoc manner on specific projects. Include these here.
  3. Endorsements: Let your community speak for themselves. Your LinkedIn profile is professional and there for professional purposes, so focus on professional endorsements, but there’s no reason why someone you have worked with outside the professional context can’t give their perspective in this section.

What you share

If you imagine your profile as getting you to the rough general area of your competence/trust mix, with a good strong focus on competence, then what you share is where you fine-tune that balance.

Demonstrating competence

Whatever your chosen field, there are theories and skills that are required to practise it well. There are also trends on sometimes massive scales that your industry is not immune to and your clients are facing a constantly moving landscape. You can show your competence by exploring these theories, skill and trends in LinkedIn posts and LinkedIn articles.

As, no doubt dear readers, you work in a wide variety of industries, I will demonstrate what I mean by using my own. You will have to extrapolate (or call for help).

  1. Skills: As someone who has worked in a law firm, a lot of my work has been with LinkedIn and social selling (or business development with social media as I like to call it). LinkedIn comes out with many new and interesting features on various products, such as Sales Navigator and PointDrive, which I need to keep up to date with. I can write posts and articles on how new features might change or enhance the process of business development.
  2. Theories: Marketing has some fundamental theories that should underpin everything marketers do, like the 7Ps and the Marketing Mix. But new theories, like Jobs To Be Done, are emerging all the time and sometimes old theories filter through into the marketing bubble, like Design Thinking, with fascinating consequences. I find it energising to really think about where and how these ideas intersect. For example, marketers have been creating and designing user journeys from way before that was a fashionable buzzword.
  3. Trends: There are many good trend-tracking sites that cover lots of different industries, trendwatching.com is a good one. It can be useful to break down these shifts into Mega-Trends, which are fundamental changes in human behaviours, and Trends, which are specific articulations of a Mega-Trend. For example, I observe a Mega-Trend of people reclaiming the governance of their communities worldwide. This expresses itself as various Trends, including, community schools under bridges, crowd-funding, social media and bitcoins. Exploring this bigger picture can be very good if you are in a position, like many of the lawyers I’ve worked with, of being restricted in the level of specific opinion you can give. It can also demonstrate your industry knowledge.

Demonstrating trust

Apart from consistently and reliably putting out valuable information, trust is really about how you make people feel when they read your material. It’s also about demonstrating consistent values, because that demonstrates that you are likely to think about others. There are a few techniques you can use to build rapport:

  1. Understand what your values are: I wouldn’t advise listing them on your profile, use them as a guide for your online behaviour. However, if you are a builder of communities, including corporate ones, share posts that bring people together. If you are a champion of diversity, comment on the posts of others striving for diversity in their professional sphere. If you enjoy intellectual rigour, then share news articles from intellectually rigourous sources.
  2. Avoid business speak: Just write, talk and demonstrate person to person. To misquote Richard Feynman “If you can’t understand something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.” If you communicate well, people won’t feel the friction of your communication, they will just grasp your meaning instantly – you want to aim for this experience for them as they can click away from your material whenever they wish. Technical jargon does have a purpose, but much of it is to create a sense of exclusivity or expertise. In reality, on LinkedIn you are talking to a general business audience. Even if you are talking to a fellow expert, they may have to translate into plain language at some point for their colleagues, so why not show them that you can do that part for them?
  3. Put a person at the centre: Classic professional versions of this include journalistic interviews. It’s also very useful for recruiting activites, for example, to have employees give day-in-the-life perspectives.
  4. Describe physical context: This is very effective way of putting people in your shoes. “I was on stage at a conference facing a sea of concerned faces.” immediately puts anyone who’s spoken at an event back in the adrenaline-addled nervous excitement that it induces.
  5. Use personal pronouns: Nobody talks about themselves in the third person. If in doubt, read it aloud to the person next to you and see if it sounds natural.
  6. Include subtle emotional language: We don’t all have to be “passionate”, we can also be “cautious”, “interested”, “optimistic” – these are a better fit for the gravitas of professional services writing without making it hard to relate to.
  7. Show images: Professional services companies tend to produce very text-heavy content, and this has it’s value. However, images usually make a much stronger and more immediate impact. You can produce pictures of an event room empty, then people arriving, then a full room with a speak at the front, then laughing people with empty wine glasses at the end to show the arc of an event.

Caveats

Social psychology is soul searching in an attempt to improve methodology. Dr Cuddy’s research on power poses has come under public scrutiny in this light, a scrutiny to which she has responded directly, as many psychologists seek to improve the rigorousness of their studies. Here, I am drawing on a different part of her research, which hasn’t attracted the same critique. Ultimately it’s up to us to tailor our digital presence to our own context and these lenses provide interesting angles to consider other’s perspectives.

Most psychological research is done in universities with students as the sample cohort. While the rigorousness provides insights, I think we need to put thought into whether these findings are transferable to the adult working world in a different culture and language.

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