How to Create a LinkedIn Profile That Really Connects

Last Updated Jul 6, 2011 5:46 PM EDT

LinkedIn is the social media platform of choice for many entrepreneurs and business owners.
Too bad most of their LinkedIn profiles, and in particular their "summaries," do little to create those business connections.

I definitely fall into that category. I set up my profile long ago and haven't touched it since. That's why I asked Matt Scherer of Sherer Communications for advice on creating a great LinkedIn summary.

Why focus on the summary instead of the full bio? Think of LinkedIn summaries like bait; if you can't attract and hook potential clients with your summary, you'll never get them in the boat to check out your full profile.

According to Matt, most LinkedIn profiles fall into four basic types:
  1. Stealth: The name, rank, and serial number approach. Stealth profiles fly under the radar; in fact, they fly so far under the radar they're never seen by potential clients.
  2. Resume-speak: Have resume, will copy and paste. The information may be worthwhile but the presentation is all wrong for the medium.
  3. Third-person professional: Often written by PR staffers or by small business owners hoping to make their companies appear bigger than they really are, these profiles keep potential clients at an arm's length. How will anyone connect with an impersonal entity?
  4. I before (s)he: Real people, real achievements, real connections.
Where does your summary currently fall? (Mine is a blend of Stealth and Resume-speak, and not in a good way.)

Here's how you can transform your LinkedIn summary into a tool that effectively represents your business and make new connections:

Step 1: Think of your summary as an elevator pitch. If you get 30 seconds to describe your business to your dream client, what three points will you try to make? In essence, that's your summary: Memorable, catchy, descriptive. Since the goal of an elevator speech is to spark a conversation, the goal of your summary should be to make the reader think, "Hmm... really? Interesting. Tell me more."

Step 2: Think first person. Translate accomplishments, achievements, approaches, etc. into personal terms. What have you (or by extension, your company) done, and what does that mean to the person who reads the summary? Experience and background doesn't just reflect well on you -- your accomplishments benefit your customers, too. In short: "Here's what I/we can do for you." Then write using first person; leave the third-person references to athletes and movie stars.

Step 3: Write it yourself. It's tempting to turn the writing process over to a social media aficionado in your organization. Feel free to delegate implementation, but be careful with the content. Many people who are "skilled at social media" know the nuts and bolts of the applications, but the essence of a good summary is communication. If you delegate content generation find someone who is a skilled communicator, not someone who has set up dozens of social media accounts. The difference is huge.

Step 4: Think keywords. Potential clients may find you through mutual connections, but the majority will find you through advanced searches. Make a list of important keywords and use them to build the framework of your summary. But if you're ever in doubt, err on the side of natural rather than keyword: You can bring a client close to your boat with a keyword, but you'll never land them without a summary that makes a real connection.

Step 5: Stick to two to three paragraphs. Be brief, conversational, and engaging. Spark questions. Think in terms of a conversation rather than a presentation. Above all, avoid formal "brochure speak" and write like a real person and not a corporate mouthpiece.

Want some examples? Here are some summaries Matt feels are particularly effective. Each is different, reflecting the unique goals and perspectives of its author, yet each feels it was written by a real person and serves to create real connections:
Step 6: Revise. Edit today, edit tomorrow... edit forever. Profiles are never static, always evolving. Over time you'll learn what works, what best represents you and your company, and most importantly what resonates most effectively with potential clients and customers.

Related: Note to Readers: Check out my BNET series The 11,500 Foot View, the chronicle of my attempt to accomplish an impossible goal, remain in the good graces of my family, run a business, stay sane, and blog about it. If you like self-inflicted pain and suffering, you'll love this.
Photo courtesy flickr user Coletivo Mambembe, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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