Social media is such a ubiquitous presence in our lives that it can be easy to forget who we’re speaking to online, and more importantly, who’s listening.

Most digital natives will have a fair knowledge of how to behave online, however, often these discussions centre around those platforms where we congregate for entertainment and news: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. Yet there’s a huge difference between professional and personal networking. That’s where LinkedIn comes in.

This platform more than any other is an opportunity gateway; not only does it allow you to cultivate online and offline relationships with others in your industry, it can connect you with future employers, put you on the radar of people who will further your career, and help you to build a personal brand.

So now you’ve got a profile, how do you engage with connections in a way that will get you noticed? In this context blurring the professional and the personal can be risky, but you also don’t want to be a silent lurker. Here are our tips for engaging with conversations on LinkedIn without risking your career hopes.

Remember who you’re speaking to

With over 450 million users worldwide, LinkedIn is an entirely unique social space because it encourages you to present the best version of your professional self.

As an online environment, it’s also a projection of your current workplace and a vision of your aspirational, future workplace. So behave accordingly.

Imagine you’re at a formal work event when you’re on LinkedIn – that means you’re always on.

The people who inhabit this space are there to work, learn, connect and collaborate with like-minded professionals. They’re also noticing what you do: who you speak to and if you play well with others.

The LinkedIn newsfeed encourages this. It surfaces the most engaging discussions and highlights commentary by relevant influencers. For these reasons alone, it’s mission critical that you always keep in mind that there are real people on the other side of the screen before you leave a comment.

Save the snark

With so much potential for meaning and intention to be misunderstood on a work-oriented platform like LinkedIn, it’s important to err on the side of cautious professionalism. Supercilious or antagonistic behaviour is far more likely to be quietly noted than called out.

The last thing you want is to be perceived as arrogant or insensitive by someone you wish to impress, like a potential employer or your current teammates.

So anytime you make the choice to step away from negative behaviour, you’re doing yourself a favour.

How to shine

It’s important to think about what a good mediator would do or how your favourite manager might behave when deciding when and how to comment on LinkedIn. One thing we can guarantee is that your future employer and future colleagues are taking note of how you behave online and making inferences about how you treat others in the workplace.

Before you leap into a Linkedin discussion thread, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Is the statement I’m about to make going to add real value to the conversation, or is it just a gripe?
  • Will my comment serve to influence real change?
  • Does this statement serve to enhance my personal brand?
  • Would I say this in a work meeting – in other words, could this damage my career?

When done correctly, offering a differing opinion can make you look professional and intelligent. When done poorly, you can look unprofessional and rude.

Best practice

There are sure-fire ways to ensure you come across as an engaged and conscientious professional, without sacrificing your own unique voice.

Try these strategies so you can put your best self forward:

  • Understand the Community Guidelines.
  • Be positive. If you agree with a comment, elaborate on it and try to add value to the discussion with your own viewpoint.
  • Avoid being a negative cheerleader. LinkedIn is not the place for clapbacks or taking part in pile-ons, even when important people and peers are the initiators. The research shows that rewarding bad behaviour increases it which makes LinkedIn less pleasant for everyone.
  • Figure out what you have to offer the LinkedIn community. Even if you’re new to this channel or an old hand, you always have valuable insights to offer other professionals based on your age, life and work experience.

Making it work

One of the great things about LinkedIn is that it is an entirely public forum, optimised for professional networking (bar private messages between connections). An informed individual who expresses themselves articulately, graciously and strategically on a given subject has the potential to greatly enhance their personal and professional standing.

Engage with the platform in the right way and it could help you on your way to a great career.

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