Link Up and Soar

LinkedIn is still the professional social network. It’s a place where the audience comprises colleagues, customers, and business partners. It’s a place for professional discussions where you can network and build rapport at a level that’s comfortable.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t taking advantage of the unique characteristics of LinkedIn. Too often, they get on the platform only when they’re looking for a job or trying to sell something. They copy and paste their resume into LinkedIn’s About fields and expect work to find them.

Instead, says Donna Serdula, use LinkedIn strategically to expand your network and tell your stories to potential clients. LinkedIn can serve as a forum for you to share more about yourself, your inspirations, and your professional journey. “For photographers in particular, this is important,” says Serdula, who runs LinkedIn training platforms Vision Board Media and “Most photographers have a story about what inspires them to be a photographer. That story needs to be told on LinkedIn. It’s what makes people want to work with you because they see a more soulful inspiration that helps them connect with you and begin to understand why you are the right photographer for them.”

So don’t copy and paste something that could be found anywhere. Instead, open up and talk about who you are and what you do—and why you do what you do. Serdula recommends a four-part process she’s dubbed SOAR: strategize, optimize, amplify, and relate.

Donna Serdula

Strategize. What are you hoping to accomplish? Get clear and deliberate about your intentions on LinkedIn. Understanding your audience on the platform is important so you can align your messaging. For example, a person looking for a job as a photographer is going to say one thing versus a person running a photography business who’s looking to find clients. Is your audience executives, small business owners, wedding planners, individual consumers? The messaging will be different for each group. Very few people think about these factors, but those who do have an inherent advantage on the platform.

Optimize. Starting with your profile, make your LinkedIn presence the best it can be. On your profile, at the very top, there’s the background graphic, which is a fabulous place for photographers to showcase a featured image.

The headline in your profile follows you all over LinkedIn. The terms you use in your headline show up when people use LinkedIn’s internal search feature. Spend time looking at that headline and make sure it encapsulates who you are and what you do. For example, instead of listing your title as “Photographer,” try something like “Master photographer specializing in destination weddings.” Just don’t make it salesy. This is an intro, not a place to sell.

Moving down your profile, turn on the Featured section. It’s a relatively new area and a fabulous place to link to your website, your portfolio, and other examples of your work.

“Look at LinkedIn as a place where you show up and make a human connection. Be someone who gives as opposed to takes. That’s the real way to use LinkedIn—not just logging in because you’re trying to find a job or make a sale. Get on LinkedIn because you want to add value, inspire, and help others. Those efforts come back to you in profound ways.” 

Donna Serdula

Your activity on LinkedIn shows up at the top of your profile as well, and it’s where people will see you’re engaged in your community.

The About section of your profile is where you’ll put your manifesto. Don’t duplicate the description that’s on your resume. Make it unique, something you post only in this place that tells who you are and why you do what you do. Very few people use the About section this way, but those who do have a great opportunity to share their inspiration and help people make a connection. Think about who your clients are, how you help them, what you do differently, what you stand for, and what your passion is. People want to know these things, and such details offer an ideal starting place for an opening conversation.

Amplify. Expand your network. If you have fewer than 300 connections on LinkedIn, you’re probably not reaching a big enough audience. Shoot for 500 or more, which should be a good indication that your online network mirrors your offline network. This doesn’t mean you should connect with anyone and everyone, but as you meet people in the real world, connect with them on LinkedIn. LinkedIn even allows you to create a QR code you can share with people in person so they can connect with you quickly and easily. For people on LinkedIn who you haven’t met in person—maybe a potential partner or valuable contact you’ve identified through research—follow them first. When you follow someone, you can see the content they post without inviting them to connect. Like their posts, comment on them and share them with your audience. Once there’s some interaction, some engagement, then send a connection request. At that point, yours won’t be a random virtual invitation; you’ll be recognized as a person who engages with their content.

“It’s really about being there, being part of people’s networks, adding value, inspiring,” says Serdula. “Look at LinkedIn as a place where you show up and make a human connection. Be someone who gives as opposed to takes. That’s the real way to use LinkedIn—not just logging in because you’re trying to find a job or make a sale. Get on LinkedIn because you want to add value, inspire, and help others. Those efforts come back to you in profound ways.” 

At the same time, be clear about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. That way people will remember you and associate you with those services. Then when they need you or know someone who needs you, they’ll make the connection. That’s the sale. When someone needs you, they remember you and reach out not because you asked them to but because you were demonstrating your knowledge, willingness to offer something of value, and passion for what you do. 

Relate. Relate to people by engaging, creating content, sharing posts, and being active on the platform. Being active doesn’t mean you need to post something new every day. The LinkedIn algorithm lets posts live for days on the feed as long as people are engaging with them. And LinkedIn doesn’t show posts by chronology; it shows them by popularity. LinkedIn wants users to come back, so they’re catering to people’s interests and what’s relevant to them.

Prioritize quality. Think about the kinds of posts that will foster a conversation. If you can create something once a week that generates good engagement, you’ll be in great shape.

Those posts don’t need to be elaborate. You could post something simple such as a picture of your studio with a comment about a rewarding interaction you had with a client. You could recommend a book that had an impact on you, share a tip about personal branding through photography, or pull back the curtain on your client interactions with some behind-the-scenes photographs that show your creative process at work.

“Think about your content as a way to add value, just like you’re having a conversation,” says Serdula. “It goes back to understanding your target audience. If you know what they care about, what they want to know, then you can speak to their interests and concerns when you post.” Most of all, LinkedIn should be viewed as a resource as well as a tool to help you form better business connections. Serdula says she thinks of LinkedIn almost like reading the morning newspaper, only with an interactive component. Log on in the morning, scroll through your feed, read a few interesting pieces, comment on posts relevant to your work, share some interesting insights, then move on with your day. It’s really that simple.

“Look at LinkedIn as a tool,” she says. “It’s not just about prospecting, selling, getting something. It’s a place to go where you can truly connect with other people. You can forge those relationships. And from those relationships good opportunities will arise.”

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.